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Martin Luther in Erfurt

From: Erfurt, Germany

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ABOVE: Martin Luther lends his name to a restaurant and tavern in Erfurt.

"Martin Luther's spirtual home town"

Martinus Ludher came to Erfurt in 1502 to attend what was then one of the greatest universities in Germany. He studied the liberal arts--grammar, rhetoric, philosophy, dialectic, music, arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy--and received his master's degree in 1505. His next step was law school, but before he could complete his studies, God (or perhaps just a thunderstorm) intervened.

Luther was walking back to Erfurt from his parents' home in Mansfeld on July 2, 1505 when he encountered a thunderstorm in the village of Stottenheim. With lightning flashing around him, Luther dropped to the ground and cried "Help me, St. Anna, and I will become a monk!"

Two weeks later, against his father's wishes, he entered the Augustinian Monastery in Erfurt. A booklet published by the monastery in 2003 explains the change in Luther's lifestyle:

"Martin Luther was accepted into the standing of novice in the chapter hall. He was not allowed to speak without permission and usually had to go around with lowered gaze. The monastic life was strictly regulated. Luther said about it later: 'Not even one leaf in the garden is allowed to be picked without permission.' Nevertheless, Luther himself made a most considerable effort to zealously follow the rules and forced himself to be an exemplary, yes, even overzealous monk, who fasted in self-imposed asceticism for days, and at night he abstained in the cold cloister on his blanket, or even kept watch during the night in prayer."

In 1506, Luther took his final vows as a monk as he lay on the gravestone of Johannes Zachariae in the Augustinian Chapel. (If you saw the 2003 movie Luther, you may recall that actor Joseph Fiennes lay on the floor outside the altar rail; this was historically inaccurate but apparently looked better on film. Zachariae had played an important role in condemning the reformer Jan Hus to death by burning almost a century earlier, and Hus had prophesied: "You roast a lean goose [Hus] today, but from my ashes a swan will ascend in a hundred years that you cannot roast." Luther apparently regarded himself as the swan who had come to reform the church.

Luther was ordained as a priest in the Mariendom, Erfurt's Cathedral, in 1507. Although he left Erfurt for a professorship in Wittenburg in 1511, he stayed in Erfurt on a number of occasions over the next 20 years while preaching, visiting colleagues, or obtaining medical care. Erfurt continues to be an important stop on the "Luther Trail" from Eisenach to Wittenberg, and the Augustinian Monastery or Augustinerkloster (see our article) is well worth a visit or an overnight stay during any pilgrimage to Lutheran sites in Germany.

Next page: Sightseeing in Erfurt


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