Retracing the Reformation: All Germany Is Celebrating Luther Year in Honor of the Revolutionary Theologian Who Died 450 Years Ago

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Protestants are not prone to pilgrimages. But cruise the Elbe or amble around Eastern Germany and they can not help but trace the steps of Martin Luther. Wherever he preached, from Arnstadt to Worms, visitors are directed simply to "Luther's church."

For more than 40 years this century, most of the dozen cities and towns associated with Luther's life and work were behind the Iron Curtain. Celebration of Martin's Day - Luther's Nov. 10 birthday--was prohibited.

This year, however, the village of Eisleben, where he was born of peasant stock in 1483 and died in 1546, expects thousands of visitors. The font in which Luther was baptized still is in use his birthplace is a museum.

Although born in Eisleben, Luther spent his childhood in nearby Mansfeld, where he was a choirboy in the Church of St. George. Mansfeld Castle inspired his hymn "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God." As a teenager, he attended Latin school in Eisenach and sang door-to-door to earn his supper. His boarding house now is the Bible Museum. Later, he sought refuge from papal inquisitors at Wartburg Castle, which overlooks Eisenach. Here he is said to have thrown his ink pot at the devil, and visitors to his rooms are shown the stain on the wall. (The Wartburg Castle also is the setting of Wagner's Lohengrin.)

Luther translated the New Testament from Greek into German at Wartburg. (The Latin Bible he used, missing for 200 years, was discovered in Stuttgart's Wurtemberg State Library last year Luther's notes are in the margins.) His translation created the modern written German language and, by making the word of God more accessible to ordinary people, helped spread the Reformation.

Erfurt, where Luther joined the Augustinians in 1505, was a grand and rich town already 800 years old at the start of the 16th century. Luther's cell in the monastery there has been re-created. Visitors to Erfurt can visit the cathedral where he was ordained and the simple Barefoot Church in which he preached his last sermon.

While studying at the University of Erfurt, the 21-year-old law student was struck by lightning on Stottenheim Road. In a blaze of revelation, he promised St. Anne to become a monk. His parents, who had hoped this most promising son would grow rich and provide for them in their old age, were furious. But the youth had been thinking of entering the church for some time. In medieval Magdeburg, the 14-year-old Luther had been stunned by the appearance of an emaciated begging friar whom he recognized as the noble Prince William of Anhalt. …