Luther Visualized 3 – The Vow

Luther Becomes a Monk

Lutherstein (© Red Brick Parsonage, 2018)

On Wednesday, July 2, 1505, Luther was returning to Erfurt after visiting his parents in Mansfeld. About six kilometers north of Erfurt, along the Stollberg hills near Stotternheim, a thunderstorm broke out and a lightning bolt struck nearby. The pictured memorial stone marks the approximate spot. The front, western face reads: “Hallowed Ground | Turning Point of the Reformation | In a flash from heaven, the young Luther was here shown the way.” The back, eastern face has the words Luther cried out after being knocked to the ground: “Help, St. Anne! I will become a monk!” The northern side reads: “Out of Thuringia, light.” And the southern side gives the date of the event.

Christian Gotthold Neudecker, ed., Die handschriftliche Geschichte Ratzeberger’s über Luther und seine Zeit (Jena: Druck und Verlag von Friedrich Mauke, 1850), pp. 45-46

Johannes Mathesius, Historien / Von des Ehrwirdigen in Gott Seligen thewren Manns Gottes / Doctoris Martini Luthers / anfang / lehr / leben und sterben (Nuremberg, 1566), fol. 4

Georg Oergel, Vom jungen Luther (Erfurt: Druck und Verlag von J. G. Cramers Buchdruckerei, 1899), pp. 27-28

Michael Wolgemut and Wilhelm Pleydenwurff, Erfordia, woodcut, 1493 (coloring subsequent)

Luther enrolled in the University of Erfurt in the spring of 1501. (The city’s population was about 20,000 at the time.) There he obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1502 (ranked 30 of 57) and his Master of Arts degree in February 1505 (ranked 2 of 17). He began studying law in May 1505, in keeping with his father’s wishes, but these studies were interrupted by his vow to become a monk on July 2. On July 17, his friends escorted him to the monastery of the Order of Hermits of St. Augustine in Erfurt. After his several-week trial period and his novitiate year, he took his vows of obedience, poverty, and chastity and became a full-fledged monk in 1506. This woodcut of Erfurt appeared in Hartmann Schedel’s so-called Nürnberger Chronik (more properly, Das Buch der Croniken und [Gedechtnus Wirdigern] Geschichten) (Nuremberg: Anton Koberger, 1493). The city is viewed from the east with the Kremper or Krämpfer Gate in the foreground. Most prominently depicted are St. Mary’s Cathedral and St. Severus’ Church on the left (south), and the Benedictine monastery of St. Peter on Peter’s Hill (Petersberg) on the right (north). St. Augustine Church, marking the location of the Augustinian monastery, would be represented (if it is) by one of the steeples more toward the foreground on the northern half. The only building from the old university still in existence today, the Collegium Maius, is not far southwest of the monastery and would probably be near the fold of the woodcut.

Luther Visualized 2 – Education

Luther’s Education

Ferdinand Pauwels, Luther Singing for Bread with His Schoolmates at Mrs.
Cotta’s House in Eisenach, oil on canvas, 1872

After attending school in Mansfeld (1488-1497) and Magdeburg (1497-1498), Luther attended St. George School in Eisenach from 1498 to 1501. There he took part in the custom of the students at the time, of going around singing in exchange for any sort of charitable support. A young Ursula Cotta, who was living with her husband Kunz in the home of her parents, allegedly enjoyed his singing and sincere prayers in church and took him into her home.

Christian Gotthold Neudecker, ed., Die handschriftliche Geschichte Ratzeberger’s über Luther und seine Zeit (Jena: Druck und Verlag von Friedrich Mauke, 1850), p. 43

Johannes Mathesius, Historien / Von des Ehrwirdigen in Gott Seligen thewren Manns Gottes / Doctoris Martini Luthers / anfang / lehr / leben und sterben (Nuremberg, 1566), fol. 3

Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: His Road to Reformation (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1985), pp. 9-21

Matthäus Merian der Ältere, Manßfeldt, copperplate engraving, 1650

In the summer of 1484, Martin’s parents moved to Mansfeld in the heart of beautiful copper mining country. There Hans Luther leased a smelter and Martin received his first formal education in the Latin trivial school next to St. George’s Church. When Martin Luther eventually enrolled in the University of Erfurt in 1501, he signed himself “Martinus ludher ex mansfelt.” This engraving of Luther’s hometown appeared in Martin Zeiler’s famous Topographia Germaniae series, specifically Topographia Superioris Thüringiae, Misniae, Lusatiae etc (Frankfurt am Main: Matthaeus Merian, 1650), between pages 132 and 133. The city is viewed from the south, with Mansfeld Castle, the seat of the countship, on the hill (east) overlooking the town. (The castle was renovated, expanded, and heavily fortified in 1547, the year after Luther’s death.) St. George Church lies in the valley below.