Protestant ReformationChristian renewal movement in 16th-century Europe and the most momentous schism in Western Christianity, causing the emergence of different denominations. While there were some earlier attempts to criticise and reform the Catholic Church's dogmas and organisation, the starting point of Reformation is commonly set at Martin Luther's publication of ninety-five theses in Wittenberg, Germany in 1517. The most important points of criticism were the sale of indulgences by the Catholic church as well as simony (sale of offices) that created the impression of the church being corrupt. Not much later, Protestantism was substantially advanced in Switzerland by Huldrych Zwingli and John Calvin, before spreading to many other parts of Europe. Rifts erupted also among the Reformers, each founding their own denomination. Nowadays, Protestant churches exist in nearly every country in the world.
AntecedentsBefore the 16th-century Reformation, there were different movements that criticised and tried to reform Catholic officialdom and its teachings in different parts of Europe: Peter Waldo in late-12th century Lyon; John Wycliffe in 14th-century England; Jan Hus in Bohemia around 1400. Each of these movements was however confined to their respective region and brutally suppressed by the Catholic church, preventing them from spreading to further countries. The Protestant Reformation has its background in Renaissance Humanism, an intellectual movement, favouring scholarship and critical thinking, which began in Italy before spreading to the rest of Europe. While Italy had an early Protestant movement, the Catholic Church maintained its authority across the peninsula. A key to the success of 16th-century Reformation was the invention of movable type printing by Johannes Gutenberg of Mainz around 1450, that made the dissemination of scripts and books much easier.
In 1516, the Vatican sent the Dominican friar Johann Tetzel to Germany to sell letters of indulgence in order to raise money for the construction of St. Peter's Basilica. Tetzel purportedly told believers that "As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs".
Luther protested this practice as he believed it had no foundation in the Bible. He wrote to Albert of Brandenburg, who was the archbishop of both Mainz and Magdeburg, attaching a copy of his "Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences" consisting of 95 theses. Whether Luther, as often claimed, simultaneously posted these theses at the door of Wittenberg's All Saints' Church, is not historically proven, but neither is it entirely improbable. One of the theses asked: "Why does the pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build the basilica of St. Peter with the money of poor believers rather than with his own money?" Thanks to modern printing technology, Luther's theses rapidly circulated not only within Germany but in all of Western Europe within a few months. Students from several European countries flocked to Wittenberg to hear Luther speak.
Luther's core convictions (that became tenets of Protestantism in general) can be summed up in the "four alones" (solae): "by scripture alone" (sola scriptura in Latin; i.e. all dogmas that have no source in the Bible are invalid), "by faith alone" (sola fide, i.e. eternal life cannot be acquired by human deeds), "by grace alone" (sola gratia, i.e. salvation is attained by the grace that God gives even though people don't deserve it) and "by Christ alone" (solus Christus, i.e. Christ is the only mediator of salvation, no adoration of saints or the Virgin Mary).
While Luther had originally planned to reform the Catholic church as a whole, not to split it, this proved impossible and after 1526, he went on organising a new church, which is now known as Lutheran. He died in 1546 in his birth town of Eisleben.
Some of the German rulers soon adopted and supported Protestantism in their respective states. This led to a series of wars between the Catholic Emperor and the Schmalkaldic League of Lutheran lords. They – temporarily – ended with the Peace of Augsburg of 1555 that allowed the rulers of each state of the Holy Roman Empire to choose either Lutheranism or Roman Catholicism as the official denomination of their state (principle of Cuius regio, eius religio—"Whose realm, his religion").
One truly unfortunate aspect of Martin Luther's career is his relationship with and stated attitudes toward Jews. At first, he took a friendly stance toward the Jews because he hoped he could persuade them to convert to the reformed church he was creating. However, when he discovered that they considered Lutheranism just another form of Christianity and continued to disagree with it, he became exceedingly hostile and made such extreme anti-Jewish remarks that it shouldn't surprise anyone that Hitler declared that he was inspired by Luther's anti-Jewish rhetoric. For example, in his treatise, On the Jews and Their Lies, he wrote that Christians should burn down synagogues and Jewish schools, refuse to let Jews live among Christians, confiscate religious books from Jews, forbid rabbis to preach, withhold protection from Jews on highways, take away all Jewish-owned silver and gold and return it to only those who convert to Christianity, make Jews do forced labor or expel them, and he even wrote that "we are at fault in not slaying them". In recent years, some branches of Lutheranism, such as in the United States, have formally apologized to the Jews for their founder's remarks and asked for forgiveness.
