Reformation Day – 31st October

The Stadtkirche St Marien from the town square in Wittenberg © Ricky Yates

Today is Reformation Day / Reformationstag, marking the occasion on 31st October 1517, when Martin Luther sent a letter to the Archbishop of Mainz and Magdeberg, protesting about the sale of indulgences and enclosing a document setting out his disputation with Roman Catholic teaching and practice of that time, which has become known as ‘The 95 Theses’. According to tradition – though now disputed by some scholars, he also pinned these ’95 Theses’ to the door of the Schlosskirche /Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.

Today is a public holiday in several of the German Länder / States, celebrating this event which is seen as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Many Churches of the Lutheran tradition hold special services though sometimes these are transferred back to the previous Sunday, known as ‘Reformation Sunday’. The Church of England also remembers today, ‘Martin Luther – Church Reformer’, as part of its calendar.

This post arises out of two things. The first of these is to be a positive antidote to the celebration of Halloween to which I have a great aversion. Why do parents encourage their children to do silly things today that they spend the other 364 days of the year, actively discouraging them from doing???? And sadly, some people use today to celebrate that which is basically evil, rather than celebrating all that is good.

My second reason is that last week, Sybille and I, spent a most enjoyable few days in Berlin about which I will blog here in due course. On our return journey to Prague on Friday 26th October, we made a slight detour and visited the town of Wittenberg. I am rather behind with my blogging – observant readers will notice that my previous post was written and posted four weeks after the events described – but I felt that the coinciding of our Wittenberg visit with today, was a blogging opportunity not to be missed 🙂

The tower of the Schlosskirche in Wittenberg with the inscription ‘Ein feste Burg’ © Ricky Yates

Wittenberg – now officially called Lutherstadt Wittenberg, lies about 100 kilometres south-west of Berlin. Its location within the former East Germany meant that for over forty years, it was a rather difficult place to visit. Since the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, the town has recovered and major work is under-way, to ensure it looks its very best for the celebrations planned to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017.

Within Wittenberg there are two Churches connected to Martin Luther. The Stadtkirche St Marien is where he preached his famous eight Lenten sermons in 1522 and where he married the former nun, Katerina von Bora the following year. This Church is undergoing major renovation work at present costing 7.5 million Euros. It is rather surrounded by other buildings as well as scaffolding and therefore somewhat difficult to photograph.

The Schlosskirche is also undergoing renovation works but at least I was able to get this photograph of the Church’s tower. Inscribed on it are the opening line of Luther’s most famous hymn, ‘Ein feste Burg‘ – ‘A safe stronghold’. This is where Luther is traditionally understood to have pinned his ’95 Theses’ to the Church door. It is also where he is buried.


The bronze doors of the Schlosskirche with the Latin text of Luther’s 95 Theses © Ricky Yates

The original portal to the Schlosskirche was destroyed by fire in in 1760. In 1858, these bronze doors with the text of the 95 Theses in Latin, were installed. There is a German translation on one of the walls of the nave inside the Church.

Statue of Martin Luther in the town square of Wittenberg © Ricky Yates

A cardboard cut-out of Martin Luther © Ricky Yates

Martin Luther is to be seen everywhere within Wittenberg. His statue has centre stage within the main square. But he is is also to be found elsewhere within the town 🙂 I spotted this example on the right, outside a gift shop.

Wittenberg Town Hall with the statue of Martin Luther © Ricky Yates

5 comments to Reformation Day – 31st October

  • Thanks so much for this really informative and beautifully illustrated post, Ricky. I’ve learned a lot in a very enjoyable way. 🙂

    • Ricky

      I’m glad you enjoyed it Perpetua. It was a real thrill to actually visit Wittenberg and see places I first heard about in history lessons as a teenager in the 1960s. And as you have probably gathered, I think celebrating Reformation Day is a much better idea than the stupidity of Halloween.

  • Hi, chaplain c.z.!

    Well, I can’t say that I’m baking a cake to celebrate Reformation Day….however, I will be putting up a post expressing my humble opinion about it’s significance. When it’s up, I’ll let you so you can have full reign to critique it! Anyway, I’m glad you had a nice trip to the historic spots in Germany 🙂

    I do agree that the celebration of Halloween has gotten upsettingly over the top regarding blood and evil. I don’t mind a little bit of “fun” spookiness, dressing up and candy corn and what not, but there is definitely a limit. Actually, I used to dress up as saints when I was little and get candy for saying little prayers at a local Catholic Shrine.

    God Bless,

    P.S. I’ll try to get you signed up to view the online blog for our magazine! We’d love your opinion!

    • Ricky

      Hi P of T – I certainly wasn’t expecting you to bake a cake to celebrate Reformation Day but I very much look forward to reading your post on the topic 🙂

      What you say about ‘ the celebration of Halloween has gotten upsettingly over the top regarding blood and evil’ is exactly my point. Equally, I cannot understand how deliberately frightening people can be described as ‘fun’! As I’m sure you know, the word ‘Halloween’ is a corruption of ‘All Hallows’ Eve’, the eve of All Hallows’ Day, the old name for All Saints’ Day, an occasion for remembering and giving thanks for the saints who have gone before us & all that was good in their lives.

  • […] At the end of October, I took the last week of my annual leave for 2012 and with Sybille, visited Berlin for a few days, before travelling back to Prague via Wittenberg. […]