Martin Luther: Shaping and Defining the Reformation, 1521-1532

By Martin Brecht; James L. Schaaf | Go to book overview
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I

At the Wartburg

Scarcely had Luther reached the territory of Electoral Saxony on the trip home from Worms when, following the feigned attack, he was taken late in the evening of 4 May 1521 to the nearby Wartburg fortress near Eisenach where he would remain for the next ten months. For his lodgings he was given a room and an adjoining narrow bedroom in the northern bastion above the dwelling of Hans von Berlepsch, the fortress's castellan, where knightly prisoners were otherwise quartered (Plate I). In this secret custody, Luther, too, practically speaking, was a prisoner over whom the castellan diligently watched. His presence and identity were kept strictly secret. Even the elector's brother, Duke John, did not learn that Luther was staying there until he visited the Wartburg in September. Nevertheless, rumors of his location trickled out. A letter from Luther to Spalatin with a fictitious reference to Bohemia was intended to counteract them.1 Luther was addressed as Knight George (Junker Jörg), had to wear knight's garb, and had to let his beard grow and his hair cover his tonsure, so that soon he was unrecognizable.2 Lucas Cranach portrayed him that way in December 1521. Two boys of noble birth attended him. One day the "knight" was taken along on a hunt, something that was an ambiguous pleasure for him. He was able to hide a small rabbit by rolling it in the sleeve of his cloak, but the dogs killed it by biting it through the clothing. For Luther, characteristically, the entire episode was a parable: the devil pursues souls with his dogs, the godless bishops and theologians, and he himself destroys those who appear to be saved. Luther had had enough of hunting.3 A later tradition may report accurately that Luther, accompanied by a servant, was able to travel outside the fortress occasionally and once was almost recognized when he entered a Franciscan monastery.4 His relationship to the castellan, Hans von Berlepsch, appears to have been friendly but formal; between them there were also occasional theological discussions on "the doctrines of men." Luther later wished to dedicate his treatise on this subject to him and sent him some of his writings, among them his translation of the New Testament.5 Berlepsch did not neglect the needs of the one in his custody, so much so that the personal expenses he incurred caused Luther difficulty. He did not want to be obligated to anyone but the elector.6 The change in Luther's living conditions caused by the forced stay at the Wartburg was understandably

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