SwitzerlandA similar movement took place in Switzerland, where Huldrych Zwingli (1484–1531), pastor of the Grossmünster in Zurich started to openly criticise the corruption of the Catholic high clergy and different customs that he found to be without justification in the Bible. These included fasting during Lent, celibacy of priests and iconography. However, Zwingli—like Luther—condemned the even more radical sect of Anabaptists. The symbolic starting date of the Swiss Reformation was the "Affair of the Sausages" on Quadragesima Sunday 1522, the first Sunday of Lent, when some burghers of Zurich deliberately defied Catholic fasting rules. In 1529, Zwingli and Luther met in Marburg for a disputation over the question of whether Christ was really present in the Eucharist. They failed to find common ground, which is one of the reasons why different Protestant denominations (Lutheran on the one, Reformed on the other hand) emerged and exist till this day.
Zwingli's teachings spread to other Swiss cantons and were most notably extended by John Calvin (1509–1564) who originated from Picardy in northern France, but spent most of his adult life in Geneva. Because of him, Reformed churches are nowadays almost synonymously referred to as Calvinist.
Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim and St. Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall are important monuments from the Catholic period. In Norway, church buildings were converted often accompanied by a destruction of Catholic art and ornaments. Some churches were demolished or abandoned. During the Middle Ages, most churches in Norway were wooden and built in the local stave church technique and often in an idiosyncratic style. Of some 1,000 such buildings, only 30 survived the post-Reformation period. After the Reformation, all new wooden churches were log buildings. According to Protestant ideals, the church building should be designed as an auditorium or a lecture hall with seats for all organized around the pulpit because the sermon became the focal point of the church service.
Swedish king Gustav Vasa began the Reformation as he was coronated in 1527, founding the Church of Sweden, which remained part of the Swedish government until 1999. The newly converted Swedish kingdom was among the victors in the Thirty Years War. At this time, Sweden included Finland.
Other countriesCalvinism was advanced by John Knox (1514–1572) in Scotland, where it became known as Presbyterianism and has shaped the Church of Scotland since 1560. In France, the followers of Calvinism became known as Huguenots. They constituted the majority in some regions of France (about 10% in the whole kingdom), before thousands of them were massacred on St. Bartholomew's Day 1572. The Dutch Reformed Church was founded in 1571 and Calvinism was long the predominant Christian denomination in the Netherlands. With Presbyterian and Puritan emigrants from Britain, Huguenots from France, and Dutch Reformed from the Netherlands, the Protestant Reformation also spread to North America, where it would later evolve into the hugely popular charismatic movement.
The English Reformation, culminating with the Church of England's split from Rome around 1534, was not part of the Protestant Reformation on the continent. Rather, the split was due to a political struggle between King Henry VIII and the Pope, as King Henry VIII wanted to get a divorce, which is not allowed under Roman Catholic doctrine. Whether or not Anglicanism should be considered a variant of Protestantism is a point of many debates. Unlike the wars of religion on the continent, religious struggles in England usually took the form of struggles over the direction of Anglicanism, not whether Anglicanism should be replaced by something else. To this day the English monarch is head of the Church of England and by law Catholics are excluded from royal succession. The Anglican church also spread to North America with the colonisation by the British, and would be re-named the Episcopal Church in the United States following the American War of Independence to remove references to the British monarchy.
WittenbergWithout a doubt the most important site, at least for the Lutheran branch of Protestantism. Martin Luther studied and later taught at the University of Wittenberg (that now bears his name), presumably posted his theses at the door of All Saints' Church (Schlosskirche) in 1517, publicly burned the papal bull of his excommunication and later organised his new church from here. Apart from the Schlosskirche, the Stadtkirche St. Mary, the residences of Luther and his colleague Philipp Melanchthon are part of the World Heritage.
EislebenBoth Luther's birthplace and his death house are extant and are UNESCO World Heritage sites as well as St. Peter and Paul's church where Luther was baptised.
