It was at the St. George's Church in Mansfeld that Martin Luther gained his first lasting impressions of church life in a municipality. As a thirteen-year-old, Luther witnessed the commissioning of the altars, altarpieces and bells that are preserved to this day.
St. George's Church rises up in roughly the middle of the mediaeval city centre, on a natural intermediate plateau, as part of a landscaped square; as such, it helps shape the Mansfeld cityscape. In the 16th century, church and school facilities were concentrated on the northern and eastern edges of the church square: the narrow, eastern side of the square was home to deanery, the headmaster’s house and the predicant’s house; the northern side housed the chaplainry and Martin Luther’s school.
There are valuable furnishings still intact in the church that date back to Luther’s lifetime. They are important witnesses to the early history of the Reformation and provide the historical context for Martin Luther’s development and work. Prominent among these furnishings are the relief of the church’s patron, St. George, fighting the dragon (c. 1520), which hung above the main portal and is among the rare mediaeval plates which, although placed outdoors, have been executed in wood. Throughout his life, Luther retained close ties to the patron saint of his hometown, St. George.
Before moving to Magdeburg as a thirteen-year-old in spring of 1497, where he would attend the local Latin school for a year, he witnessed the construction of St. George's Church, which was consecrated on 8 August 1497, along with the commissioning of altars and the acquisition of altarpieces and bells. Luther attended the common school [Trivialschule] in the town, the headmaster of which organised the boys’ choir together with the pastor of the church.
Luther was not on hand to experience the completion of the new building and consecration of the church, as he had left his home town of Mansfeld shortly prior to that. He was able to follow the entire construction process beforehand, however.
Already from the 17th century, various renovation measures were undertaken to commemorate the Reformation. In advance of the anniversary of the Reformation in 1617, a two-storey loft was added to the nave. A new pulpit was added to the furnishings in 1620. In the Reformation year 1817, structural considerations required demolition of the roof over the nave and over the eastern portions of the church; the roof was replaced with flat-pitched gable roofs. The most extensive restoration of the church occurred in 1929-1930. In addition to a roof replacement, a new organ was also purchased from private donations, and the main altar and relief of St. George were restored. The church interior was newly plastered. To this day, St. Georg in Mansfeld remains an important place of remembrance of the Reformation.
As the burial place of the Counts of Mansfeld-Hinterort, St. George's Church provides an important document of the political and spiritual atmosphere of the Reformation. Consecrated in 1497, it also provides an important document of the architectural setting; its wealth of furnishings offers important testimony to the economic and social setting of the Reformation. Certain elements of the furnishings stem from Luther’s lifetime, accordingly offering outstanding material components of the surroundings that provide the features specific to Luther’s biography.
St. George's Church is intimately connected with the biography of Martin Luther and his family: it was a place of religious worship by the family and of Martin Luther as a child and it left its mark on his biography. It has been established that the young Luther sang in the parish choir and probably served as an altar boy here as well. He spent time here on several occasions during his studies and later on, as a reformer; he also preached here shortly before the end of his life. It was in the church of his childhood, his home church, that he gained his first and lasting sense of the sacred architecture and the liturgical practices of his day. St. George's Church was also the location of the first Luther remembrance that has been handed down.