In Luther’s Steps…A Photo Essay
The following is little photo essay of a trip to Germany I took in August 2004. I had this up at my WORLD blog site and realized I could transfer it here by simply copying it all over here. So, my apologies to those who have seen this now at least twice before, but I wanted to move it over.
Western end of College Street looking toward the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther walked down this street to post his 95 theses on the castle church door on October 31, 1517, setting in motion the events that would come to be known as the Reformation. The Castle Church itself was heavily damaged in the Thirty Years War, completely gutted. It was part of the Elector’s Castle complex in Wittenberg. The tower that now appears was rebuilt by the Prussian Emperor in the 19th century, who turned the Castle Church into a shrine to the Reformation, both Lutheran and Reformed. The interior of the church is not at all original, nor are any of the majority of things seen there. What is authentic is the Luther grave, and the statues of the two Saxon Electors who are buried before the altar in the church. Horrors or horror, there is even in the interior a statue of Ulrich Zwingli, Luther’s foe on the issue of the Lord’s Supper. In the rear of the church are ancient Medieval graves of certain Wettin family members, the ancient rulers of Saxony. All along the outside of the church are grave markers and memorials, many heavily weathered and eroded. During the days of Communism, the town of Wittenberg was permitted to fall into near ruin. During World War II the American bomber command made sure that the city center of Wittenberg was not targeted, although factories near the city were. Fortunately, many of the important buildings were spared heavy damage.
Interior courtyard at Castle Wartburg This was our first stop. We flew into Frankfurt-Am-Main and headed to Eisenach. I would have had some photos of the castle from a distance, but it was storming fiercely. It became apparent very quickly why this castle was such a good place to hide Luther after his appearance at the Diet of Worms in 1521. We walked from a lower parking lot up a rather steep, twisting, turning path in absolutely driving rain, completely with lightening and thunder. As we arrived at the top of the hill, the sun broke through and we enjoyed our visit to the Wartburg, site of Luther’s translation of the New Testament into German.
Hallway in Wartburg Castle headed toward the "Luther Stube" — the Luther Room. When you go to Germany to see Luther sites you’ll become familiar with the phrase "Luther Stube" and "Luther Denkmahl" — Luther memorial.
The Luther Room at the Castle Wartburg. It was in this room that Luther did his work while staying at the castle. Today not much in the room is original.There is an original first edition of the Luther New Testament under the case on the desk. The painting is an original Cranach of Luther as "Knight George" — the disguise he wore during his stay. You can see wood panels from the wall removed on the right. This is common in most of the Luther sites. Archaeologists have established the original surfaces in various buildings and dug through layers of paint and other wall coverings. This is how the wall appeared during Luther’s stay. His quarters were cramped and isolated from the rest of the castle. The white bone-like thing is a vertebrate from a whale. There is some speculation it is original to the room. Their arose a legend based on something Luther said that was perpetuated for many hundreds of years. Luther once said that he threw ink at the devil while staying at the Wartburg. For the sake of tourists visiting, curators carefully replenished the ink on the wall for hundreds of years. Actually, what Luther meant was that all the writings he did while there attacked Satan with ink. You can still see thousands names of tourists who dutifully recorded their presence on every surface they could. Names are seen dating back to the mid-16th century. Tourism at the Wartburg began already in Luther’s lifetime and has continued since. It is sad how the Wartburg is treated today more as a national historical landmark than a great Christian site. However, nowhere in Germany are any historical sites treated as crassly and commercially as in the USA, where excessive "gift shops" are set up any any site of any historical significance. There is a place to buy souvenirs at the Wartburg, but subdued and understated. Compare this to the commercialization, for example, of Mount Rushmore in the USA. Very interesting. The Castle Wartburg itself has changed considerably since Luther stayed there, with portions added on by various rulers. There is at the Wartburg an elaborate meeting hall, where today concerts and other cultural and civic events are held. In these rooms was recorded the Diet of Worms scenes from the 2003 Luther movie. Lugging the movie equipment up to the shooting scene was quite an ordeal, I’m told, by the movie’s producer. The pictures I’m posting here are of original portions of the castle from Luther’s day, actually a somewhat small castle in comparison to others.
Forested hills of Thuringian Forest this was the view Luther had from his small rooms at the Wartburg Castle. To this day the Thuringian Forests of Saxony are beautiful.
External view of the Wartburg Castle. I think the brickwork portion of the Castle may have been added later.
