Reform Work Martin Luther Tract Heads from Clayton to Germany
Patricia Rice Post-Dispatch Religion Writer 1996, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
The secret is out. For nearly 50 years, Clayton has been the haven for a 16th-century manuscript by the founder of the Protestant Reformation.
Martin Luther's 80-page political and religious call to action, "Wider Hans Worst," will come out of its vault on the Concordia Seminary campus one last time this week. Even its margin notes and corrections are in the theologian's own hand. Copies are well known, but most people assumed Luther's handwritten, 1541 original was lost.
The manuscript arrived at Concordia Seminary in 1950 - having been mailed from New Jersey by a military chaplin who was Lutheran. On Tuesday, it will begin the journey back to its rightful owners in eastern Germany. In a ceremony at the Concordia Historical Institute, its director will hand the manuscript to the director of a museum in Magdeburg, Germany.
At month's end the manuscript will be the centerpiece at the German National Library exhibition in Berlin, marking the 450th anniversary of Luther's death. By summer, it will be permanently displayed in one of the 90 rooms of the Magdeburg Cultural History museum. German television and radio will be here to track its every move.
"We are very surprised and very happy," said Matthias Puhle, director of the Magdeburg museum, in a phone interview last week from his museum. It stokes his city's hope that other museum treasures, missing since World War II, may be recovered.
Last year, Puhle sent lists of the museum's 338 missing pieces to museums and auction houses in Europe and the United States. He searched Army records in Washington.
He found two paintings at an auction house in Lubeck, Germany, and two Luther manuscripts in the Berlin library. He never heard of the institute on the Concordia Seminary campus. Its staff never heard his appeal. The staff just wanted to do the right thing.
"This is the most important of the three Martin Luther manuscripts we had, because it is not just about the church but about politics that changed history here . . . caused the overthrow of a duke," Puhle said. "Now we have all three back."
During World War II, the museum treasure was moved to a salt mine 20 miles south of the town. In the turmoil, Dutch prisoners of war set the mine afire.
On April 12, 1945, U.S. Army officers reached the mine. During a two-week occupation, they reported that museum treasures had been destroyed in two fires.
That May, the museum director told Magdeburg residents that fire had devoured its treasures. Three Luther manuscripts, 338 paintings - including masterpieces by Cezanne and Van Gogh - were assumed destroyed.
That spring, a U.S. soldier said he had found an 80-page manuscript on a factory floor in Magdeburg. A U.S. Baptist military chaplain, probably noticing the words "D.M. Luther" in gold leaf on its "newer" brown leather cover, gave it to a military chaplain from the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. The Lutheran took it home to New Jersey. In 1950, he mailed it to Concordia Historical Institute.
"I sent it to you with the proviso that someday I plan to take it back personally and present it to the city of Magdeburg, when and if, the city is ever liberated from the Russians," wrote the chaplain, the Rev. Theodore P. Bornhoeft, in a letter that arrived just before the package. He wrote 17 years later asking if it was still there. He died in 1990. His widow, Evelyn, a Florida resident, will attend the ceremony here Tuesday.
It Had Traveled By Mail
The manuscript's safekeeping was always a concern.
"We never had a fire, but I always felt a little antsy about it," said the Rev. …