Christian Travelers Guides

Christian Travelers Guides

Saturday, March 31, 2012

The churches of Eisleben

Close to the house where Luther died is the parish Church of St. Andrew (Marktkirche St. Andreas) where Luther frequently preached when he visited the town. In fact, his last four sermons were preached here shortly before his death. This late Gothic hall church dominates the market square with its twin bell towers.

Originally built in the early middle ages as a Romanesque structure the church was renovated in the fifteenth century following a fire that almost completely destroyed the original building. The church was rebuilt to create a relatively rare triple-naved hall church. Inside this dimly lit building are a number of impressive tombs and an richly carved altar. It also contains busts of both Luther and his close associate Philipp Melancthon (1497-1560).

Statue of Luther with St. Andrew's Church in the background.
 Today the church is in dire need of renovation due to years of neglect during the communist era of the German Democratic Republic. Once these renovations, which are due to begin soon, are completed it will be a truly magnificent building rich in history.

A short walk down the hill from the market square leads to the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul which stands a few hundred yards from Luther’s birthplace. It is here that on St. Martin’s Day, 11 November 1483, the baby boy who grew up to become Martin Luther was baptized.

The church was first mentioned in local records in 1333. It is a three-aisled church which was extensively renovated in 1486. Today, once more, it is undergoing large scale renovations in preparation for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

Inside the church the visitor can see its impressive fan vault and the actual font which it is believed was used in Luther’s baptism. For years it was thought that the font was lost, but it was unearthed in a local garden in 1726. The inscription on commemorating Luther was added in the 18th century.

The Church of St. Peter and St. Paul as seen
when approached from Luther's birthplace.
A winged altar dates from the late 15th century while the main altar was added around 1500. It was dedicated to St. Anne the patron saint of miners. Significantly, when caught in a terrible thunder storm at Strotternheim, near Erfurt, the young Luther, who by that time was a university student, called upon St. Anne to save him. Shortly after surviving the storm, Luther entered a monastery to become a monk.

Before leaving Eisleben it is also worth visiting the Local History, or Heimat, Museum, located at Andreaskircheplatz 7. It has an interesting collection of mining tools from Luther’s time and provides a background to the life of Luther and his family.

The winged altar in the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Eisleben - where Luther died

Luther Sterbehaus (the house where he died), is located at Andreaskirchplatz 7, which was renovated recently to create an impressive museum. Here you can see the bed in which Luther died which apparently is genuine. At the rear of the house there is also a fascinating mining museum reminding visitors of Luther’s origins.

At the time of his death Luther was visiting the town in an attempt to resolve a property dispute between the local Dukes of Mansfeld. In fact, a few weeks before, Luther had more or less resolved the problem when one of the parties changed his mind and a bitter argument followed. While working on this very practical issue Luther took ill and died.

The house where it was traditionally believed Luther died

Until recently there was no doubt that Luther died at Andreaskirchplatz 7. Then, a few years ago it was established that in fact he died at Markt 56 which is now the hotel Grafen von Mansfeld. Nevertheless, the Luther Sterbhaus Museum is well worth seeing.

The plaque marking the house Luther was supposed to have died
Luther was proud of his origins and spoke of himself as a peasant’s son. In reality, his father was a moderately successful businessman who ran a copper smelting business. His father grew up in the Thüringen town of Möhra, but under Thuringian law it was the younger son who inherited the family estate. Therefore, his father could not take up farming and moved to Eisleben which was then a boom town and centre of the local mining industry.

Once again, we are reminded that when dealing with another age and society, we cannot assume that our own view of the world is the same as the one we are seeking to understand. To the modern mind, Luther’s claim to be a “peasant’s son” plain wrong, just as the genealogies of Jesus found in the New Testament are often said to be “incorrect” because they omit entire generations.

But, in fact, this is the way people in the past though. It is also the way many people today who still live in peasant communities continue to think. To Luther, he was the son of a peasant even if his father was the owner of smelting works. Similarly, the New Testament talks about Jesus was the son of David while at the same time stating quite clearly that he was the son was Joseph. What matters in both cases is lineage not our modern notions of paternity.

To be continued ...

Thursday, February 2, 2012


Fifty two kilometers, or 32 miles, north of Bad Frankenhausen, along some winding but picturesque roads lies the small town of Eiseleben, or to give it its modern name Eisleben- Lutherstadt. This is the birthplace of the great sixteenth century scholar and founder of Protestantism Martin Luther (1483 – 1546).

The Luther statue in Eisleben
Founded due to a mining boom in the foothills of the Harz mountains during the late Middle Ages, Eisleben became a prosperous industrial center with a population of around 4,000 in the late 15th century. Some time before Martin was born his father moved to Eisleben from the family's ancestral home in Möhra, near the more famous town of Eisenach, in Thüringen. Here he became active in smelting ore for the mining industry. Eventually, his father owned several mines in the area.

Luther's brithplace
Today, Luther Geburtshaus (the house where Luther was born), at Lutherstraße 16, is a well-constructed museum depicting the life of the Reformer. Most accounts say that Martin Luther was born shortly before midnight on November 10, 1483. But, no one was really sure of the exact time or even date. So he could have been born on the 9th or 11th of November. Even his mother admitted she ­didn’t know the exact year. These confusions ­don’t bother historians, who use the traditional date of November 10, 1483. Knowing the confusion about Luther’s real birthday helps us remember that the world in which he lived was very different from our own.

Shortly after Martin was born he was baptised in the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul which is a few minutes walk from his birthplace. Then when he was six months old his family moved to nearby Mansfeld which was the local administrative center and seat of the Dukes of Mansfeld.

The Church of St. Peter and St. Paul

Christians often worry about the exact date of Christ’s birth and are troubled about apparent inconsistencies in biblical chronology. The fact is that in the past ­people viewed time and dates quite differently to the way we think about them today. The exact chronology of Martin Luther’s life is actually very difficult to reconstruct despite a wealth of documentation. Historians are quite open about the fact that they do not understand many things related to Luther’s life. Therefore, in the absence of alternate evidence, they usually accept traditional accounts.

The best modern biography is Martin Brett’s three-volume Martin Luther (Minneapolis, Fortress Press, 1993). Brett suggests that 1482 is probably the true year of Luther’s birth. A sidelight which Brett throws on Luther’s thinking is his comment that “because of the uncertainty over the date of his birth, Luther later had little concern for astrology or horoscopes. For him the course of his life was one of miraculous leading” (Brett, 1993:1).

Martin Brecht, Martin Luther, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993.