Gate into the Wartburg Castle through which Luther passed to begin his "captivity" under the protection of the Saxon Elector, Frederick the Wise.
The house in the city of Eisenach where Luther stayed while attending school. Right next door is St. George church, where Luther sang in the choir. This is the church where Nicholas Amsdorf served as pastor and bishop, and where he is buried. Also, in this church Johann Sebastian Bach was baptized. Sadly, today, it is a state church and when we went in to visit there was a swing suspended from the very tall ceiling. It had colorful pieces of paper on it, it was hanging down near the baptismal font. A pastor there told us it was used to amuse and involve children in the worship service. How incongruous, to say the least, that in this church where Bach’s father served as parish musician, where J.S. Bach was baptized, where Amsdorf was pastor and where Luther sang, it has not been inflicted with American-style "contemporary worship" nonsense like this.
Medieval Vault. This is a solid tree log carved out in the interior to provide a solid "strong box" or safe. It is a very interesting piece. This was in the Luther house in Eisenach. It was said that churches would store their valuable sacred vessels in safes similar to this. How about that?
This Old House…Medieval Style. While strolling along a side street in Eisenach I noticed that a house was undergoing repair. Part of the ancient Medieval wall had been exposed. You can see various layers of building materials. What is fascinating is to see that the heart of the wall are tree limbs stuck together with baked on mud. Obviously this house is very, very . . . very old. As you see structures nearly 1,000 years old like this it makes you laugh to think we Americans get excited when something is 200 or 300 years old.
Chancel of St. George Church in Eisenach, Germany. We were there just in time to listen to the organist practice a gorgeous Bach Toccata and Fugue on the massive organ. In this chancel is one of the very few, if only, paintings of the presentation of the Augsburg Confession, you can see just the edge of it in this picture. Many ancient graves are located here, including the grave of Nicholas von Amsdorf, courageous Lutheran confessor, a lifelong ally and friend of Luther who also lived through the Smalcaldic War and the Interims, remaining true and faithful. All around this church are huge Bible verses preaching the Gospel, in what is now a state church where the Gospel is obscured and cluttered by liberalism. The St. George Church was founded by Landgrave Ludwig III and is first mentioned in an official document dating from 1182. Luther sung in the school choir in this church from 1498-1501. He preached in the church on April 9 or 10 in 1521, on his way to Worms. During the Peasant War the church was burned, and only the exterior walls left standing. From 1554-1560 the Georgenkirche was restored and consecrated as the first Lutheran church in Thuringia. Located to the left of the sacristy in the choir is the tomb slab of Nicolaus von Amsdorf. I was unable to take a picture directly of a huge painting that was commissioned in 1617 by Duke John Ernest I. He had the painting installed in 1618. The left-hand panel of the painting shows the Augsburg Confession being presented to Charles V in 1530. The right-hand panel is a painting based on a 16th century woodcut showing Luther and John Hus serving communion to the Reformation era Electors of Saxony.
This was our last stop before heading down the Autobahn to Erfurt. Yes, I drove very fast on the Autobahn. But how often can you get away with driving over 120 miles per hour and not getting a ticket? All the roads in Germany are far superior to anything in the USA, even the smaller rural roads.
On to Erfurt….
The Augustinian Cloister Chancel in Erfurt, Germany. The city of Erfurt was founded in 792 as a bishopric by St. Boniface. By the 16th century Erfurt was known as the "German Rome" because of how many churches and monasteries. Even to this day, as you travel toward the historic city center, you are impressed by the number of steeples on the skyline. When Luther was there, Erfurt had 21 parish churches, 4 collegiate churches and 11 monastery churches. It was also home to the second oldest university in Germany, founded in 1392. Luther enrolled as a student at Erfurt University in 1501. On July 17, 1505, Luther entered the "Black Cloister" entering a door on the Comthur Alley in Erfurt. The doorway is visible to this day.
External view of the Erfurt Augustinian Cloister church. Remarkably well preserved. If you would walk through the doors, the chancel would be to your left.
It was in this cloister church that Luther said his first mass. This is one of the most well preserved Luther sites. This monastery and its church were constructed between 1276 and the mid-14th century. Though damaged during WWII the monastery complex was nonetheless remarkably well preserved. The monastery church, a three aisled basilica began in 1291. The choir windows with beautiful glass paintings, as seen in this picture, date from the beginning of the 14th century.
