On May 15, 2015 Torgau will open the first of four special exhibitions in the run-up to the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017. "Luther and the princes" focuses on the mutual influence of politics and religion.
In 1517, Augustinian friar Martin Luther published his "Ninety-Five Theses" protesting the sale of indulgences, in which he strongly disputed the Catholic Church's claim that freedom from God's punishment for sin could be purchased with money. Indeed, many Popes had used this system to raise considerable amounts of money in Europe to help rebuild St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Luther's critical theses were published and originally circulated as flyers: This period is now regarded as the start of the Reformation.
Nearly 500 years later, one of these original flyers can be seen as part of the exhibition "Luther and the princes" in the town of Torgau in Saxony. This special national exhition - the first of four - focuses on the political balance of power in the 16th century. It shows how fiercely the Catholic Church reacted to the Reformation and how it fundamentally affected every aspect of life, from language to civil administration in Germany.
"We are pleased that this exhibition will help to illustrate the enormous historical impact the Reformation had," said Hartwig Fischer, Director General of the Staatlichen Kunstsammlungen Dresden (Dresden State Art Collections), the organization responsible for the exhibit.
Hartenfels Castle provides an authentic setting
Apart from the original flyer, valuable paintings, ceremonial armor and Luther's signet ring are also on display at the special exhibition at Hartenfels Castle. A splendid precious stone-covered golden mitre, which was a kind of ceremonial headdress worn by Catholic bishops, is also part of the exhibition: It serves as a prime example of the luxurious indulgences of the papal Catholic church criticized by Luther. More than 200 relics from the age of Reformation and counter-reformation have been gathered from Germany, Europe and the USA and are exhibited in this authentic setting.
Torgau, the small town on the river Elbe, was the political center of both Saxony and the Reformation in the first half of the 16th century. From its Renaissance, it was ruled by princes like Frederick the Wise.
"Luther would never have been able to pursue his church politics without the support of the Saxon Electors," says exhibition curator Dirk Syndrom. The general tenor of the exhibition is that Luther's ideas were only able to establish themselves because he found support through Torgau's political infrastructure Its State Electors were able to protect him from the papal church in Rome.
The town becomes a museum
Apart from the historical artifacts on display, the Renaissance castle itself is an impressive part of the special exhibition, which will run until October. The castle has been undergoing extensive repair work costing millions of euros. The works should be finished in time for the Reformation anniversary in 2017. Restoration has already been completed on the Castle Church, the first constructed according to Protestant ideals. It was there that Luther himself was consecrated in 1544 by invitation of Prince John Fredrick I. As part of the special exhibition, you can hear excerpts from Luther's consecration service.
Rounding off the experience of the exhibition at Hartenfels Castle with its valuable artifacts is the actual town of Torgau, says its mayor Andrea Staude: "In Torgau's old town centre, you can find impressive and authentic sites of the Reformation."
Tourists can visit the Katharina-Luther-House. Luther's wife, Katharina von Bora, died in this Renaissance building in 1552 from the injuries of a coach accident she was involved in as she tried to flee from an outbreak of the plague.
Following this first presentation in Torgau, there will be three more special national exhibitions in 2017 to mark the anniversary of the Reformation. These will focus on Luther's influence in Berlin, Wittenberg and Eisenach.