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The Torgau Castle

April 13th, 2007
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This photo was taken from the seats that the Elector and his family occupied during the daily church services at the Torgau Castle. Elector John Frederick the Magnanimous, one of the great heroes of the Reformation era, had the chapel constructed. He was a lifelong student of Luther, regarding Luther as his spiritual father. When he was taken into captivity in 1547 and imprisoned he was offered the return of properties like his Torgau Castle complex in exchange for renouncing his Lutheran faith and confession. He steadfastly refused. When you visit the Torgau Castle and read about its history and consider the enormous wealth it represented, and then realize that this was but one of many castles and properties John Frederick owned, all which he lost, you begin to appreciate more fully just how courageous he was and how costly his confession was.

When the Elector was in residence there were daily services, attended in the morning by all the persons in the castle compound who could attend, followed by the main meal of the day, served to all the Castle residents and staff: over 400 people when the Elector was in residence. The electoral family seats in the chapel were accessible by a private entrance into the chapel from the Elector’s living quarters in the castle. The pulpit you see, on the right, would have put the preacher at eye level with the Elector. This church was one of the first designed by Lutherans for the Lutheran Divine Service. Martin Luther preached the dedicatory sermon, in the pulpit you see. The next photo is of the Elector’s seating area. You can see the doorway they used behind the seats. The photo of the church interior was taken, standing, in the middle of the seating area for the Elector.


Here are photos of the carvings on the Castle Church pulpit. They depict: Christ cleansing the temple, Christ in the temple as a child, and Christ washing his disciples feet. All vivid reminders of the duties and obligations of the Elector as a pious Christian ruler.




Here is a shot of the pulpit, looking toward the elector’s seating area.


Here is a photo of the Torgau Castle complex from the exterior, followed by one taken from a window in the Castle Church, of the interior of the castle.

Here is a closer view of the unique spiral staircase, said to be the most magnificent achievement of Northern German Renaissance architecture. It is built without any supporting structures.




A final view of the Torgau Castle Church, ground floor, looking toward the “altar” which is in fact a free standing table, as Luther had indicated should be used in Christian services of the Lord’s Supper.


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  1. Christine
    April 13th, 2007 at 10:29 | #1

    Thanks so much for these beautiful photos, Pastor McCain. It is my hope that when I retire (God willing) I may be able to make a trip back to Germany, having last been there in the ’70s.
    I very much would like to visit the “Luther sites” at that time. As well as the local bakeries — sigh !!
    [McCain: You will be delighted at how much the various Luther sites in what was formerly East Germany have improved.]

  2. Grace Hennig
    April 13th, 2007 at 13:31 | #2

    When I visited the Torgau Castle back in 1994 they were making preparations to celebrate the anniversary (450th) of the first Lutheran church service. The celebration was year-long with significant events (many musical) taking place each month.
    What a disappointment it was(after coming home to the USA) to find that this anniversary of the first Lutheran church service was not even recognized on this side of the Atlantic. Perhaps we Lutherans will remember it in 2044 – at the 500th!
    (Incidentally, I had a cake made which said “Happy 450th, Torgau!” to celebrate the day back in the USA. My friends and I had our own little celebration together.)
    Thanks for the beautiful pictures!

  3. Roger Moldenhauer
    April 13th, 2007 at 16:13 | #3

    Paul -
    As a fellow Canon “photo nut”, I was thrilled to see those Torgau photos. I’d guess you were using that 5D already last summer in Germany. What wide-angle lens did you use on the Torgau chapel interior photos?
    [McCain: Those shows were taken with the lens I use perhaps 95% of the time: my 24-104 L series zoom with image stabilization. The image stabilization is amazing. I was able to get crisp images with a shutter speed of 1/8 and even 1/4 of a second. Pretty amazing!]
    Just got back from Italy where I used the Rebel XTi with the “L” series 24-105mm zoom.
    [McCain: Well, there you go!]
    I think I’m holding off moving up to the 5D until the next upgrade which should have the “dust shaker” lke the XTi. That’s been a great improvement over earlier digital models; I haven’t ever seen even the hint of dust on an image taken on the XTi.
    Roger Moldehauer
    Edgar (near Wausau), Wis.
    [McCain: I have not had any major dust issue with it, but I know that is a problem.]

  4. April 14th, 2007 at 23:14 | #4

    I wonder how our altars became attached to the wall rather than free standing, as in Luther’s day. I see that in most remodels (including my last parish) the tradition of the free-standing altar return.
    And now, there is a movement in the Roman Church to return to the attached altar with the priest returning to facing the wall during the Canon.
    [McCain: Actually most altars were attached to the wall before the Reformation. Free standing altars were the exception, not the norm. In addition, in all of the larger churches and cathedrals the altar, if not the entire chancel, was closed off to the laity via the rood screen, etc.]