In front of the altar you can see the gave of Johannes Zacharias, the chief prosecutor of John Hus at the Council of Constance. Luther took his monk’s vow on this very spot in 1506 while lying on this grave. In Luther’s times there were many altars in this church, including the so-called Augustine Altar of 1350. When Luther stopped in Erfurt on his way to Worms in 1521 he preached to an overflow crowd in this church.
So many Luther sites are not original or only have bits and pieces that are, due to warfare, especially the Thirty Years War in the Seventeenth Century war and then the Second World War. During WW II the Allies, in the last days of the war, engaged in massive bombing raids on previously untargetted locations, including smaller towns and cities. As a result, previously unharmed Luther sites were in many cases severely damaged or even destroyed, for instance, the town of Magdeburg was virtually obliterated. However, the larger churches were preserved.
The wooden "choir" stalls on either side in the chancel are the original choir stalls where Luther took his place with his fellow monks for the monastic hours through the day and night, for many years. The windows are truly beautiful. If you have seen the 2003 Luther movie, it was here that they filmed Luther’s first mass and in point of fact it was in this church, probably at the altar you see in this picture, that Luther did consecrate the Lord’s Supper for the very first time.
Inside the Cathedral of St. Mary, Erfurt looking toward chancel and high altar. It was in this cathedral and before this altar that Luther was ordained a priest. This cathedral was founded by Boniface in 742. The cathedral as it exists today was constructed in three phases between 1154 and 1465. When Luther was in Erfurt the Cathedral looked as it does today. Luther held his first theology lecture in the lecture hall connected with the cathedral, in 1509. The main choir area in the chancel of the cathedral is an impressive 75 feet high space, built from 1349-1372. There are fifteen beautiful colored glass windows and are among the most impressive of all Medieval stained glass known in Europe. Sadly, some of the windows were destroyed during WWII and their replacements are poor substitutes. It is very moving to sit and meditate quietly on the fact that Luther walked up the aisle and took his vows as a priest in this cathedral. It is still very much a Roman Catholic cathedral and one is hit with the strong smell of incense when entering. Saints are being prayed to all over the cathedral, there is on display in a glass coffin a dead Christ.
The Erfurt Cathedral high altar as it appears today was constructed in 1672 and shows the influence of the Baroque and early Rococco movements. You can get an idea of the beautiful stained glass in this picture. The choir stalls in the chancel are original and very ancient, richly carved, you can see part of them on the left. I took a photo by hand of them and it is not very sharp but gives you some idea. It is interesting to visit the grave of the Roman Catholic Bishop who ordained Luther, Bishop Johann Bonemilch von Lapse.
Detail of carved choir stalls in Erfurt Cathedral. The rich detail of the wood carvings on the choir stalls in the Erfurt Cathedral are simply stunning and marvelous. This detail gives you a taste of what covers nearly every surface of the ancient choir stalls in the cathedral. The carvings are really quite fascinating. In this particular picture one sees a night attacking a man riding on a sow, apparently unarmed. If anyone knows what this is supposed to mean, let me know.
Mary and Apostles on Pentecost…wood sculpture in the Erfurt Cathedral, this piece was said to date to the 13th century. Notice the Apostles attention is fixed on Mary.
Main door into the Erfurt Cathedral. Notice how the Blessed Virgin is the main statue one sees as entering the church. Christ the Crucified is above, but the saint statues on either side and Mary in the Center predominate the art at this doorway, a telling example of Roman Catholic error.
Foolish Virgins on Erfurt Cathedral North Transept portal foyer. This is one of the more delightful examples of this theme that I saw while in Germany. It is very common to find statues of the foolish and wise virgins from our Lord’s parable about the End Times, carved at or near the entrance to a church. Look at the expressions on the faces of the foolish virgins: silly, laughing, or sleepy.This particular entry way into the Cathedral was constructed in the 14th or 15th century in conjunction with the construction of a new choir. The sculptures depicted here show the foolish and wise virgins.
From Erfurt we headed to Eisleben, the city where Luther was born and baptized in November 1483 and the same city where he died in February of 1546.
Eisleben town square. St. Andrew Church’s towers are behind the town hall, the church where Luther preached his last sermons. The town was very quiet. We found people finally at the town center square, eating German ice cream, which is sort of a cross between soft serve and Italian ice. I prefer American ice cream. In the museum associated with the Luther birth house is a photo of this same square from World War II. Swastika flags are flying. Very creepy. More later on that.