ErfurtAugustinian convent where Luther lived as a monk from 1505 to 1511
AugsburgWas one of the richest and most powerful Imperial cities during the time of Reformation. At the Imperial Diet in 1518, Luther defended his teachings and refused to retract them. The town's citizenry predominantly adopted Protestantism very early. The Augsburg Confession, formulated in 1530, was the first definitive confession of the Lutheran faith (in some countries Lutheran churches are therefore called "Augsburg Church" or "Church of the Augsburg Confession"). The Peace of Augsburg was signed in 1555. While a number of medieval buildings still exist, the old townhall in which all these events took place, was replaced by a newer one during 1615–1624. It is nevertheless worth seeing and constitutes one of the most important Renaissance secular buildings north of the Alps. Moreover, Augsburg's Reformation-era history is documented in the Maximilian Museum and the Fuggerei, Europe's oldest social housing project endowed by the fabulously rich (and Catholic) Fugger banking family in 1521.
HeidelbergThe historic city is an important site to both Lutheranism and Calvinism. In 1518, Martin Luther participated in a disputation at the Heidelberg University (the "Heidelberg Disputation"). Elector Palatine Frederick III who ruled from 1559 to 1576 converted to Calvinism and made Heidelberg the most important centre of the Reformed denomination in Germany. The Heidelberg Catechism, one of the most important documents of the Reformed faith, was drafted here in 1563. The Church of the Holy Spirit, Heidelberg's most famous church, is a remarkable example for the plurality of denominations: It was originally Catholic, then Lutheran, then Reformed, temporarily again Catholic and finally separated by a wall into a Reformed (now united Protestant) and a Catholic (now Old Catholic) part. Luther also visited (and praised) the famous Heidelberg Castle which is now a ruin but still the city's most well-known landmark. The Bibliotheca Palatina is an immensely precious collection of documents, especially (Protestant) theological ones. It was evacuated to Rome by the Catholic party during the Thirty Years War, but the German-language manuscripts were later returned to Heidelberg (while all prints and non-German manuscripts are still in the Vatican Library).
LeipzigThe biggest city in Saxony, one of the "heartlands" of Lutheranism. The Leipzig Debate took place in 1519 between Catholic hardliner Johannes Eck on the one hand and Luther with his supporters Melanchthon and Andreas Karlstadt on the other side, at the Pleißenburg castle. Leipzig University was among the first to teach Protestant theology. The Pleißenburg has not survived, it was demolished to make place for the new townhall (that looks a bit like a castle, too), but you may visit St Thomas and St Nicholas churches where Luther preached; as well as places linked to Johann Sebastian Bach, who used hymn tunes by Luther extensively and set several of Luther's texts to music.
WormsSite of the Imperial Diet of 1521 where Luther was ultimately requested to abjure his teachings but resolutely refused to do so. Most of the citizenry supported Protestantism at that time and Worms was a printing centre of Protestant scripts. The small Romanesque St. Magnus' church was one of the first where evangelical sermons where delivered since 1520. Ulrich von Hutten and several Protestant theologists lived on the Ebernburg castle from 1520 and celebrated the first Communion service according to Lutheran liturgy in 1522.
EisenachWartburg castle, the place where Martin Luther hid in 1521/22 and translated the Bible into German, is another World Heritage site.
TorgauWhile Wittenberg is often dubbed the "mother of reformation", Torgau may be called its "nurse". At the time, it was the residence of the Electorate of Saxony whose ruler was Luther's most powerful patron and supporter and the first among German princes to adopt the new denomination in his state. The palace church of Torgau is consequently the first newly-built Protestant Church after Reformation. Luther, Melanchthon, Justus Jonas Sr. and Johannes Bugenhagen drafted the Torgau Confession in 1530, some articles of which were later adopted into the Augsburg Confession. Luther's wife Katharina von Bora died in Torgau in 1552.
MarburgAt the time of Reformation, Marburg was the residence of the Landgraviate of Hesse, whose sovereign was one of the first rulers to adopt Protestantism. Marburg University, established in 1527, was the second Protestant one. In 1529, Landgrave Philipp I—called "the magnanimous"—invited Luther and Zwingli as well as other Protestant theologians for a disputation at Marburg castle (Marburger Schloss), hoping that they would reach a unitary, Protestant position, especially on the issue of the nature of the Lord's Supper. Neither of the sides could however convince the other.
