Five hundred years ago, on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his Thesis 95 to the door of the Catholic Church in Wittenberg. This document encouraged people to question the teachings of the Catholic church and started the Protestant Reformation. In celebration of the 500th anniversary of this event, there will be exhibits and activities across Germany and the USA. One exhibit is currently showing at the Minneapolis Institute of Art in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Martin Luther was born in Germany in 1483 and died in 1546. He originally studied law but decided to become a monk in 1505. In 1507 he became a priest and in 1510 he walked 1,000 miles to Rome. By 1512 he earned a doctorate in theology and became a professor at Wittenberg. In 1517 he preached against the Catholic Church’s sale of indulgences and nailed his Thesis 95 to the church doors. This declaration spread quickly across Europe. He was charged with heresy and excommunicated in 1521. That year he came under the protection of Frederick the Wise and translated the New Testament into German. On December 25, 1525, he married an ex-nun and they had six children.
The exhibit at the Minneapolis Art Institute is showing through January 15, 2017. It takes you through this life and the times he lived in. There are a couple of beautiful prints by Albrecht Durer, paintings by Lucas Cranach the Elder of Luther and his wife, the last pulpit Luther preached from, original manuscripts, a table Luther worked on, and much more.
Among the artifacts is an indulgence chest where gold and other precious items were stored. Any of the faithful could purchase an indulgence in order to reduce the punishment for their sins and shorten the time they had to spend in Purgatory. The way it worked was rich men would lend money to a Cardinal or somebody who oversaw several dioceses. Then the Pope would authorize that person to sell indulgences. The priests would preach several times a day and grant indulgences. With the money collected from the faithful, the debt would be paid off. This is how St Peter’s in Rome was funded.
One of the highlights for me was the Gotha Panel Altar from Heinrigh Fullmaurer’s workshop. It has 14 folding panels with a fixed central piece. It is basically a big illustrated bible.
Another item I found interesting was a hood worn by plague doctors. These were not real doctors but people who would go in and help the sick and dying as best they could. Most of these doctors died as well. Martin Luther had two brothers who died of the plague as it spread through Wittenberg in 1527. The hood covered the whole head and shoulders, had round glass eye holes and a pointed beak. The beak was stuffed with herbs and oils that helped the doctor tolerate the stench. It was a very eerie looking thing.
More information on the exhibits and on Martin Luther can be found here.