The Luther death pall. The Luther death house has been totally restored and therefore is basically nearly entirely unauthentic, something not mentioned to unsuspecting tourists who think they are seeing the actual bed where Luther died, which is not the case. Basically it is all a recreation in the interior. There is however one authentic piece in the house and this is a picture of it. In 1888 government officials obtained from the Luther family the actual black silk death pall that covered Luther’s body while it remained in Eisleben and traveled to Wittenberg. This cloth is on display in this wood and glass case, supported by carved angels. It is a great place to visit and very informative. The house’s original 16th century layout and construction was virtually wiped out during 19th century reconstructions. It was very important to the Prussian government to create many Luther "shrines" to solidify support for their forced union of Reformed and Lutheran churches, such a union being antithetical to what Luther confessed and taught! Tragic irony indeed.
The front of the Luther "Death House" — Where Luther was taken after collapsing in the pulpit at the St. George Church, across the street
St. Andrew Church towers in Eisleben from another perspective, looking North. Here Luther preached his last four sermons and collapsed. The church dates to the 12th century. It was very peaceful and quiet in Eisleben when we visited, a Sunday afternoon. We had the run of the place, frankly.
A room with a view….taken from inside the Luther birthhouse, from the window that the Luther’s would have looked out. The church steeple is the steeple of St. Peters and Paul Church, where Luther was baptized, showing how close it is to where he was born. In this house, on November 10, 1483, Margarete Luther gave birth to a son. The simple two story house where Luther was born is essentially preserved as it was. Opinions vary as to which room precisely Luther was born, but the best guess is that he was born actually in a room on the second floor, where the Luthers would have lived, the wealthier house owners taking up residence in the more spacious [and warm!] rooms on the first floor. Soon after his death, Luther sites were already being turned into Lutheran shrines. A large wooden plaque with Luther’s portrait was hung on this house in the 16th century already. This house contained the very first Luther memorial, becoming one of the first museums of history in Germany. Frederick William III, in 1817, had built a large permanent museum behind the house, he further stipulated that the state should care for the house, museum and grounds in perpetuity. This is one of my favorite pictures, since the chances are somewhat high that Luther was born on this floor of the home. We carefully opened the window to get this shot. Germans seem to have an aversion to open windows. The hot was hot as blazes but they kept all the windows shut, something I experienced throughout my trip. Warm rooms. Closed windows, though excellently built, just in case anyone wanted to open them, but Germans obviously can’t imagine why one would want to open a window. Closed doors too, everywhere. Orderly, typically German!
St. Peter and Paul Church, Eisleben. Unfortunately, it was closed so we could not go in, but we walked around it. We retraced Hans Luther’s steps, walking out the back of the Luther birth house, on November 11, down the side street leading to the church and up to the door where Hans would have entered with his new baby boy. He was named after the saint of the day, Nov. 11, St. Martin. This church is first mentioned in writing in 1333. A three aisled church the oldest part of the existing church, the west tower, was built from 1447 to 1474. Luther was baptized in predecessor structures before the present church was completed. The man in the picture is one of my traveling companions, Rev. Robert Zagore.
Sign over the doorway of the Luther Museum at the Luther birthhouse. Notice the humble inscription by King Friedrich Wilhelm, whose name is nearly as large as Luther’s. In 1817 King Wilhelm had Luther statues erected all over Germany and payed special attention to the key Luther sites in a massive PR effort to win support for his forced union of Lutherans and Reformed. Of course, the Reformed didn’t much care, but Lutherans who chose to remain…Lutheran….cared very much and opposed the Prussian Union.
Front of the Lutherbirthouse. A relatively simple and plain building. In the back yard there is a fountain that may well date to the time of Luther’s birth.
Decorative Relief Panel at the Luther birthhouse in Eisleben. These and similar Luther site memorials were constructed in and around 1817 by the Prussian King who forced through a union of Lutherans and Reformed. In order to give the appearance of great loyalty to Luther, the King had statues set up in all the Luther cities and had created elaborate decorations like this one. This statuary uses a phrase that became common in the 17th and 18th centuries. It says,in German, "God’s Word is Luther’s Doctrine, Therefore It Will Last Forever."
