Martin Luther

Martin Luther grew up in a middle-class home. His father owned a mining concern. The young Luther was sent to Latin School so that he could later study law and eventually take over his father’s mining operation. Things did not go as planned. Luther became a monk and then a priest. Later Prince Frederick (the Wise) called him to the faculty of the University of Wittenberg, where he lectured as professor while doing research and biblical interpretation. He lived in Wittenberg for nearly forty years, interrupted by numerous trips. Luther’s presence in Wittenberg made the city the center of the Reformation and gave the university great prestige.

Luther and Language

City Church St. Mary

The City Church of St. Mary was and is the Church of the townspeople. The Castle Church was built by Frederick the Wise for his court and as a university chapel. In contrast, the City Church emerged as a parish church for the citizens of Wittenberg who helped finance its construction and expansion.

With the position of professor on the university came preaching responsibilities, which Luther fulfilled in the City Church of St. Mary, the church of the Wittenberg townspeople. Here the reformer preached regularly and often in very clear, vivid language.

70 Sermons per Year

In the years from 1512 until 1546 Luther preached regularly until shortly before his death. Around 2,000 of his sermons are still available. During his thirty-four years of preaching in the City Church Luther averaged seventy sermons per year, more than the number of Sundays in a year. His “Invocavit” sermons were especially significant. They were named after the Latin designation of the Sunday on which a series of eight sermons began. In 1522 Luther was compelled to return to Wittenberg from his exile in the Wartburg Castle where he had translated the New Testament. Trouble arose in Wittenberg when certain radicals among the reformers demanded that the churches be emptied of all images including statuary, stained glass, and other images as demanded by the first commandment (Exodus 20:4). Luther opposed the iconoclasts and returned to Wittenberg to stop the destruction and to convince the perpetrators of their wrong-doing. In this way Luther led the Reformation along more peaceful paths.

Mother Church of the Reformation

The City Church of Wittenberg is now known as “Luther’s Preaching Church” and the “Mother Church” of the Reformation, because of his sermons in the German vernacular, because of the renewal of worship and Holy Communion, and because of the communal singing of sacred hymns. 

Johannes Bugenhagen

At the recommendation of Martin Luther Johannes Bugenhagen was elected by the City Council of Wittenberg as Municipal Pastor. Bugenhagen also made public his allegiance to Protestantism when he married. He was a loyal follower, friend, and confessor to Luther. Johannes Bugenhagen officiated at Luther’s marriage to Katharina von Bora, and he baptized their children. Both Luther and Bugenhagen preached regularly in the City Church. His sermons were in contrast to Luther’s sermons often very long.

Lucas Cranach

Lucas Cranach was already a recognized artist during his lifetime. In 1505 Prince Elector Frederick the Wise brought Cranach to Wittenberg to serve as the court artist. The prince awarded Cranach a crest, consisting of a winged snake, with which the painter “signed” his works from that day on.

Cranach was not only a recognized artist but also a successful business man and city politician. He operated a pharmacy in Wittenberg, a printing shop, and a bookstore. The Cranach workshops can be visited today.

Cranach was elected twice as Mayor of Wittenberg. As an artist he built up his studio in which his sons also worked. His second son Lucas later took over the business and set out in his father’s footsteps as mayor. From that time on the two were distinguished by the names Lucas Cranach the Older (d.Ä) and the Younger (d.J.).

Primary works of both artists can be seen in the City Church. One of the most significant works is the satirical picture board of the “Vineyard of the Lord,” which in its day evoked high praise. It is worthwhile to read the rhymed explanation below the painting.