Martin Luther’s town: Wittenberg

The doorway where Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses. The original doorway was replaced over a hundred years ago.

The doorway where Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses. The original doorway was replaced over a hundred years ago.

Even though we have been having a wonderful, carefree time in Germany, we are mindful of what has happened across the pond —the awful church shooting that happened in Charleston, South Carolina. The pastor who died was a graduate of the Lutheran Theological Seminary in the South, and one of our tour participants is a sorority sister of one of the women who was killed. Dr. Karl Krueger, one of the tour directors, offered a special prayer after breakfast today. There was sadness mixed with joy, however, in that one of the women seminarians in our group had a positive interview with a prospective parish.

This morning we did a walking tour of the old city of Wittenberg, the city which changed the world and where the Protestant Reformation began. It was where supposedly, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church (Schlosskirche). There has been some controversy over whether Luther actually nailed the paper to the door, but he certainly could not have done that with the present door which is made of bronze with the 95 Theses engraved upon it. It replaced the previous wooden door over a hundred years ago.

Here is further explanation: Catholic Luther researcher Erwin Iserloh asserted in 1961 that the nailing of the theses to the church door is a myth. The first written account of the event comes from Philipp Melanchthon who could not have been an eye-witness to the event since he was not called to Wittenberg University as a professor until 1518. Also, this account appeared for the first time after Luther’s death and he never commented on ‘nailing anything up’ in 1517. Announcements of upcoming disputes were supposedly regularly hung on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. But, openly hanging the theses without waiting for a reaction from the Bishops could have been seen as a clear provocation and Luther only wanted to clear up some misunderstandings. It is also worth noting, that there was no open discussion of the theses in Wittenberg and that no original printing of the theses could be found. 

Still, it was a controversial move on Luther’s part.

Town Hall church

Town Hall church, Wittenberg. The weather cleared up enough to show some blue sky.

We spent some time in the Town Hall church here, which is where Martin Luther and Katharina von Bora (Kate) were married and had their six children baptized. According to one website, “it was headline news” when a former monk married a former nun. However, Luther was married not in front of the altar, but at the door of the church, believing that marriage was a state rather than a church matter. (Sound familiar?) Luther wanted to prove that priests could be married and still carry out their priestly functions. Every year the city of Wittenberg re-enacts their wedding, which took place on June 13, 1525, and it’s a popular festival the second week in June (which was last week).

Cranach altarpiece, The Last Supper

Cranach altarpiece, The Last Supper

The altar was painted by Lucas Cranach, and depicts the Last Supper — except in the picture you can see the personalities of the Reformation: (from Wikipedia) the apostle having a drink poured is a portrait of Luther, and the server may be one of Cranach. By the time the painting was installed in 1547, Luther was dead. Other panels show the Protestant theologians Philipp Melanchthon and Johannes Bugenhagen, pastor of the church, though not in biblical scenes. Other figures in the panels are probably portraits of figures from the town, now unidentifiable.

CranachSince this tour emphasizes Lucas Cranach as well as Martin Luther and Johann Sebastian Bach, we stopped briefly in the courtyard of the Cranach House, and saw a sculpture of Lucas Cranach the Elder. It was because of his paintings that we know what Martin Luther looked like.

By the way, Cranach signed his paintings with the symbol of a snake, which you can see in the plaque here.

House of Lucas Cranach the Elder.

House of Lucas Cranach the Elder.

In the afternoon, we had a snack with Thomas Herzer, who with his American wife, are the church musicians of the Castle Church of Wittenberg which is closed for construction.

Martin Luther's grave

Martin Luther’s grave in the Castle Church.

She in fact studied organ with David Fienen of Gustavus Adolphus college. Next year they are bringing their choir on tour to Minnesota. If you can believe this, Thomas conducts a gospel choir at the Castle Church, and from all reports, they are very good!

We attended an organ recital back at the Town Hall church based around the theme of F#, including music by Buxtehude and Vierne. A few of us went up to the console which looked well lived in!

The organ in the Town Hall church, Wittenberg.

The organ in the Town Hall church, Wittenberg.


Apparently it takes three or more keys to turn the organ on.


Town Hall church organ console.


By the way, you’ll be glad to know that my iPhone was found in the bus (YIPPEE!) and the bus driver was kind enough to make a special trip back to the Colleg to drop it off! So now you can see more of the pictures I took.

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About Katherine Crosier

In addition to playing the organ I am interested in documenting life's special moments through journaling, scrapbooking, photography and slideshow production. My family just groans.
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