The 450th anniversary of Luther’s birth…celebrated Nazi style! This eerie, chilling collection of memorabilia in the museum behind the Luther birthhouse. Look closely and you will see the Eisleben town square with Swastikas flying. These are items from the the 450th anniversary of Luther’s birth in 1933 shows how thoroughly the Nazis made Luther one of their own. This was the *only* display of Nazi era artifacts I saw while in Germany. The Germans are very embarrassed and ashamed of WW II and in the East Zone in particular you would hardly know WW II took place. I do not believe that Germany has yet come to grips fully with the horrors of WW II.
And then we headed to Leipzig, spending the night there and the next morning visiting the Bach sites, the Thomaskirche in particular. Leipzig is still depressingly blighted from the days of Communism. The horrible Stalinist housing projects are everywhere. The city appeared to me to be dirty and grimy. The huge main town square has one building with a huge Lenin relief carving, as you will see in the next photo. Everywhere in the former "East Zone" as they call it you see evidences of the "worker’s paradise" — horribly drab housing projects. We drove past an abandoned concentration camp looking Communist era prison on the outskirts of Wittenberg…truly chilling.
Huge communist "art" — notice the faux-heroism, sheer propagandistic art. We saw something similar in the city of Torgau, suggesting that the residents of Torgau welcomed the raping, pillaging Soviet animals into their town with welcome arms. As you can tell, I have a deep loathing of communism. This sculpture has yet to be removed from the building, because the entire building would have to be torn down. Leipzig–the city of J.S. Bach!
Beautiful St. Thomas Church, Leipzig, Germany. You notice right away what a steep roof this church has, one of the steepest in all of Europe! The Thomaskirche was built between 121 and 1222 as the collegiate church of the Augustinian canons. The church’s present appearance goes back to the 1400s and in this respect, this church is quite authentic to the Reformation era. The long east choir and the sacristy were built in 1477. The entire church was remodeled extensively between 1482 and 1496. The huge roof has a pitch of 62 degrees, making it the steepest roof in Leipzig and the largest church roof in all of Saxony. The opening worship service of the famous Leipzig Debate between Luther and Eck was held here, lasting a very long time due to a devout parish musician who wrote a special cantata for the occasion that lasted nearly two and a half hours! Interestingly, Leipzig became Luther only very late in the Reformation. Luther introduced the Reformation formally finally to Leipzig in 1539 by preaching in this church on Pentecost. A plaque inside commemorates the event. There was a huge increase in church attendance as a result of the Reformation and additional space in the church was added by adding the galleries built in 1570. The tower was also adapted to Renaissance tastes at that time. In 1950, on the 200th anniversary of Johann Sebastian Bach’s death, his bones were moved into the long choir area of the church. His grave was located originally at the Johanniskirche, which was destroyed in World War II. Bach reached the height of his music career as a church Kantor at this church, teaching and working immediately next door at the school, which no longer exists.
We were allowed entry into the choir area to admire the huge life size paintings of the head pastor of the Leipzig church dating back to the Reformation, and as a result were able to spend a few quiet moments immediately at the site of Bach’s grave. A moving experience for me indeed.
J.S. Bach. This statue was created and placed in 1908. Right across the street from it is the must see "Bach Archiv" museum. The provide English language audio guides.
Memorial plaque for Nicolas Selneccer. Selneccer was one of the authors of the Formula of Concord and head of the Leipzig consistory and pastor of Thomaskirche. This plaque is in the back of the church in a very dark corner, so I had to do a bit of digital retouching here. There is also a huge painting of him up in the choir area near the altar.
Interior of the Thomaskirche, looking toward the chancel and altar. You can see on the upper right and left toward the front the large paintings of the pastors of the church. I don’t know why I didn’t take a picture of Bach’s grave. Frankly, I was a bit too caught up in the emotion to be doing my photographer thing. I worked professionally as a photographer, for the Navy and in college and usually am more cool and collected, but…well, objectivity sort of flew out the window. The crucifix toward the top of the ceiling is said to be original to the time of Luther. I should mention that this is the church where the dreaded Leipzig Interim was prepared, and also the site of the student protests that were responsible in large measure for the fall of communism in Germany and in Eastern Europe for that matter. My friend Dr. Uwe Siemon-Netto tells me that the present pastor of this church is an "idiot liberal" who preaches sermons on environmentalism and what not. What a travesty!!
Front of the Thomaskirche. Trees obscured my view, so I could not get further back, but this gives you a good idea of the church front. Tour buses were rolling up so I caught the shot between busses. Notice the Chi-Rho symbols on either side.
