Reformation in Leipzig
In the 15th and 16th century, Leipzig was of crucial importance to spiritual and economic life in the Electorate of Saxony, but it also took a central role for the dissemination of Reformation ideas. Not only did Martin Luther's most important disputation with the Catholic Church take place in Leipzig, but also as a city of printing, through which Luther's teachings spread, Leipzig made a decisive contribution to the Reformation movement. Also conversely, the city benefited from the upheavals and developments that brought the Reformation with it. As a result, they bestowed Leipzig an unprecedented upswing.
Martin Luther’s visits to Leipzig
Martin Luther was born in Eisleben in 1483. He studied theology and then went to Wittenberg, where he became professor at the theological faculty of the university. From Wittenberg he repeatedly travelled about 60 miles to Leipzig - sometimes even on foot. Luther's most important visit in the trading town took place in the year 1519: During the Leipzig Disputation he rhetorically dueled with the catholic theologist Johannes Eck. The debate was an important turning point for Luther himself as well as for the Reformation movement.
Twenty years later the Reformation properly took hold in Saxony. Henry the Pious introduced the Protestant faith as the state religion in the Duchy of Saxony at Pentecost 1539. The official ceremony in Leipzig was also attended by Luther. He preached in the chapel of Pleissenburg Castle and gave a ceremonial speech in St. Thomas Church, accompanied by a performance of the St. Thomas Boys Choir. The Reformer's last visit to Leipzig was in August 1545, when he attended the Evangelical consecration of the University Church. He died in Eisleben on 18 February 1546.
Leipzig Disputation 1519
Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg on 31 October 1517 and thereby made his criticism of the Catholic Church public. Luther attacked the commercial sale of indulgences, which allowed believers to pay to redeem themselves and their dead relatives from sin rather than going to confession to do so. Luther's criticism targeted in particular the activities of Johann Tetzel, a preacher of indulgences whom the saying, "As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs!" is attributed to.
The smouldering conflict came to a head in the summer of 1519 at the famous Leipzig Disputation. It was organised by the University of Leipzig and began on 27 June 1519 with a Mass in St. Thomas Church, at which the St. Thomas Boys Choir sang. Accompanied by two other driving forces of the Reformation movement - the scholar Philipp Melanchthon and the theologian Andreas Karlstadt - Luther went to the battle of words with his opponent Johannes Eck, a theology professor and supporter of the Pope. The debate took place in Pleissenburg Castle, today the site of the New City Hall, and ended on 16 July.
The Disputation covered a range of topics including indulgences, the legitimacy of the Pope, free will and divine grace. For Martin Luther, the Disputation, also known as the "Leipzig Church Battle" in German, represented a final break with the Roman Catholic Church. Because of his refusal to recant his theses on the sale of indulgences, Luther and his followers were finally excommunicated from the church and outlawed by the Emperor in 1521.
Printing and the Reformation
The enforcement of the Reformation would never have had the dynamism known to us today without printing. Leipzig played an important role in the early days of the Reformation, as one of the leading centres of book printing in the German-speaking world. Before he established his famous printing press in Wittenberg from 1520 onwards, it was here in his officina that Melchior Lotter printed early writings by Martin Luther in 1518. The Lutheran writings were printed in large numbers in Leipzig to be then distributed throughout the country in the form of leaflets. Melchior Lotter published more than 160 of the Reformer's writings. Numerous evangelical hymn books were disseminated by the printing companies in Leipzig, too.
Without the leaflet, the thoughts and ideas of Martin Luther could never have developed such a reputation and allure - in this, the historians agree. Leaflets took over in the 16th century as the new mass media coverage for reporting, and created a level of publicity unknown up until then. The German Book and Writing Museum of the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek in Leipzig, on the occasion of the Lutheran Year, will dedicate a separate exhibition to the leaflet and its moving history. The exhibition begins with Luther, but anchors the subject of leaflets in the here and now.
The Museum of Printing Arts in Leipzig is also dedicated to the topic in a special way. In the authentic workshops, one can experience the development of print media from the 1500s. In the type foundry, a Schwabacher, the most common typeface of Reformation prints, is cast before the eyes of visitors. With the slogan "Set and print your own thesis", visitors can create their own texts with letters made of lead.
The Luther rose
In 1519 Leipzig master printer Wolfgang Stöckel published Luther's speeches from the Leipzig Disputation, with a woodcut depicting the reformer on the front page. This first picture of him also includes a rose. From then on the rose was known as Luther's emblem, and from 1530 he used it (with a heart and a cross at its centre) as his seal. At the same time the rose came to be seen as the symbol of Protestant Lutheran teaching and its church and formed part of many coats of arms.
Protestant Church Music
In 1723 the genius composer Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750) became cantor and choirmaster of St. Thomas Church, a position he held for 27 creative years until his death. The staunch Lutheran also dedicated much of his energies to the Protestant chorale.
The special importance of spiritual songs for the Evangelical Church had been stressed by Martin Luther himself, who is said to have stated once that "Singing is a noble art and exercise". More than 30 hymns by Luther have been preserved to this day. Many of them were used by Johann Sebastian Bach as a basis for multi-part music for choir and organ adaptations, which have never lost their captivating appeal. This kind of music resounds regularly in St. Thomas Church during motets and concerts by the world-famous St. Thomas Boys Choir.
Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy - renowned for his rediscovery of Bach and inseparably linked with Leipzig - also had a formative influence on Protestant church music. The son of Jewish parents was still a child when he converted to Protestantism. His deep religious feelings had a decisive influence on his musical work: In addition to the "Reformation Symphony", he also wrote the two outstanding oratorios "St. Paul" and "Elijah".