CHANGE & CONTINUITY
We wandered down cobbled rows, and past the castle church where Martin Luther is buried. The only sounds were the clicking of bike spokes and the jumpy-rusty noises as the bikes juddered along the stones. No cars, just bikes, and plenty of them.
It was hard to imagine that sleepy old town as the center of our modern western world...
In the 16th century, things were heating up. Theologians over Europe had begun to read classical texts in their original scripts and languages, foregoing the later Latin versions. They found errors in the later versions, and fixed them. Some people even began to read the Bible this way, and found that it had been tampered with over the years!
Moreover, theologians were beginning to feel a dissatisfaction with the ways of the Catholic Church. There was a lot of corruption - practices such as 'simony,' (the selling of ecclesiastical offices, or the patriarchal inheritance of an office). Moreover, the bishops inheriting their titles from their families were not all that educated in matters of theology, and oftentimes they would preach a garbled version of the Bible. They also loved to take mistresses, and it was widely known that many bishops and priests had sired illegitimate sons and daughters. Yet, they were not allowed to marry. On top of all this, taxes were being raised by the church through "indulgences" - letters of pardon that allowed access to heaven. These were sold in a frightening manner, with clergymen scaring the wits out of people by putting their hands in flames and proclaiming messages about hell. People then bought indulgences, after seeing the very burnt hands. Yet, they did not attend church as they should, because they had bought their pardons.
These goings on upset one small German monk by the name of Martin Luther. Far, far away from Rome, he wrote out his grievances and stuck them to the doors of the local church. Normally, these grievances would simply be discussed by the local theologians and philosophers, and there it would end. But, there was a new element at play...
The invention of the printing press had turned the publishing business on it's head. Where books once had to be scribed by hand, and cost a fortune, they were now scribed by machines - lessening the time and cost it took to produce each volume. Changes happened rapidly - the market for the printed word, which had almost solely been occupied by theological works, was now flooded with stories, folktales, novels and pamphlets on every topic under the sun! In this environment, Luther's grievances about the church were taken up, printed and spread like wildfire! The cry went up in Rome, and the drawbridges came down. There was a schism like never before, and the world changed...
Martin Luther changed our attitudes and our ways of seeing the world quite unwittingly. By calling for a Bible in everyday language, he allowed the layperson to read and interpret the Bible for themselves. He had thought that the interpretation was clear, but each person had something new to say. Thus, the reformation spread, and the numbers of Christian denominations grew. Where the western world was once united under the name "Christendom," it grew to hold the 32,000 denominations of Christianity we have today. Alongside these changes grew the ideas of religious tolerance, of nation-states and national citizenships. Each nation was able to choose for itself, to mould its own citizens in belief and to bring them together under that banner. More importantly, Luther had opened up religion, making it much less organised and much more personal - emphasising the individual's relationship with God. Heterogeneity was 'in,' there were suddenly choices to be made, and thus was born our modern world of individualism, choice and informed opinion.
Change is inevitable, and impermanence is truth, but there will always be some elements of continuity throughout history - those threads that we still find meaningful, and so we preserve them, weaving them back into our current social fabric. And so we may talk of history, not as the march of progress, but as a complex web of dynamic elements.
Wittenberg was the perfect example of this.
Bicycles with baskets.
A market selling fresh produce in the villages square...
Lettuces, apples, peaches, and honey.
Water gurgling in the canals that run beside the cobbled streets.
Old men sitting in the bier-gardens at noon.
The well-preserved house of Martin Luther, complete with medieval tower.
The walls, ceiling and floor of the living room are all original, undisturbed. On the door is an initial, carved there by the Csar of Russia on a visit.
The paint is flaking and the floorboards are rotting and musty, but it was there that I felt a thread of time truly connecting me to a personage of the past... 'he really did live here.'
Martin Luther's beer mug.
The 'Weinfest' that had gathered together merry locals in the village square for wine, dancing, traditional costumes, and the naming of a 'wine princess.'
There was much hulla-balooing as a regiment of medieval-clad men marched around the town to the sound of trumpets and clanking weaponry.
A long speech by the local pastor, who was looking very à la mode in his Luther-esque black robes and cap.
A traditional pizza-like bread called Flammkuchen, cooked in an earth oven till crispy, then slathered in a creamy cheese and spring onions.
Wine, and lots of it! Plum wines, aromatic vanilla wines, sweeter wines made of mango, and of course the ubiquitous grape wines.