We headed back to the main Leipzig square, walking through the present day University of Leipzig. There was a beautiful church on this site which the damnable Communists blew up and destroyed for no reason other than that they are damnable Communists. The main town square has a huge, massive fountain and I shot this detail of some of the decorations on it. I have a soft spot for horses with webbed feet, don’t you?
From Leipzig we drove to Torgau to see a truly once-in-a-lifetime exhibit of materials related to the Reformation in Saxony. They brought in artifacts from museums from all over Europe, including the Vatican. So, we saw the actual Papal bull of excommunication of Luther, the only existing copy of the Augsburg Confession, massive original Cranach paintings and much more. The exhibit was housed in the massive Torgau Castle, the historic home of the Saxon Electors, particularly those who protected Luther.
The Torgau Castle is huge. This is merely the left, Northeast Corner. We climbed that huge tower and, as you will see, were rewarded with a commanding view in every direction. I should mention that this little footpath runs along the Elbe River. During World War II Torgau was the place where the Russian troops met the Allied troops. Unfortunately, the Communists snapped Eastern Germany, including Torgau. There is a very somber, simply monument stone in this little park where I took the picture, thanking all those whose sacrifices made possible freedom from Communism. Very powerful. Further up the path there is a massive Communist era plaque praising the Russian "liberators" and showing Torgau people welcoming them. What a load of baloney. Interesting that the plaque has not been torn down.
Elaborate restored heraldry over main entrance to Torgau Castle. Underneath this huge collection of official seals of the Saxon rulers is the main gate into the Torgau Castle, a HUGE gate. Some of the moat that once surrounded the castle still stands, with bears in it, apparently a long tradition at the Torgau Castle, big huge brown bears. At any rate, if you are ever considering decorating the main door to your house, here is an idea. Beautifully done, and sure to impress visitors.
This staircase is the crown jewel of the "Schloss Torgau" — Castle Torgau. Let me tell you about the castle itself. The foundations of the castle reach all the way back to the 900s. It sits fifty feet above the River Elbe. Elector Frederick the Wise had a magnificent residence built here. It is a fabulous example of Northern German Renaissance architecture and art and was one of the most important Castles in its time. Let’s be even more clear: This is a truly Lutheran castle, in just about every way you can imagine.
Frederick the Wise’s brother, John the Steadfast, has this magnificent staircase built. It is one of the most beautiful creations of the German Renaissance. The "Grossen Wendelstein" or "Great Spiral Staircase" is amazing. On the columns that that flank the main doorway of the staircase are portraits in clay of Luther and Melanchthon. The snail-shaped staircase is replete with biblical scenes. You see a dramatic shift away from depictions of saint legends and a move toward Biblical scenes in all manner of Lutheran art, this staircase is a great example. There is no center column on this staircase. I climbed it as high as I could go. The stairs are well worn. It was a thrill imagining that John the Steadfast and his son Frederick the Wise did as well. The second story of the castle houses a massive banquet hall, once decorated with the paintings of Lucas Cranach. A beautiful chapel was constructed at the castle. Martin Luther consecrated the new church on October 5, 1544. Everything in the church is original and authentic, the pulpit where Luther preached and the altar where the Sacrament was celebrated. It is a simple marble slab held up by four angels. Relief carvings on the pulpit show Biblical scenes. Inside the church is the large bronze plaque that was installed in 1545. It celebrates the donor, John Frederick the Magnanimous, the most heroic of the Lutheran laymen of the Reformation. It proclaims the Gospel clearly and celebrates the construction of the church as a stronghold of the Gospel. A portrait of the Elector is at the top of the plaque and the pillars on either side have symbols for his sons. The base has a portrait of Luther. Frederick the Magnanimous chose to construct a church as his legacy and contribution, his father a staircase and his uncle the castle. Interesting contrasts indeed.
Relief carving in the spiral staircase at Torgau Castle. The staircase is covered with carvings like this one, all portraying various Biblical scenes. What fascinated me about this one is that it was carved with every bit as much care and detail as the rest, but is located in a spot that would hardly be ever seen by anyone. You have to duck down and sort of crouch down and under other parts of the staircase to see this picture, a portrayal of Deliliah cutting Samson’s hair. The stone used to create the staircase and particularly the relief panels is soft stone and the years of industrial pollution and acid rain have taken their toll.
A decorated rain downspout on the staircase, half soldier and half animal. A delightful decoration, one of many, on the magnificent staircase at the Torgau Castle.
