October 08, 2017

A Tale of 2 Churches

Stephen Nichols
A Tale of 2 Churches


There are two churches in Wittenberg that were very important to the life of Martin Luther. The first is the Stadtkirche St. Marien, which is also known as St. Mary’s Church or the Town Church. This was the main church where Luther preached. He preached his first sermon there in 1512. By the time Luther stepped into this church, it had already been around for more than three hundred years. The first extant sermon manuscripts from Luther date to 1514, which was the year the town council appointed Luther as head of this church. That was a title that Luther held right up until the time of his death in 1546. Luther preached at St. Mary’s for thirty-four years, from 1512 until 1546. It was there that Luther and Katharina von Bora, his beloved Katie, were married, and it was also there that Luther baptized all six of his children.

St. Mary’s also has next to it a nice little chapel. This little chapel features into the story of the Ninety-Five Theses. It was there, after posting the Ninety-Five Theses, that Luther held his first debate with the monks of the Augustinian monastery and the faculty at the University of Wittenberg. It was in that little chapel that the first debate of the Ninety-Five Theses was held, primarily for the scholars and the priests and the monks who were gathered at Wittenberg.

The other church in Wittenberg is All Saints’ Church, known as the Schlosskirche or the Castle Church. It’s a few kilometers away from the Town Church, and it has two distinctions related to Luther. One is its doors, probably the most important and famous feature of that church. In fact, they might be the most famous church doors of all time. Unfortunately, the wooden doors to which Luther nailed the Ninety-Five Theses are long since gone, destroyed in a fire in 1760. They were replaced in 1858 with heavy bronze doors upon which are inscribed the Ninety-Five Theses in Latin.

The primary preacher at the Castle Church was Johannes Bugenhagen, one of Luther’s close associates. Bugenhagen preached one of the funeral sermons for Luther in the town of Eisleben, where Luther died. As Luther’s body was making its way back to Wittenberg, there was another funeral service held at Halle, and then a third funeral service was held in the Castle Church.

The second distinction of the Castle Church related to Luther is that he is buried inside the church, as is Frederick the Wise, Luther’s great protector. The Castle Church was also the official church of the University of Wittenberg.

So, these two churches—St. Mary’s Church and the Castle Church—feature prominently in Luther’s life. Of course, what’s important is not just the buildings but what happened inside the buildings. For centuries, these churches, like most of the churches in the Middle Ages, were not preaching the Word of God; they were not giving the people the bread of life. People were coming to church and they were getting stones instead of bread. And when Luther stepped into the pulpit and preached the Word of God, he was giving the people exactly what they needed—he was giving them the Word of God. He was giving them the words of eternal life.