The Augustinian Monastery in Erfurt is the place where Martin Luther set out on a life devoted to theology. To a certain extent, then, it embodies the nucleus of the Reformation. The architectural ensemble is essentially still preserved in the mediaeval form in which Luther experienced it. The outstanding importance of the cloisters as a memorial site was already evident during the Reformation era, when appreciation began to be shown for the Martin Luther’s monastic cell as an authentic place of his work. The numerous renovations carried out were always performed in respect for the place as a site of the events and commemoration of the Reformation.
The complex of the mediaeval, more than 700-year-old monastic cloisters occupies an area nearly one hectare in size in the northern portion of the mediaeval city centre of Erfurt, between Augustinerstraße to the north, Kirchgasse to the east, the Comthurgasse to the south and the former court of the Teutonic Order, now a residential area, to the west. The array of buildings enclosed by a wall up corresponds to the ideal type of a mediaeval cloisters complex. It features a multi-aisled cloister church aligned from west to east and the adjoining cloister to the south, together with other buildings and courtyards.
The interior of the upper storey, once the dormitory, was rebuilt after a fire in 1872 in line with the historical inventory. Today, it houses the library of the Evangelical ministry with its significant, historic book inventory; the library was founded in the Augustinian Monastery in 1646. Veneration of Martin Luther’s last monastic cell, also located here, apparently began following his death; the first written record of this dates to 1651. This room, which was also lost to the fire in 1872, was recreated in the historicist spirit when the remainder of the structure was rebuilt, as is impressively demonstrated in the continuity of the Luther memorial activity.
The Augustinian Monastery, closely associated with the Reformation since Luther’s arrival in 1505, was built in the 13th and 14th centuries. Martin Luther entered the cloisters in July 1505 at the age of 21; starting out as a novice, from his ordination as a monastic priest in 1507 he was a member of the Augustinian monastery of Erfurt – up until his final departure to Wittenberg in 1511. After that, he visited the cloisters several times as the district vicar with responsibility for the order. In 1521, on the way to the Diet of Worms, he delivered what is considered a historic sermon against the papacy in the crowded cloister church.
With the establishment of the Reformation in Erfurt, the Church of St. Augustine was withdrawn from the cloisters beginning in 1525 and was used as church for the Protestant congregation. Following the death of the last remaining monk, in 1556 the City Council then took possession of the cloisters complex. From then on, the cloisters buildings have been in use by the Evangelical ministry, the college of the Protestant parson of Erfurt, as a meeting place and hence as a local centre for the Lutheran Church. In 1561, with the establishment of a grammar school [Gymnasium] in the Augustinian Monastery, the City Council met Luther’s call for the establishment of schools and libraries as expressed in his ‘Treatise to the Councillors’ [Ratsherrenschrift] of 1524. This marked the beginning of the still-unbroken tradition of educational and social institutions in ‘Luther’s cloisters’, passing through a series of stages of construction, restoration and usage that continue to this day in its use as a cultural and educational institution.
The Augustinian Monastery offer key material evidence of the spiritual and architectural environment of the Reformation, and in particular of the life surroundings that lent Luther’s biography the shape specific to it: the architectural ensemble is essentially preserved in its mediaeval shape, the way Luther experienced it. This is where, in 1505, Luther the novice embarked on a life devoted to theology. The cloisters are considered the ‘nucleus of the Reformation’.
The Augustinian Monastery in Erfurt was an important starting point of Reformation thought. This is where Martin Luther lived from 1505 to 1511; accordingly, the cloisters form one of the main ‘stops along the way’ of Luther’s life. By decision of the Convent of the Augustinian Hermitage in Erfurt, he studied theology beginning in 1507. On 2 May 1507, Martin Luther celebrated his first Mass in the Church of St Augustine, following his ordination as a priest in the Erfurt Cathedral on 3 April 1507. Erfurt was not only the site of very early dissemination of Luther’s theses by Johannes Lang; the Erfurt City Council also joined in Luther’s Reformation beliefs already in 1521-1522. This is why many theologians and historians speak of the Augustinian Monastery as the ‘cradle of the Reformation’. In his historic sermon held on his way to the Diet of Worms, on 7 April 1521, in the Church of St Augustine, Luther proclaimed his theological criticism of the Church and the papacy. Early on, and certainly no later than 1563, Luther’s last cell in the monastery became a place of commemoration of his work. Already in 1669 it was fitted out in ‘museum’ style, though this fell victim to a fire in 1872. To this day, the cell serves as a memorial space. In keeping with the tradition of Luther’s work, the monastery has been in continuous use by educational and social institutions ever since a grammar school was established here in 1561.