View from Torgau Castle tower. You are allowed to climb the Torgau Castle’s tower and after huffing and puffing your way up a dizzying spiral staircase, you are rewarded with a wonderful view of the area surrounding the castle. This particular view is looking toward the St. Mary Church in Torgau. By now you are probably thinking, is there any town you visited that did not have a St. Mary Church? Answer: no. Evidence of the overwhelming cult of Mary that denominated much of devotional life and practice in Medieval Germany. Notice too the red roof tiles. As anyone who has traveled in this part of Germany knows, every town center has this same red roof tile. Looking past the church the Elba river twists and turns. The spot for the castle was well chosen, giving the Elector and his troops commanding views in every direction for many miles on a clear day.
Doorway of Torgau Castle Church, note the rich Biblical images and scenes. No photos were allowed inside the Castle chapel. Why? No reason really, since many photos have been taken before. But, in Germany, rules are rules and must always be obeyed very strictly! While inside the church I enjoyed studying the pulpit where Luther preached and the altar where the Lord’s Supper was celebrated.
Statue of Frederick the Magnanimous. It stands next to the staircase. The sculptor was being magnanimous when he sculpted this piece, for Duke Fred was not exactly what you would call trim. He was a very heavy man. He was a devout Lutheran, who grew up admiring Luther, considered Luther his spiritual father, and remained steadfast against all odds and enemies, even being taken captive in battle and exiled. He lost everything after the Battle of Muehlberg, including the Torgau Castle, but refused to recant his beliefs. A great man indeed.
Interior of the Marienkirche in Torgau. When you leave the castle through the doors over which are the massive heraldry, it is literally only maybe 500 feet to St. Mary Church in Torgau, where Katherine Luther is buried. This is a photo I took while sitting in the very back pew, looking toward the altar. Katy Luther’s gravestone is on the left, and my friend, Rev. Matthew Harrison, is looking at it. If you look closely, you can see a man sitting at the organ bench, and yes, practicing a lovely Bach prelude. It just so happened that in virtually every church we visited , we managed to enter just when the organist was wrapping up his practice, but had a chance to hear the organ the way it should be heard, in a marvelous stone interior, providing acoustical wonders. Here is information about the St. Mary Church in Torgau.
It is a Late Gothic church with construction beginning around 1390, not completed until around 1500. Until the Reformation came to Torgau around 1525, the church was under the patronage of the Cistercian monastery in Nimbschen, which was, ironically, also where Katy Luther lived as a nun until she escaped in the 1520s. There is little left of the furnishings from the 1500s. The church in its Roman Catholic era had sixteen altars inside. Most of the original treasures were sold off to support the common city chest in Torgau after the introduction of the Reformation. A painted Passion altar dates from 1509 and is visible in this photo, up front, set to the left of the church’s present altar. Luther preached at the St. Mary church several times from 1519 on. Not far from the pulpit is still the bronze statue covering the grave of Duchess Sophie, Duke John’s first wife, who died in 1503.
Gravestone of Katherine Luther, wife of Martin Luther. Katy Luther was returning to Torgau and her cart was upset and she fell, injuring herself. She was taken to her very small Torgau home where she never recovered, but died on December 20, 1552, nearly seven years after her husband’s death in February of 1546. After Martin’s death, Katy had a hard go of it but was eventually provided for by German leaders. This gravestone shows Katy wearing a long, fur-trimmed coat, with a scarf over her head and shoulders, holding a book in both hands, presumably the Scriptures. Only part of the inscription on the stone is still legible, translated, it says: "In the year 1522 the 20th of December, the blessed widow of Doctor Martin Luther departed this life here in Torgau to join God…). The gravestone was restored on the 100th anniversary of the Reformation in 1617. I appreciated that most often in the various significant Luther sites, where there is a significant gravestone, there were always fresh flowers. While we were there an old lady told us in hushed tones that they are not really sure where Katy is actually buried since they think the memorial stone had been moved and nobody remembered where she was. True? Who knows…but an interesting tidbit.
One last photo from Torgau Castle, this large tower marks another entrance to the Castle, obviously a sally port from which troops could exit and enter. From the spot where I took the picture, turning toward the river, nearby you can find a memorial to the point at which Russian and American troops first linked in Germany during World War II.
From Torgau it was on to…Wittenberg, at last.
