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Victoria Schofield
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Reformation by light of candles [Wittenberg]

Weekend FT,1 /2 September 1990 

Excerpt:

Beeswax candles. Among the plastic monks, postcards, ashtrays and unsold stock of commemorative coins, I chose the beeswax candles as a souvenir of my visit to Wittenberg – the town where Martin Luther unleashed a religious maelstrom by nailing his 95 theses to a church door. This revolutionary priest must have worked by the light of candles such as these. Roughly fashioned and the colour of parchment, among the other memorabilia they represented a more tangible link with the past.

Wittenberg remains undeniably Luther’s town. In recognition of his contribution to theological debate, it has been officially renamed Lutherstadt-Wittenberg , because through 40 years of communism, the German people continued to honour the founder of the Protestant Reformation. …

Luther lies buried in the Scholosskirche like a king. This ‘castle church’ is as big as a cathedral, with beautifully preserved stained glass windows. A tremendous tower – 400 steps upward – gives a magnificent view of the town and surrounding countryside… halfway from the Schlosskirche to the museum is the town hall and main square where two huge statues look encouragingly at passers-by. On one podium stands Luther, clasping a book in hand, as though he is about to proclaim the scriptures to a crowd gathered on the cobblestones below; on the other is his friend and colleague, Melanchthon, who took over as spokesman of the reformers when Luther temporarily went into hiding.

The museum at the other end of town is a true cultural oasis: a stone building, hidden behind a courtyard rather like a university college, crammed with archives. Most striking is the vast portrait of Luther and Charles V at the Diet of Worms, where legend relates that in 1521 Luther informed the young Catholic Emperor that in matters of religious belief he could not do ‘otherwise’.

The preservation and upkeep of the museum may have seemed like a contradiction in terms for the 40 years during which Communism was the official prevailing ideology. Returning to the station, I reflected that it was encouraging that culture and religious heritage counted more than skin-deep ideological dogma.

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