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German church of Luther fame reopens ahead of milestone anniversary

The church where Martin Luther is said to have posted his "Ninety-five Theses" has reopened ahead of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The ceremony was attended by the German president and the Danish queen.

The reopening of the historical All Saints' Church in the eastern German city Wittenberg was marked on Sunday by a religious ceremony attended by German President Joachim Gauck and the Queen of Denmark Margrethe II (r. and m. above).

The seminal figure of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther, is widely believed to have posted his "Ninety-five Theses" on the door of church, also known as the Castle Church (Schlosskirche), in November 1517. The church has undergone a three-year renovation process as church officials prepare for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation next year.

Gauck, a former pastor, praised the church for its "long and varied history from its beginnings in the Middle Ages to the Gothic Revival started by Kaiser Wilhelm II and beyond." He said that the door of the All Saints' Church recalled "a seemingly inconspicuous academic dispute that influenced world history."

The "Ninety-five Theses" presented Luther's views on what he saw as the abusive practice of selling "indulgences," certificates that could allegedly bring about a reduction in the punishment imposed on sinners in the afterlife. The dispute that arose over these propositions by Luther was a main factor in the religious revolution known as the Reformation, which led to the creation of the Protestant Church alongside the Roman Catholic Church, until then the all-dominant Christian institution.

Ornate doors of Schlosskirche in Wittenberg (picture-alliance/dpa/H. Schmidtpicture-alliance/dpa/H. Schmidt)

The alleged posting of the "Ninety-five Theses" on these doors may have sparked the schism in the church

Strong Danish connections

Queen Margrethe II was invited to the opening because of the strong and historical relations enjoyed between the Danish royal family and the town of Wittenberg. Her forefather, Christian II, fled from Denmark to Wittenberg in 1523 after his deposition. There, he fostered a personal friendship with Luther, as well as with reformer Philip Melanchthon.

"The Danish king was so impressed by Luther that he stayed in Wittenberg until 1524," the queen told the congregation in perfect German.

Denmark introduced the Protestant Reformation in 1536 and Margrethe is head of Denmark's Evangelical Lutheran Church. Nevertheless, she said the invitation to attend the opening sermon of the newly refurbished All Saints' Church was a "big and joyful surprise."

Known in Denmark for her artistic talents, Margrethe presented the congregation with a red altar tapestry, known as an antependium, that she designed specially for the church. "It characterizes Luther well," she said. "A fiery spirit, who sparked that fire in many other souls."

Schlosskirche in Wittenberg (picture-alliance/dpa/H. Schmidt)

The renovation of the church cost 7.85 million euros ($8.82 million)

Wittenberg to be 'center of Europe'

With next year marking the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, the chairman of the Protestant Evangelical Church in Germany, Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, said that Wittenberg would find itself at the center of Europe.

"We want 2017 to be a celebration of Christianity, and to tell of the reformers who rediscovered the piety of their times," he said.

Saxony-Anhalt's state premier, Reiner Haselhoff, said: "For Saxony-Anhalt, the Reformation jubilee is a fantastic opportunity to present the birthplace of the Reformation internationally."

The jubilee should be "celebrated in a manner that is future-oriented, open-minded and ecumenical," he said.

dm/tj (KNA, epd)

 

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