Leipzig and the Reformation
Leipzig - a Centre of Reformation
Martin Luther and the Leipzig Debate
In Leipzig, Christianity and the Church are important factors in the development of society. As early as in the 15th and 16th centuries, Leipzig was of outstanding importance in terms of both intellectual and economic life in electoral Saxony. There is evidence of Martin Luther having stayed in the city 17 times.
His most important sojourn was that marked by his participation in the Leipzig Debate in the summer of 1519, in Pleißenburg castle, upon the foundations of which today's New Town Hall is located. The trigger for this debate was Christians, who overtly bought letters of indulgence from the Leipzig Dominican, Johann Tetzel, instead of penitently bowing before God. Luther observed this, and, as a response and with the help of his 95 theses, invited the city to a scientific debate on the topic of indulgence.
Leipzig was of particular importance for the progress and stabilisation of the Reformation, since it was from this famous book-writing and publishing city that the writings of Luther, alongside numerous evangelical hymn books, were circulated in high volumes.
Johann Sebastian Bach - an avowed Lutheran
In 1723, the brilliant composer and organist, Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750) took the position of Thomas choirmaster in the St. Thomas Church and maintained this role for the 27 productive years up to his death. As Director Musices, he was responsible for the music in Leipzig's four main churches. During this time, he composed outstanding pieces, such as the Christmas oratorio, the Johannes Passion and the Matthäus Passion, as well as countless cantatas. Throughout, the staunch Lutheran also intensively pursued protestant chorale. The particular significance of hymns for the Evangelical church dates back to Martin Luther, who is alleged to have once said:
"Singing is a noble art form and practice."
More than 30 hymns still sung today were passed down from Luther. Many of these were used by Johann Sebastian Bach as the basis for polyphonic choral settings and organ arrangements, which, to this day, have maintained their charm.
500-year Reformation in Leipzig
On 31 October, 2017, the 500th anniversary of the publication of the 95 theses, which Martin Luther, according to tradition, struck at the door of the castle church in Wittenberg. The city of Leipzig took this anniversary as an opportunity to offer numerous events and exhibitions, dedicated to telling the story of the Reformation and its history.
Click on the banner beneath this text for more information on Luther in Leipzig and on the anniversary of the Reformation.
St. Thomas Church and the work of Luther
The St. Thomas Church has the closest connection to Luther. On 27 June 1519, the Leipzig Debate began here with a service in which the St. Thomas Choir participated under its choirmaster, Kantor Georg Rhaw.
Martin Luther held the sermon introducing the reformation here on the 25 May 1539. Inside the church, the significant event is commemorated by a bronze plaque. The church was bestowed with its appearance of today after the Reformation.
When the church was reconstructed at the end of the 19th century, colourful glass windows were added along the southern wall. Martin Luther features in one of these.
Stadtgeschichtliches Museum (Museum of City History) – Old Town Hall
In the Stadtgeschichtliches Museum, the cityscape from 1547 and a city model from 1823, with buildings, streets and squares, which Martin Luther knew, can be seen.
In addition, in a new exhibition, the museum houses:
- The wedding ring and an oil painting of Katharina von Bora (1499-1522)
- a silver Luther cup
- The Prince Gallery with pictures of Duke Georg the Bearded, Emperor Maximilian I and Karl V.
- Murals and epitaphs by Lucas Cranach the Elder and the Younger
Moreover, the pulpit from the old St. John's Church, as well as Luther's writings printed in Leipzig, can be found in the museum.
Martin Luther and Heinrich Stromer von Auerbach
Since as early as 1525, guests have been served in "Auerbachs Keller" restaurant. Luther was amongst those who used to stop here for a bite to eat. The founder, Heinrich Stromer von Auerbach was one of Leipzig's enlightened, progressive individuals in the 16th century.
The antagonised and admired reformer, Martin Luther from Wittenberg, was a friend of Stromer's. To protect himself from his enemies in Leipzig, Luther stayed in safe places during his visits, such as in the Auerbach house.
Over the course of the Luther decade, culminating in the 500-year anniversary of Reformation in 2017, the "Luther bedroom", in the historic wine taverns of "Auerbachs Keller" restaurant, was redesigned, and enriched by a newly-added mural, "The Secret Meeting".
Luther Trail Saxony: A 550 km-long circular trail
Martin Luther, his companions, and the reformation have left their mark in the Leipzig region of today too. Along a roughly 550 km-long circular trail, explorers can stop off in churches, monasteries and castles, in history-steeped locations, against the backdrop of an incredible landscape.
Luther and the German Language
With his translation of the Bible, Luther laid the foundations of the German language of today. He was most dedicated to achieving his goal of translating the Bible in such a way so as to ensure it was comprehensible to a whole nation, and did so with the support of his best friend, Philipp Melanchthon. Luther strove not for a literal translation of the Bible, but for a sacred script accessible to all. Thus, he looked people "in the mouth", and used their speech patterns for his translation, therein driving the development of a unified German language.
Luther's eloquence is brought to life by his neologisms, proverbs and idioms. We are often unaware of how many of Luther's neologisms we still use today – words such as 'Freundeskreis' (circle of friends), 'Machtwort' (word of command) or 'Beruf' (profession) now form part of our everyday language. More examples can be discovered in the video, "Luther's Pun“.