Marienkirche, or St. Mary’s Church, is a key site to explore. The church is the oldest structure in Wittenberg, and Dr. Luther was very familiar with this church and its pulpit in particular. Here Luther preached over three thousand sermons. While Luther’s pulpit is now located in Luther’s House (make sure to see it there), you can still view the Reformation altarpiece by Lucas Cranach the Elder, which depicts the Lord’s Supper.
The Cranach Altarpiece teaches about the Means of Grace in a very visual way.View Questions
If possible, sing the first and last stanzas of “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”View Hymn
A mighty fortress is our God,
A trusty shield and weapon;
He helps us free from ev’ry need
That hath us now o’ertaken.
The old evil foe
Now means deadly woe;
Deep guile and great might
Are his dread arms in fight;
On earth is not his equal.
The Word they still shall let remain
Nor any thanks have for it;
He’s by our side upon the plain
With His good gifts and Spirit.
And take they our life,
Goods, fame, child, and wife,
Though these all be gone,
Our vict’ry has been won;
The Kingdom ours remaineth. (LSB 656:1, 4)
Luther wrote over two dozen hymns, including “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” (Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott). It was very important to Luther that people could sing hymns written in their own language. In Wittenberg and throughout the Christian world, the Mass had historically been spoken or chanted in Latin. As a result of Luther’s hymnwriting campaign, the people of God in this German town could hear the Word of God in their own language and also sing hymns in German. Such changes were to occur in many villages and towns throughout Europe—the Mass, or Divine Service, in their own language was indeed a significant reform.
Other significant reforms of Luther and his fellow reformers were to restore a proper view and practice of the Sacrament of the Altar. Luther correctly identified that the papal practices regarding the Lord’s Supper had become scripturally wrong, abusive to the Sacrament itself and to the people of God. The very language of the Mass that had been in use for hundreds of years reflected some of these errors. To correct this, Luther wrote new orders of service for Holy Communion, restoring the proper focus in the liturgy that emphasized the Lord’s Supper as a great and precious gift to all who partake of His body and His blood for the forgiveness of sins and salvation.
Lucas Cranach the Younger, like his father, was a gifted artist and strong supporter of Luther and the teachings of the Reformation.
Martin Luther married Katharina von Bora on June 13, 1525. Later, we will explore the Luther House to learn more about their family life, but we pause briefly here to reflect on the sober realities of medieval life. Despite what you may see around you in modern-day Wittenberg, surviving to “old age” was very difficult in the sixteenth century.
Dr. Luther and his wife had six children: three boys and three girls. Elizabeth, their first daughter, died in 1528 before reaching her first birthday. Elizabeth’s gravestone was removed from the church during the most recent renovations. Later, another daughter, Magdalena, would die before reaching adulthood. As a pastor and a father, Luther understood the suffering and pain of losing loved ones, especially a child. In a pastoral letter, Luther writes to a friend who was grieving the loss of his wife:
God has ordered and arranged this life in such a way that in it we should learn and practice the recognition of the divine will, which is the best of all, so that we must also test ourselves and experience whether we regard and love his will even higher than ourselves and everything that He has given us to love and have on earth. The boundless goodness of His divine will is too lofty and hidden for the old Adam (as God Himself is); he does not gain any pleasure or joy from it, but only mourning and crying. Nevertheless, we have His holy, sure Word, which shows us this hidden will and kindles the believing heart, since He tells us everywhere in Scripture that when he punishes His children, it is not wrath but sheer grace. (Letter to Hans Reineck of Mansfeld, April 18, 1536, WA Br 7:399–400; trans. Ben Mayes; copyright © Concordia Publishing House.)
Now, think on the last stanza of “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”, which was written during the return of the plague to Wittenberg. Luther, through faith in Christ, remained confident in the hope of Christ’s victory for us and our eventual resurrection to eternal life with Christ.