ZurichThe place where the Swiss Reformation broke out. Grossmünster is the church where Huldrych Zwingli delivered most of his sermons. In Froschauer's House (Brunngasse 18) the symbolic "sausage eating" during Lent 1522 took place. One of three surviving copies of the 1531 Zurich Bible (or "Froschauer Bible", after its printer), the first complete translation of the Holy Scripture from the respective source languages into (Swiss) German, illustrated with colourized prints by Hans Holbein the Younger, is kept at the Grossmünster.
GenevaJohn Calvin's domain that was proclaimed an independent Republic during the course of Reformation in 1536. It may even have had some characteristics of a Protestant theocracy during that time. The University of Geneva has evolved from Calvin's theologic academy, established in 1559. The Collège Calvin, St. Pierre Cathedral (the Reformed main church where Calvin preached), Calvin's grave on the Cimetière des Rois, the International Museum of the Reformation and the Reformation Wall (International Monument to the Reformation) are sights linked to the life and work of the city's famous reformer. A signposted sightseeing walk "In the footsteps of Reformation" connects the relevant sites.
address: Department Oise, PicardyJohn Calvin's birthplace with a museum dedicated to the reformer (Musée Jean Calvin).
StrasbourgJohn Calvin lived in Strasbourg during the time of his banishment from Geneva, 1538–41, and preached at Sainte-Madeleine and St. Nicholas Church and Temple Neuf. Today, neither of these churches is still Calvinist (the first is Catholic and the latter two Lutheran). Strasbourg long was a predominantly Protestant city, surrounded by Catholic countryside. Due to immigration, however, Catholics are now in majority.
address: South JutlandFrom 1523, the town was administered by Prince Christian, the future King Christian III of Denmark and Norway, an ardent follower of Lutheranism, who immediately introduced the Reformation in his fiefdom which therefore became one of the first hotbeds of Protestantism in Denmark, dubbed the "Wittenberg of the North". The beautiful Gothic St Mary's Church (now the Haderslev Cathedral, or Domkirke) became thus the first major Lutheran church in Denmark.
ViborgDenmark's prime theological reformer, Hans Tausen, originally a monk of St John's order, was transferred to Viborg in 1525 after he was converted to Lutheranism. His preaching fell on fertile ground among the town's citizenship that officially adopted the new religion in 1529. Tausen mainly preached in the lost St John's church (whose foundations were recently rediscovered and excavated), but also in the major Dominican church (Sortebrødre Kirke). The Hans Tausen Memorial Park was created in 1836 to honour the "Danish Luther" with sculptures by Hermann Ernst Freund and Bjørn Nørgaard.
address: StjørdalOlav Engelbrektsson, the last Catholic archbishop of Norway, fled to this small fortress from his residence at the Nidaros Cathedral (Trondheim). He brought with him St. Olav's shrine with the earthly remains of St. Olav, Norway’s patron saint. In April 1537 the king finally managed to take the fortress and send Olav into exile in Belgium. His exile ended the opposition to the reformation in Norway.
Nidaros CathedralThis is the second biggest church of Northern Europe and the only major Gothic cathedral in Norway. In Catholic times it was a major pilgrimage site in Northern Europe. Next door is the Archbishop's Palace, residence of the last catholic archbishop of Nidaros (the diocese included Norway, Greenland, Iceland, Orkney, Shetland and Iceland).
St. Mary's (ruin)The Provost of St. Mary's Church in Oslo also held the office as Chancellor of Norway (from 1314, effectively establishing Oslo as the capital). The institution existed also during the medieval Scandinavian Union. During the Reformation in Denmark-Norway this office was abolished along with the National Council of Norway, effectively moving Norway's capital to Copenhagen. Ruins of the church can be seen in "Old Oslo".
UppsalaUppsala has been the center of Swedish Christianity since 1164, and was before that the religious centre for Nordic paganism in Sweden. The Uppsala Cathedral, was built in the Gothic style in 1273. It i the largest church in the Nordic countries. During the protestant reformation much power and wealth was moved from the church in Uppsala to the King in Stockholm, causing both Uppsala and its university to decline. Uppsala Castle was constructed, partly in order to check Uppsala clergymen who disliked the reformation. Uppsala Synod, the most important church meeting in Swedish history, was held here in 1593. The meeting declared a confession of faith and outlawed non-lutheran Christianity, including other branches of protestantism, as heresy.
BrașovBirthplace of the humanist and polymath Johannes Honter (1498–1549) who introduced the Reformation to Transylvania. The remarkable Gothic "Black Church" was converted from a Catholic to a Lutheran one under Honter's aegis. A statue of the reformer stands in front of the church. It was also Honter who founded the library of Brașov in 1547.
