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 ...