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.