TurdaTurda was one of the meeting places of the Transylvanian Diet. It was here where the Diet adopted the 1568 Edict of Torda, one of the first European documents granting a certain degree of religious freedom. It explicitly mentioned Lutheran, Reformed, Catholic and Unitarian denominations as "received religions" and allowed preachers in every place to "preach and explain the Gospel each according to his understanding of it". Nowadays, the town has two Reformed churches: a Gothic fortress church and a 16th-century church in New Turda.
EdinburghMain scene of the Scottish Reformation around 1560. St Giles’ Cathedral—or the High Kirk of Edinburgh—where John Knox preached is one of the most famous Presbyterian churches of Scotland. The Scottish Reformation Parliament that established the independent Church of Scotland in 1560 took place at Holyrood Palace (Queen Mary was exiled to France at that time). A historic building known as "John Knox's House" is dedicated as a memorial to the reformer, despite only scant evidence for his living (or dying) at this very place.
DebrecenHistorically the most important city of Hungarian Protestanism, Debrecen was known as the "Calvinist Rome" under its bishop Péter Melius Juhász (1532–72). Debrecen's Great Church (built in 1819) has long been considered the symbol of the reformed church in Hungary. The Reformed College, established in 1568, burned down in a town fire and was rebuilt in Classicist style in 1804–16.
LeidenLeiden was an important centre of the Dutch reformation, representing both the mainstream Calvinist and the more radical Anabaptist variant (ancestor of today's Mennonites and Baptists). It experienced iconoclasm (Beeldenstorm) in 1566, from which Lucas van Leyden's altarpiece in St Peter's Church, depicting the Last Judgment, could be saved. Of the Vrouwekerk (Our Lady's Church), where Protestant sermonizing began in 1572 and which was attended by many pilgrims who later emigrated to North America, only ruins have survived. The University of Leiden was established by the Reformed Stadtholder William of Orange in 1575.
DordrechtThe Gothic Grote Kerk (Great Church) of Dordrecht was converted to Calvinism in 1572. In the same year, the Free States of the Netherlands assembled in Dordrecht to declared their independence from (Catholic) Spain and chose William of Orange as their leader, sparking the Eighty Years War of Independence. This union took place in an Augustinian monastery that now is known as het Hof and includes de Statenzaal ("The Hall of States"). The 1618/19 Synod of Dordrecht of Dutch and international Reformed churches resolved the Canons of Dort, part of the "Three Forms of Unity" that constitute the confessional standards of many Reformed churches, and initiated an official Dutch Bible translation. The synod was opened with a liturgy in the Grote Kerk, while the discussions took place in the Kloveniersdoelen (shooters' guild) building that was demolished by the liberal establishment (despite opposition by orthodox reformists) in 1857, in its place is now the Dordrecht district court. Dutch Mennonites adopted their Dordrecht Confession of Faith in 1632.
- "Pilgrimage" along the "Luther Trails" (Lutherwege) in Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia, Saxony and Hesse, passing many places linked to Martin Luther's biography and work. They are recommended to hikers interested in the history of Protestantism, despite the fact that Luther considered pilgrimages unnecessary and they typically do not play a role in the religious life of Protestants.
- "Luther's Wedding" (Luthers Hochzeit) is an annual Reformation-era themed festival in Wittenberg commemorating the wedding of Martin Luther and Catherine von Bora on 27 June 1525 (which was a scandal at the time, given that the bride was a nun who had escaped from her monastery, and the groom was a former friar who was still bound to celibacy in the view of the Catholic church). There are processions, pageants, musical and theatrical performances, a market with 16th-century-style stalls and products as well as pseudo-historical food.
In parts of the central German states Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia, bakeries sell so-called "reformation buns" (Reformationsbrötchen, or colloquially Refo-Brötchen) as a seasonal pastry in late-October of each year to commemorate Reformation Day (i.e. the anniversary of Luther's posting of his theses). They consist of yeast dough and are covered with sugar glaze and a dab of jam in the middle.
Given the ubiquitous cult of personality around Martin Luther, Germany boasts a number of restaurants and taverns that claim Luther's name (e.g. Lutherschenke and the like) or advertise "food as it was in Luther's time". However none of them has a documented link to the reformer's life, let alone the concept of Reformation.