We were able to drive into Wittenberg from the Southwest, thus avoiding the long stretch of communist era buildings and general deterioration as a result, which is what one experiences when coming into Wittenberg from any other direction. Our route from Torgau to Wittenberg took us on less traveled two lane roads [perfectly maintained of course], but allowed us to see smaller villages and towns in the general vicinity of Wittenberg, and then as we approached the city the historic skyline that I’ve been used to fro many years from historic paintings and woodcuts came to life. There, in the distance, I could see the Castle Church tower, and to the east, on the right, the twin-steeples of the city church, St. Mary. We came into town and wound our way literally into the very heart of the city, driving through the narrow street into the city center, right to the Town Hall. We happened to drive right into and through a fairly large …. communist rally. Yes, lots of red flags, hammer and cycles and classic communist propaganda, in German. Apparently, the younger generation looks fondly to the days when the government took care of everything. And so, it was quite a startling experience to drive into Wittenberg for the first time right into the heart of a communist rally. We drove through it, people somewhat glaring at us, but moving aside, then made our way down "College Street" to our hotel, which was right next to the Luther House, on the eastern side of the old city. We spent three days in Wittenberg and I was able to spend a lot of time touring everything related to Luther, including hours in the LutherHalle, the historic Augustinian cloister where Luther lived, which is now a magnificent museum, superbly done.
The famous "Luther Room" in the Luther House in Wittenberg. This room was in many ways the "epicenter" of the Reformation. After monks had left the Augustinian Cloister, eventually the entire structure was given to Martin Luther. This room, which is historically accurate, is the room where the famous "Table Talks" take place…no, the table is not original, but recreated. The room however is well preserved and from very early on was treated as a sort of "holy of holies" by Lutherans, therefore, one can be fairly confident that must of the room is authentic. Here Luther worked with friends and colleagues on various projects, including the Bible translation. The doorway you see in the photo leads to other rooms in the house, and on the door Peter of Great of Russia wrote his name, in Greek. They have it preserved under a special protective glass covering. The room is not very large, but it is quite a moving experience to stand it and reflect on what when on in that room.
Interior of St. Mary’s Church, Wittenberg This church is far more important in terms of the actual Reformation of the church than any other in Germany. Here it was that Luther did his primary work as preacher. From the pulpit that was once here, Luther’s theology was put into practice and taught to the people. Copies of his sermons flooded throughout Germany and the Western World of Luther’s day. The interior of St. Mary’s was remodeled. The pulpit here now is not the one Luther used. However, the altar painting is original and was done by Lucas Cranach the year after Luther’s death in 1546. There are precious rare paintings around the chancel area behind the altar.
The Luther pulpit. While not terribly exciting to look at, and forgive the poor quality image, without a doubt this is the most important existing historical item from the Reformation era. This is the pulpit from which Luther preached in the St. Mary church in Wittenberg. Very modest and quite small and cramped. It is preserved in the Wittenberg Lutherhalle. This is the pulpit from which Luther preached the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ. The sermons preached in this pulpit went all over Germany, spreading the Gospel and the Reformation far and wide. It is impossible to overstate the importance of the sermons Martin Luther preached from this pulpit. Photos were not allowed to be taken in the Luther museum, but…I could not pass this opportunity to snap a shot of this pulpit.
Luther’s grave at the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany This actually is a memorial sitting on top of the grave of Luther. Luther’s body rests beneath this marker. When Emperor Charles V captures Wittenberg in 1547 his soldiers wanted to exhume the bones of Luther and burn them, as fitting for a heretic. Standing at the grave, Charles refused saying, "I make war on the living, not the dead." Philip Melanchthon is buried in similar fashion about twenty feet to the left of Luther’s grave.
Luther’s grave just in front of pulpit, looking forward into the chancel area of the Castle Church. In front of the main altar are the graves of Frederick the Wise and John the Steadfast, two heroes of the Reformation, who made possible Luther’s survival and ministry.
Interior of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther is buried just beneath the pulpit, seen in the right in this picture.
A rainbow over the Luther house on the last day of our stay in Wittenberg. This is a view from my hotel window. We stayed just next door to the Luther House. The tower you see was added later, and was not original to the house.
Sitting at Luther’s Door This is the doorway that Katie Luther purchased as a birthday present for her husband. The doors are not original, but the entire structure surrounding them is. The Luther seal is inscribed underneath the little "roof" where I’m sitting. I can’t remember what’s on the other one.