The story of Wittenberg

The German town of Wittenberg seems an unlikely setting for one of the most important movements in history. But, treading the cobbled stone streets of this charming town, you get a very real sense of the old. When you walk through Wittenberg, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re simply enjoying another scenic town along the banks of the River Elbe. But, Wittenberg holds so much more importance than this.

In fact, the town itself has close ties to the Protestant Reformation, and, in particular, that movement’s figurehead – Martin Luther. The major attraction of the town, Castle Church, is thought to be the place where Luther nailed his 95 theses some 500 years ago. But, let’s go back and examine the story of Wittenberg, and how it became such an important town in global history.


The town of Wittenberg was thought to be first found in 1180 as a settlement, by Flemish colonists. Over the years the town grew larger, and eventually, in 1260, the town became the settling place of the dukes of Saxe-Wittenberg, a medieval duchy of the Holy Roman Empire. This was an important part of Saxony and Roman history and is one of the things the town is best-known for to this day. The town developed into an important trade center and became an important cultural and religious hub.

Martin Luther

The town is best-known for its association with Martin Luther. In 1502, the University of Wittenberg was founded by Elector Frederick. This university attracted some of the great thinkers of the time, such as Martin Luther. Luther was a professor of theology here from 1508, and, in 1517 caused waves across the nation when he nailed 95 theses against the selling of indulgences in the Catholic Church for money. Indulgences were a way through which churchgoers could negate punishment for sins, usually by reciting several prayers or phrases, and, as a result, free themselves spiritually to sin again. Luther took exception to this, and was staunchly opposed to it from the start.

Protestant Reformation

When Luther nailed his theses to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, it lit the tinderbox on what would become the Protestant Reformation. This reformation changed the way the church operated, and insisted that the church (and the Pope) had no sway over the Bible and that only belief in God would bring one salvation. This began the birth of Lutherans, as well as the belief that the teachings of God were more valuable and important than the Catholic Church. Naturally, this was one of the most controversial movements in religious history, and Luther was excommunicated as a result.

Wittenberg may, at first glance, just seem like any normal small town in Germany. But, in reality, it is actually the site of something much more important and meaningful. Without Martin Luther, and the work he did, we could have faced an entirely different set of religious values and teachings. It’s fair to say that the Protestant Reformation changed the religious landscape like nothing before it, and the effects are still being felt today.