St. Mary's Church, Lutherstadt Wittenberg

Location

St. Mary's, the Town Church of Wittenberg, is located near the market in the midst of the medieval city centre of Wittenberg. Discernible even from far away, the church’s two mighty towers provide a landmark visible and define the silhouette of the city. Martin Luther worked there as a preacher beginning in 1512. He delivered countless sermons here until the end of his life. Luther’s preaching against indulgences – decisive to the origins of the Reformation – began here.

The appearance of this church is largely determined by late Gothic  architectural forms. In the late 13th century, the oldest portion of the building still intact, the double-naved high choir, was added onto a nave that has since been lost. To the east, it concludes in a straight choir wall with a brick pediment. Construction of the two towers at the western end of the structure dates to the mid-14th century. The main portal is located between the towers, surmounted by a round window. The portal archway depicts an enthroned Mary as Queen of Heaven with the Christ Child.

The majority of the artworks date to the Reformation era. The most striking piece is the main altar, a work by Lucas Cranach the Elder and the Younger that reflects an iconography strongly influenced by Luther’s Reformation theology. Numerous epitaphs also stem from the Cranach workshop.

History

The work of the young theologian Martin Luther began in Wittenberg; it was here that he first preached in public. He held the professorship for biblical interpretation at the university beginning in 1512. Because the duties of theology professors also included preaching, he likely also began occasionally preaching in St. Mary's Church at the same time. The first surviving and reliably dated sermons by him are from the year 1514. In 1514-1515, the City Council commissioned him with permanent management of this ministry. Luther remained in this position throughout his life, for more than 30 years.

Like most buildings in continuous use for religious purposes, St. Mary's Church underwent a number of modifications due to requirements of a liturgical or religious, etc., nature. Spanning several centuries, to this day the building history is visible in the different phases of construction. The present sanctuary dates to the end of the 13th century; the late-Gothic, three-aisled nave was added in the 14th century, as were the two towers, which 1556-1557 were fitted with the cupolas they still have today. An extensive reconstruction of the interior by Italian architect Carlo Ignazio Pozzi was begun in 1810.

The Church was refurbished in the years 2012-2016.

Significance

The Town Church of Wittenberg ranks high among the memorials and sites of events associated with the Reformation. It can rightly be regarded as a crucial point of departure for the Reformation, and to this day it remains inextricably linked with the name of Martin Luther.

The church structure is representative of the importance of the citizenry and the faithful, the indispensable recipients of the ideas of the Reformation. If not for the citizens’ courage and determination to institute reforms, the Reformation would not have become a worldwide movement.

It was also a site of some of the most important acts of Martin Luther. As related in detailed reports by eyewitnesses and contemporaries, the events that took place there have been handed down to this day. As a result, it can be determined, down to the hour, when Luther preached in this church, where he stood and what subjects he addressed. Luther delivered far more than half of the more than 2,000 surviving sermons in the Wittenberg Town Church. This is where church services were held in German for the first time, and where the sacrament was first shared with the congregation ‘in both forms’: in bread and wine.

Contact:

Protestant Congregation of the Town Church of Wittenberg
Town Church Congregation Office
Jüdenstraße 36
06886 Lutherstadt Wittenberg

stadtkirche@wittenberg.de
http://www.stadtkirchengemeinde-wittenberg.de/index.php/en/