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Castle Church, Wittenberg

Wittenberg's All Saints' Church, more commonly known as the Schlosskirche (Castle Church), is where Luther famously nailed his 95 Theses in 1517. The church contains the tombs of Luther, Melanchthon and Frederick the Wise.

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History of the Castle Church

The Schlosskirche was brand new when Martin Luther was in Wittenberg. Construction on the castle and church complex began in 1490 and was completed in 1509. As part of the castle, the church was originally surrounded by a moat and two bridges led to the portals.

Only eight years after the completion of the Schlosskirche, on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses against the corrupt sale of indulgences by the Catholic Church. Luther posted the theses in Latin and intended to start an academic debate. However, they were translated into German, quickly copied using the newly-invented movable type printing press, and wound up sparking the German Reformation.

Luther usually preached in the City Church, but his funeral and burial took place at the Castle Church. The funeral was held on February 22, 1546, four days after Luther's death in Eisleben. Philipp Melanchthon delivered the oration. When Melanchthon died in 1560, he was buried close to Luther in the Castle Church.

The Castle Church was seriously damaged by fire in 1760 after a French bombardment during the Seven Years War. The church was quickly rebuilt, and later (1885-1892) further restored.

What to See at the Castle Church

The stonework of the north portal is original but, sadly, the original wooden doors to which Luther posted his theses were among the casualties of the 1760 fire. To commemorate the 375th anniversary of Luther's birth in 1858, they were replaced with bronze doors that bear the Latin text of the 95 Theses.

In the tympanum over the door is a painting of the same date, depicting Luther and Melancthon kneeling before a Crucifixion against the backdrop of Wittenberg. Luther is holding his German Bible and Melancthon is holding the Augsburg Confession.

Around the prominent round tower (1496) of the church is another tribute to Luther: a band reading Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott - the title of Luther's famous hymn, "A Mighty Fortress is Our God." Visitors can climb 289 steps up the great tower for a view over the city. The tower is 288.7 feet (88 m) high, with a viewing platform at 170 feet (52 m).

The Schlosskirche is part of the Residenzschloss, a once-grand Renaissance palace that is now only a shadow of its former self after centuries of fire and war. Today it houses a youth hostel with enviable ambience, accessed via a unique external staircase in the western wing.

The floor plan of the Castle Church is a simple one: a nave with narrow side aisles leading directly into the choir with no transept. At the entrance to the choir are the simple tombs of Martin Luther and Philipp Melanchthon.

The bronze plaque on the tomb of Luther is a replica made in 1892. Its abbreviated Latin epitaph roughly translates: "Here lies the body of Martin Luther, Doctor of Divinity, who died at Eisleben, his birthplace, on the 12th of the Calends of March, in the year 1546, when he had lived 63 years, 3 months, and 10 days." His actual coffin is buried 2.4 meters below the marker.

The epitaph on Melanchthon's tomb reads: "Here rests the body of the most commendable Philipp Melanchthon, who died on 19 April 1560, in this town after he had lived for 63 years 2 months and 2 days."

There are also monuments to the electors Frederick the Wise (by Peter Vischer the elder), and John the Constant (by Hans Vischer), as well as portraits of the reformers and other local heroes by Lucas Cranach the Younger and others.

The nave is decorated with painted designs, heraldic emblems of local aristocracy, bronze medallions of Reformation supporters, and freestanding statues of Reformation figures: Martin Luther, Philipp Melanchthon, Johannes Bugenhagen, Georg Spalatin, Justus Jonas, Johann Brenz, Urbanus Rhegius, Nicolaus von Amsdorf and Caspar Cruciger. All these features date from the 19th-century restoration of the church.

The wooden furnishings of the interior date also from the 19th century, including the fine pulpit decorated with the coats of arms of Luther-related towns (Eisleben, Erfurt, Wittenberg and Worms) and the Four Evangelists with their symbols. It was carved by Lober, a Wittenberg sculptor. The organ was built in 1863, reconstructed in 1892 and 1935, and restored to its original design in 1992-94. The choir stalls were donated by the princes of Germany and bear their coats of arms.

The main stained glass windows date from the 19th century. Their subjects are the Adoration of the Magi, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, and Pentecost; their designs 1re based on woodcuts by Albrecht Dürer. Also of note are three windows with four medallions of Reformation figures each; these were installed in 1983.

Quick Facts on the Castle Church

Site Information
Names:All Saints' Church · Castle Church · Reformation Memorial Church · Schloßkirche
Country:Germany
Categories:churches; castles; Protestant heritage sites; World Heritage Sites
Faiths:Lutheranism
Styles:Gothic
Dedication: All Saints
Dates:1490-1509
Status: active
Visitor and Contact Information
Coordinates:51.866290° N, 12.637700° E
Address:Friedrichstrasse 1a
Wittenberg, Germany
Phone:03491/402585 (Wittenberg tourist office: 03491/498610)
Email:schlosskirche@kirche-wittenberg.de
Website:www.schlosskirche-wittenberg.de
Hours:Nov-Apr: Mon-Sat 10am to 4pm, Sun 11:30am to 4pm
May-Oct: Mon-Sat 10am to 5pm, Sun 11:30am to 5pm
Lodging:View hotels near the Castle Church
Note: This information was accurate when first published and we do our best to keep it updated, but details such as opening hours and prices can change without notice. To avoid disappointment, please check with the site directly before making a special trip.

References

  1. Personal visit (March 9, 2008).
  2. Schlosskirche Wittenberg - official website
  3. Schlosskirche Wittenberg, English Edition (2001). Booklet sold at the church.

More Information

View from the west of the Castle Church (left) and what remains of the castle (right). © Holly Hayes
View of the Gothic choir of the Schlosskirche (right) and the castle-turned-hostel (left), from the southeast. © Holly Hayes
Top of the Great Tower (1496), a sturdy round tower at the west end of the church. A modern band around the... © Holly Hayes
Sadly, the original wooden doors to which Luther posted his theses were destroyed in a 1760 fire. But to... © Holly Hayes
Nave looking east to the choir. © Holly Hayes
Choir at the east end of the church. The furnishings date from the 19th century. The tombs of Melanchthon and... © Holly Hayes
Tomb of Martin Luther, who died in 1546 in his birth town of Eisleben and was buried here four days later.... © Holly Hayes
Tomb of Martin Luther, who died in 1546 in his birth town of Eisleben and was buried here four days later.... © Holly Hayes
Tomb of Philipp Melanchthon, Luther's friend and Reformation ally, who died in 1560. The Latin epitaph reads:... © Holly Hayes
Tomb monument of Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony (1486-1525) and supporter of Martin Luther. Completed... © Holly Hayes
19th-century stained glass windows with angels and an inscription commemorating the German Reformation and... © Holly Hayes

Map of the Castle Church, Wittenberg

Below is a location map and aerial view of the Castle Church. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.