  5. Joanne
    April 15th, 2007 at 19:31 | #5

    Hi Pastor McCain,
    I visited Torgau on Reformation Day and All Saints in 2005. We drove upriver from Wittenberg in the cool Autumn sunshine. My mother, with a “Kitty my rib” great fondness for Katharina von Bora Luther, wanted to see where she is buried, so the first thing we did in Torgau was to climb the hill to St. Mary’s and find the memorial stone in the church. Es begab sich dunkel war, er something like that, and sehr kalt while we were taking our sweet time absorbing the church. In tourist brochures we had learned that a small restaurant, Herr Kaethe, was somewhere near. We found it and heartily ate apple pepper soup and grilled Forellen. While we were there teachers brought there classes of children in to “trick or treat” the owners. We were disappointed to see this American custom bothering Refermation Day night. Also, there was no sign of a service that day or night in St. Mary’s. When leaving we asked the owners for recommendations for lodging (we traveled with no reservations, so were free as the birds). We quickly found lodgings 1 block off the City Square and right across the street from Woolworths.
    After getting my ancient (then 81) Mama settled in, I went back into the dark to find a concert that I thought a flyer on the church door mentioned was that evening at the church at 1730. I found it wasn’t at the church but at the castle chapel, the very one in your pictures. I scrambled up to the castle and into the well lit courtyard. At the chapel door, I found that the concert had already started and I was barred from entering. I thought I would wait for the intermission and catch the last half. While waiting I monkeyed around on that puzzletree of a staircase. While on the staircase, I decided to call a friend in Houston. I put her into the picture then suddenly, at 1800, all the bells in the city let loose. Oh, the bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells. Hear the tintinabulation of the bells. My friend on the phone was hollering, What is that!
    Sigh, there was no intermission and I missed the concert, but I slipped in while everyone was leaving and oogle-eyed the chapel interior before they threw me out. Yes, they threw me out. It was marvelous to be there. Young ones had crowded around the musicians to see the instruments and to ask questions. It was a concert using period “historical” instruments.
    I’ve written all this by way of asking you if you have any photos of the altar table supports. As I remember, they were nicely carved with symbols.
    Try as I might to be satisfied with this room, I’ve always felt (have seen pictures of the 1st Lutheran chapel since childhood) that something is akimbo in it. It seems that a large Cranach altarpiece should be framing that altar and hiding the clumsy placement of the column and door. It is also very unlike German renaissance taste to leave so much wall space unadorned, especially the rather lovely vaulted ceiling spaces. In my mind, the ceiling cries out for the artists’/artisans’ brushes. I believe that Michelangelo was alive when the chapel was built, and Duke Johann still had the money to hire him. Alas, it seems the great Italian painter wasn’t available just then to take on a German project.
    I was going to look this up, but is Torgau in Sachsen oder Sachsen-Anhalt. Although all the Landeskirchen are compromised by unblinkered oecuminism, still the church in Sachsen is Ev. lu. and the Sachen-Anhalt is just Ev. with a long history of Prussian Unionism. I believe that Anhalt was Calvinist before the Union. Wittenberg is in the bishopric of the Uniate Archbishop of Magdeburg, and this does make a difference in Wittenberg where any protestant can get a statue put up in the Castle Church. Just ruminating. Unionism in Germany does have a history of reducing the art found in churches.
    Did somebody mention bakeries? While facing the castle gate and the bridge over the bear-filled moat, take a sharp right and park in front of the castle. Car traffic is blocked on that street at the end of the block. This street curves past the Johann Walther Schule and back to the square. However, about two blocks past the traffic blockers, on the right, is a bakery, my favorite in Torgau. And, it’s only about 1 block from Herr Kaethe. Actually, I believe that there is a German law that every block must contain at least one bakery and one bank. Or so it seems.
    I very much enjoyed the pictures and admire your skill with the camera.
    Joanne (should be looking up more of this for myself)

  6. Connie Seddon
    April 16th, 2007 at 20:30 | #6

    I visited Torgau in 1997, the year following the “Luther Year,” 1996. I was lucky to find some published materials available that had been prepared for the celebration year and bought a book, *Die Schloßkirche zu Torgau,* unfortunately all in German but a very thorough discussion of the history of the Castle Church. The book shows the altar as it appeared in 1676, with a very elaborate and detailed carving (looks like stone) mounted on a large decorated stand with columns on either side, placed behind the free-standing altar. All of this would have obscured the column of the church itself. Apparently the church had already undergone alteration of its furnishings by 1662, so I’m not sure what was original. However, the altar itself was destroyed in 1945 during the war. It was restored in 1953. The picture of the altar in 1676 shows it with a cloth over the free-standing part. The church itself served a number of institutions over the centuries, including a correction facility, workhouse, poorhouse, and orphanage. In 1815 it was a church for the military. It wasn’t until 1931 that it was again consecrated “als Kirche der evangelischen Kirchengemeinde Torgau.” Some evidence of very old wall painting has been detected in a few places, such as near the organ niche. The picture from 1676 shows other decorative elements, such as banners hanging from the balconies, but these may reflect the changes of 1662.
    My disappointment in 1997 was that I missed the original hymn books and music manuscripts of Johann Walter, which were in a display on the second-floor balcony. I didn’t find out about the display until I was at the St. Mary church and by then there was no time to go back. I guess that means another trip!

  7. Arvid Nybroten
    June 19th, 2007 at 23:45 | #7

    Tha chapel seems very sparce of iconography given the wealth and power of the Saxon electors. I prefer the altars in the Scandinavian churches (especially like the ebony and silver altar in Storkirche in Stockholm), and of course, there is Frauenkirche in Dresden, built by a Catholic elector for his Lutheran subjects. I wonder why Luther would prefer a plain table, given the fact that he seems to have had a much higher regard for the Sacrament of the Altar than most later Lutherans, especially after the Union and he had no obvious objection to religious art as such, given his willingness to risk his life to go to Wittenberg to stop the ransacking and destruction of the statues and paintings of the Castle Church.
    Actually the high altar of a Catholic church should always be free standing, but that didn’t prevent it from having a large reredos and the priest or bishop still had his back to the congregation. The original idea was that one prayed facing east because that was the direction from which Christ was expected to return–”Like the lighting that shines from the east to the west will be the coming of the Son of Man.” That is also why the dead are/were buried facing east. Since the Vatican is a western suburb of Rome, the front door of St. Peter’s is at the east end of the basilica which means that when the pope prays facing the east he is facing the congregation, which many people have misinterpreted to mean that originally the pope prayed facing the congregation. Eastern Orthodox altars are all free standing, but the priest/bishop still prays facing the east (i.e., with his back to the congregation).

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