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.
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.|