As you walk past the Franciscan monastery, note that this monastery was founded in 1238, and another monastery for the Hermits of St. Augustine was founded in 1365. Luther joined an Augustinian monastery in Erfurt in 1505 and was associated with Wittenberg’s Augustinian monastery when he moved here in 1512. Luther was still an Augustinian monk but also a priest and teacher at the university when he posted the Ninety-Five Theses to the Castle Church door in 1517. By 1522, the Augustinians at his monastery were already beginning to enact some of his reforms, such as suppressing private masses, offering Communion in both kinds to parishioners, and using the Holy Communion service that Luther had written. Luther himself was in hiding in the Wartburg during this time, under the protection of Frederick the Wise.
In 1517, Martin Luther posted the Ninety-Five Theses on the door of this church, although the original door is no longer here. Dr. Luther was intending to begin an academic discussion about church issues, particularly the error of selling indulgences. For many years, people could purchase indulgences as a means by which they believed their sins could be forgiven. Luther rightly determined that this practice opposed the clear Gospel proclamation that forgiveness of sins is found only through faith in Jesus Christ.
The church is actually named All Saints’ Church, but is commonly known as the Castle Church. The Marienkirche (St. Mary’s Church) was considered the town church. At the time of Luther, the church owned over five thousand relics. Christians at this time commonly believed that proper devotion or worship of relics was a form of penance, which would, like indulgences, remove sins and time spent in purgatory.
Lutherans don’t worship Luther, and what you see in All Saints’ Church reflects this. Even rulers bow to the Lord. Within this church, only the tombs of Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon remain. Throughout this church and in Wittenberg, there are many markers of the works done by Luther, the other reformers, and the leaders of Germany. But Luther’s sainthood is the same as ours. In Jesus Christ, through Baptism, we are made saints and children of God. Luther, like your pastor today, was a servant of God, proclaiming the truth and comfort of the Gospel message to sinners. By the death and resurrection of the Son of God, we are forgiven and given eternal life in Jesus.
Several lunch options are available here.
Lucas Cranach the Elder was an entrepreneurial (able to explore many opportunities) and busy man. He was an artist, owned his own printing workshop and pharmacy, and was also a publisher. With such resources available to him, it was a great blessing that he was also a strong supporter of Luther.
Cranach the Elder was the court painter to the electors of Saxony and became a friend of Luther, painting many portraits of him. Perhaps most notable is his portrait of Luther as “Junker Jörg” (Knight/Squire George). This was a disguise Luther used while at Wartburg castle. As Junker Jörg, a German knight, Luther sported a beard and longer hair. His stay at Wartburg Castle was to keep him safe from Roman Catholic officials who may have wished him harm for igniting the Reformation movement. Luther actually left Wartburg in this disguise to visit Wittenberg, where increasing unrest was disturbing both the city and the churches and monasteries.
Cranach’s artwork reflects the themes being preached by the reformers—the crucified Christ, sinners at the foot of the cross, the Law and the Gospel. His son Lucas Cranach the Younger would follow in his footsteps, particularly with his altarpiece at Weimar.
While at the Wartburg, Luther completed a translation of the New Testament into the German language. Cranach the Elder was the first to print this manuscript.
German printer Johannes Gutenberg didn’t invent the printing press; he just improved it greatly. His contribution to the printing field involved mechanical movable type which allowed for faster, almost assembly line–like printing on paper. For this reason, hundreds of thousands of copies of Luther’s writings were printed and distributed during his lifetime.
Cranach had one of the “new” printing presses and essentially became the publisher and printer of the Reformation.
Luther was born in 1483, well before Leucorea (Wittenberg University) was even open for education, which occurred in 1502. Luther himself arrived in Wittenberg in 1512 to be a theology professor at this young university. As someone who valued knowledge and as a professor, Luther continued his studies while at Leucorea and gave lectures to students on the Psalms, Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews. By the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, his preparation for these lectures likely led him to a clearer understanding of Scripture and the Gospel.
