THE posters on the Säule throughout the city announce an excursion to Wittenberg on Reformation day. To be in this spot on Reformation day, and in the Luther Jubilee Year, that was too rare a privilege to miss. We hated to miss any of our lessons ; but there is so much to be learned in this way that we agreed together to take the holiday and work double the next day. And so, behold ! a group of American students en route for Wittenberg, October 31 (Reformation day), 1883, the Luther Memorial Year !
Richer than all other spots fraught with Reformation memories is this little old town of Wittenberg, a few hours’ ride from Berlin. This was the home of Martin Luther from 1508 until 1546, the time of fiercest struggle, of Worms, Wartburg, Augsburg, diets, disputations, councils, treatises, bulls, protestations. Here is the centre from which the light radiated whence came all those writings that stirred the world ; here was the hearth from which went forth radiance to brighten every home in the land. To visit this old home, to stand before the historic doors bearing the theses, those words which went into the world bearing the sword of the Spirit, is to feel the reality of that time, the great historical epoch. However thoroughly we may study history, nevertheless there clings to it something of romance; but to stand on the very spot of old scenes, to see about you witnesses of the truth, brings with all the force of a revelation the realization of the truth, the life of the great Past, it becomes a living Past. Thus, in old Wittenberg, Luther and the Reformation assume a reality never known before, and we feel the fierceness of that struggle waged, in centuries gone by, on this historic ground.
The autumn skies of Germany are gray and gloomy. Tacitus speaks the truth, although Professor Richter in our class disputed it, of its repelling, melancholy clime. It is not strange that there are so many suicides here, so many inmates in insane asylums, for the sun, with its cheer and blessing, is a stranger. The blue, clear American sky and golden sunshine, upon which our child-hood experience rests, gives to these gray skies a depressing gloom. Yet, as we entered Witten-berg, and the gray towers of the old Augustinian cloister showed their faint outlines against a deeper gray sky, it all seemed as a vision of the past, and the sombre mist a fitting veil thrown over the sacred arcana of the ages, too holy for the bold light of the garish day. It is a festival day, and throngs of festive pleasure-seekers crowd and press ; yet they are the unreality, and the past becomes the reality, of the present. The gay peasant costumes fade, and we seem to see cowled monks crossing the halls and corridors of the old cloister, or students, in cap and gown, hastening into the university hall to catch the words of wondrous power falling from the lips of those learned men in priestly robes, a Martin Luther, a Philip Melanchthon ! What sweet companion-ship must have existed between these two earnest souls ! How often they entered these great doors, walked through these halls and this court, some-times in happy conversation, as Luther was so genial, but more often, we may well believe, exchanging sympathy and encouragement as the trials thickened about them. The old halls are silent now; monk and student are here no more, the University has moved to Halle, the monks have fled at the light of Bible truth, and a generation of ordinary people inhabit the old apartments.
You pass through the halls of the old university, cross a court or garden, and there is the old cloister, and a slab with the inscription, ” Here lived and worked Dr. Martin Luther, 1508-1546,” points out what is called the Luther House, the rooms in the second story were used by the Re-former. Here is the aula, a large hall where Luther and Melanchthon spoke. All is modern here, walls, floor ; nothing is left of the old time save the highly decorated Katheder, behind which they stood as they spoke. The small lecture room, next, is also modern; the pictures of Luther, his family and friends, volumes of his writings and those of his contemporaries are only of passing interest. The Luther study bears his marks no more ; we turn from the pictures, the relics, his letters, his Bible, his marriage ring, and find more satisfaction in looking through the little glass window into the garden below. The place is all in all. Often Luther must have paced this room, stopped at this window, and looked out upon the court below and the gray sky above. There is the garden that Ketha cherished, and of which Luther was so proud. There they led their guests, there took their meals ; there was the music and the humor, and there too were considered the great and weighty arguments of the conflict.
The next two little bedrooms belong to the dwelling. They are hung with pictures of various scenes in the life of Luther, and several pictures by Cranach. A most remarkable one illustrates the. parable of the vineyard : on one side are the good workers industriously binding the vines, and, there is the face of Luther and other laborers of the time ; while the pope and his party are seen as the idle and wicked husbandmen. It is a very curious old picture, and, as you recognize the faces, it has a somewhat startling effect.
Last of all is the gem, the old Luther room, the family dwelling-room. It is veritably historic ground, the same floor, walls, and frescoed ceilings of four hundred years ago. Some of the furniture is still the same : there is the monumental stove, with the four apostles, designed by Luther, his old writing-table, the benches about the room, and the double seat at the window. Here was the home-life of the great man who has brightened the Christian homes of the world. Within these walls lived that great soul who calmly stood before all the powers of the earth, fearing naught while above him was the Ruler of the universe. A great heart and mind lived here, and none but a feeble soul would fail to be impressed with solemnity in such a place. Says Carlyle : “We cannot look, however imperfectly, on a great man, without gaining something by him,” and he continues to speak of the littleness of him who will not bow before the hero who is ever ” the living light fountain, which it is good and pleasant to be near.”
There is a glimpse of another historical character here. Peter the Great has written his name in chalk above the door, and it is now covered with glass to preserve it. They also show you a glass which he broke. He tried to carry it away with him as a Luther relic, and, being forbidden, cast it upon the ground, saying, if he could not have it, no one else should possess it. You may sit down in the double chair at the window.
Here Ketha sat, and how often her heart must have been filled with misgivings as she waited here, watching through these little circular window-panes, for the return of him whose life was in hourly danger. Poor Ketha ! Her soul was brave through all those dark hours, and, while fighting with her own trials, she still upheld and cheered the Reformer in his struggles. We re-call the story of how she worked his picture in embroidery during those lonely hours, and here the very picture is shown you. It is but a bit of needlework, but it holds a little heart history of those old days. Even as other little things have a value in the great world’s history, so these little things are precious, revealing the secrets of the human heart, something of the old story, the same in all lands and all ages.
