The tower of the Church of St. Peter and Paul is a major feature of the skyline of Eisleben, the birthplace of Martin Luther. As the church in which Luther was baptised, for centuries the Church of St. Peter and Paul has been inseparably linked with Luther the man. It serves as an outstanding symbol of the Lutheran Reformation. Its exceptional significance as a Luther memorial site is manifested in the baptismal font, which contains parts of the baptismal font in which Martin Luther himself was baptised.
Typical of church architecture in the Mansfelder Land region is the tower, a massive, transverse rectangular beam shielding the church to the west. Another formative feature in the appearance of the church is the steep and mighty roof of the nave hall, reaching up to the cornice of the tower. The church interior is characterised by the hall-like, light-filled nave dating from around 1500.
The specific location of Martin Luther’s baptism is not known. It is possible that Luther was baptised in 1483 in the chapel of the tower of the Church of St. Peter and Paul, which was completed in 1474. Liturgically more likely is that this event took place in the predecessor structure not far from the present building. In the culture of remembrance of the centuries that followed, however, and to this day, the Church of St. Peter and Paul is considered to be parish church in which Martin Luther was baptised. Luther’s original baptismal font, which is set up alongside the present-day baptismal basin, illustrates the church’s special relationship to Luther.
At the time of Luther’s birth and baptism in the year 1483, there was a predecessor church in place, first mentioned in the documentary record as ‘St. Petri’ in 1333. Construction work on the new church began already in 1447, with the tower as part of the first phase of construction; this was completed in 1474. As the new west tower was not accessible from the outside, it can be assumed that Martin Luther was baptized in the old church in 1483. The predecessor church, however, remained intact, at least until the start of construction of the nave in 1486, and possibly until the choir of the new church was consecrated. The present-day Church of St. Peter and Paul has nevertheless entered the collective memory as the place where Luther was baptised; for this reason, it ranks among the unique memorial sites of the Reformation.
Early on, an extraordinary culture of remembrance took root in the Church of St. Peter and Paul, as is shown in the loft installed beneath the organ around 1586-1587. Although the loft no longer exists, it bore the inscription: ‘in honour of the Supreme God, and in memory of the blessed Luther, who was baptised in this church’. The church had already been renovated three years prior. Further restorations over the years, from the 18th century until most recently in 2014, attest to the church’s high status as the place of Luther’s baptism. This is evident particularly in the renovation work performed in 2011-2012 as a Baptismal Centre. The design of the Interior as a church devoted to a particular theme implements key aspects of Lutheran baptismal theology and leads to a dialogue between the testimony of the Reformation and its own relationship to baptism.
The parish church was the spiritual centre of the southern suburbs in which it was mainly miners – like the Luther family – who had settled. Accordingly, it is a central witness to Eisleben’s importance as a centre of the mining industry at the end of the Middle Ages. The church was under construction when Luther was baptised; its architecture and furnishings are thus genuine contemporaries of Luther and, as such, an important material witness to the architectural setting of the Reformation and the period immediately preceding it.
The Church of St. Peter and Paul is collectively viewed as the Martin Luther’s baptismal church, and hence as a place of a biographical milestone of this protagonist of the Reformation. For Martin Luther, his baptism was the most important event that he associated with Eisleben. Baptism plays a critical role in Luther’s theological thinking and in the theology of the Reformation: it marks the beginning of life as a Christian. It is the sign of the grace of God in the life and in death. In difficult times, Luther recalled his baptism in the Church of St. Petri in Eisleben and called on Christians to affirm the justification through faith. Against this backdrop, St. Petri emerged as one of the key memorial sites of the Protestants, both during Luther’s lifetime and to this day.