Many students throughout Europe also came to Wittenberg to study. Philip Melanchthon arrived in 1518 at the age of 21 but not as a student. He had finished his bachelor’s degree when he was fourteen years old and his master’s degree at seventeen. By age 21, he was evidently ready to be a professor of philosophy. Melanchthon came to Leucorea to teach and assist with the advancement of the humanist approach to learning. This approach emphasized the use of source texts in original languages. Instead of reading about the Bible, students actually read the Bible in Hebrew and Greek. Melanchthon also became a student of Luther in the theology department, receiving his doctorate in 1519. So the lifelong friendship between Luther and the brilliant writer Melanchthon began. He would later express the meaning of his friendship with Luther in these terms: “I would rather die than be separated from this man [Luther].”
On the grounds of the university, you can see original stone steps through the glass viewing window. There are many plaques to find.
Leucorea Scavenger HuntFind the following items:
Philip Melanchthon, born in 1497, came to Wittenberg in 1518 as a very young professor at the Leucorea (or university). Melanchthon lived in this home from 1539 until his death in 1560. He married Katherine Krapp, the daughter of Wittenberg’s mayor, in 1520, and they had four children.
Melanchthon had a gift for languages and writing. He influenced Luther greatly by assisting him with translation from the original biblical languages of Greek and Hebrew. As a writer, he wrote many letters, essays, and documents that clearly communicated the teachings that are still a part of what Lutherans believe, teach, and confess. These documents are the Augsburg Confession, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, and the Power and Primacy of the Pope. That’s three of the eight documents written during the Reformation that are a part of the Book of Concord.
Melanchthon was also a gifted educator and is still known as the “Teacher of Germany.” He was an education innovator, committed to restoring the use of classical texts, classical languages, and a systematic investigation of learning. This movement in learning was called “classical humanism” and influenced teaching and learning throughout Europe.
John Bugenhagen (1485–1558) is often referred to as the “Pastor of the Reformation.” His first exposure to Luther was from reading Luther’s essay The Babylonian Captivity of the Church. After careful study, Bugenhagen became convinced that Luther was restoring scriptural teaching and equally convinced that the current teachings of the church had departed from Scripture. Bugenhagen was originally from Eastern Pomerania, and Luther affectionately called him “Doctor Pommer.” In fact, in 1523, he became the pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Wittenberg and Luther’s pastor. In 1525, he married Martin Luther, a former monk, to Katharina von Bora, a former nun. He was also well known for lengthy sermons and became a vocal, almost larger-than-life supporter of the Reformation movement. One of Bugenhagen’s enduring sermons was the one given at Luther’s funeral. He began with these words:
Dear friends, I am to preach a sermon now for the burial of our dear father, the blessed Dr. Martin, and it is my eager desire to do so. But what or how shall I speak if for weeping I can produce no words? And who shall comfort you if I, your pastor and preacher, cannot speak? Whither may I turn from you? With my words I will undoubtedly cause more wailing and grief. For how shall we not all heartily grieve now that God has sent us this sorrow and taken away from us that lofty, precious man, the honorable Dr. Martin Luther, through whom He has shown unspeakable gifts and grace to us all and to all the church of Christ in German lands and in many foreign nations; and through whom He has claimed glorious victory against the kingdom of Satan, against so many pernicious idolatries and commandments of men—indeed, against the doctrines of devils, as Paul puts it [Colossians 2:22; 1 Timothy 4:1], even in all the world; and has revealed to us in the Gospel the high, great, heavenly mystery, His beloved Son Jesus Christ (as again Paul says to the Ephesians and Colossians)? (Johann Bugenhagen, funeral sermon for Martin Luther, 1546; trans. Matthew Carver; copyright © Concordia Publishing House.)
Bugenhagen also assisted Luther with the German Bible translation and served as a professor of theology at Wittenberg University. Above all, he was a beloved and gifted preacher and served at St. Mary’s Church (Marienkirche) until his death in 1558. He embraced wholeheartedly the Christ alone teaching on salvation and brought Gospel comfort to those within his pastoral care.
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