A little farther up the street is the old home of Melanchthon. What constant communication between these two homes! Luther found comfort here while Ketha was a nun at Nimptsch. Here was the first hearth opened to the Reformation ; and, as we ascend the worn steps, the same old ones of the Reformation days, we cannot but think of those weary ones, those refugees, the hard-pressed, the weary, the humble believer, the learned scholar, who in that day came here to find at this hearth help and sympathy. Within these walls the gentle spirit of Catherine Krapp must still linger, and the blessings that were breathed upon her from grateful souls have hallowed the spot forever. It is holy ground : in that spot Philip Melanchthon, the gentle, the wise, yielded up his beautiful spirit to the Lord, for whom he had faithfully labored.
In the centre of the town is the Square, or Market Place. On this double festival day, a celebration of the Reformation day and also of the Luther Jubilee Year, the place is crowded. The peasants from all the surrounding country have come. It is a rare sight. The quaint costumes of the women and children, bright green and vivid purple predominating, contrast well with the uniforms of the students and soldiers. The moving masses as the dark background, these brilliant colors, the flashing helmets of officers, the glistening of arms, the prancing of horses, the sound of music, a gay scene! Here and there we catch a glimpse of a knight of the olden time, in rich costume of velvet and silk, slashed and puffed sleeves, large velvet hat with waving plumes, his spirited steed, with mane sprinkled with gold, as richly decorated as the rider, hurrying to join the procession forming at the old oak under which Luther burned the papal bull. Amidst all is heard the German language, only German, and it is the last touch to perfect the foreign scene.
Why is this hurrying to and fro? Why this jubilee? Do they think of the cause, the real significance? There stands the figure of Luther, in a beautiful monument ; the open Bible is in his hands, and his face is turned toward the people as though he would call to them to hear that word. There is the second monument, the figure of Melanchthon, and his eyes are toward the sky, his very attitude calling the people to look to higher things. The spires of the old city church overlook all. The deep tones of those great bells, coming through the fog from the heights above, seem to call again, as by the will of these two great ones, to a new life, a reformation. ” The light shineth in the darkness, but the darkness comprehendeth it not.”
Vastly different was the crowd hurrying through this market place four centuries ago. Then there were angry monks, excited students, and perplexed nobility, all talking of the strange notice on the Castle Church door. Now the crowd awaits the feast for the eye, little caring for its cause. We wait in the very shadow of the old Burgomaster house, the old home of Lucas Cranach, and where Katherine von Bora and the other nuns sought refuge after fleeing from the false life of the convent. The train winds through the streets decorated with wreaths, swinging festoons, and national colors. What a procession ! The de-parted worthies of the sixteenth century have returned to honor the day ! The whole, arranged by an artist, is a succession of pictures representing the Reformation, and each picture is perfect in detail. Many a group seems an ancient picture suddenly endowed with life. Heralds and cavaliers in armor, brilliant with color and jewels; monks and friars of both orders, black and brown ; groups of old painters, each a very Cranach ; the great Elector ; Frederick the Wise, in royal chariot ; the court ladies and knights, in rich costume ; Tetzel, in his wagon, selling indulgences ; workers in all trades, in the garb of the olden day ; for, as they say, ” Luther was a peasant’s son, and, spite of university, cloister, and katheder, was still entirely a man of the people.” All this brilliant array, moving to the old-time choral music, made a perfect representation of the Reformation time.
Before the doors of the old Castle Church, here where Luther came, that memorable morning, with his document against Rome, here a rostrum was erected, and about this the groups arranged themselves with artistic effect. A mingled crowd ! peasant, lord, scholar, foreigner ! Then from these thousands of voices rolls forth the mighty Luther “Battle Hymn,” ”A sure stronghold our God is He,” and its full strong chords ascend among the turrets and towers of the old Luther Church, with its green, moss grown stones. The Burgomeister rises to the occasion, and addresses the people ; we understand but little, enough to know that he bids them read again these theses on the doors before them; deeply cut in bronze on these memorial doors, they should ever live in the heart of the German people.
The old doors of this wonderful Schloss Kirche have been removed, are preserved as relics in Berlin, and these engraved bronze ones have taken their place. This church, its gray stones covered with green moss and lichens, is an old, rambling building. It is one wing of an extended castle, now used as a garrison, and has all the grim, forbidding look of a feudal fortress. Within is the old home of Roman Catholicism, a church where, at the time of Luther, there were five thousand five hundred relics of the saints, and not a single Bible. It called for a hero to banish these mockeries, and at the same time to bring in a pure worship in the German tongue, forever silencing the empty Latin form.
Without, the crowd mingled with noisy demonstration ; but within the venerable Castle Church is eternal silence. Here beneath the church floor repose the ashes of those two Wittenberg men who still belong to the whole world Luther and Melanchthon. A slab in the floor marks the spot. Here stood cruel Alba of the Netherlands, with the fierce desire that Charles V. would take up the ashes and scatter them to the winds; but, as the Emperor and King stood there, he, too, felt it was holy ground, and turned away in silence. The centuries have passed, the conflict is over, and the nations unite to honor him whose dust lies beneath the simple slab in the old Wittenberg church.
The fog and mist have deepened as the day closes. The lights glimmer faintly through the density, again the choral sounds through the streets, the great bells in their lofty towers mingle their deep chords, the flags upon the turrets flutter in the evening wind, the memorial day is over, the memorial of the great event those centuries ago.