The Luther Places : Eisleben, Wartburg, Worms
( Originally Published 1887 )
" A PROPHET is not without honor save in his own country," loses its application in the land of Luther. In Germany, the land of his birth, life, and death, Luther is honored above all men. With all her great names, in this land of genius, none is so revered as that of Martin Luther. Here we learned to know him more truly, and the admiration acquired in America, where he is so faintly appreciated, grows and increases in his own country, where we can more clearly realize the greatness of his work and his heroism. America, never under the Roman yoke, can little realize its old wickedness, and the courage needed to stand against it and dare its authority. So, to do justice to Germany, we must visit the Luther places.
After the golden time of Dresden days, there must be a relapse, and Leipsic was only interesting to us for the battle-ground. We stood on the spot where crushing defeat overwhelmed Napoleon, and sent him to Elba, and, while the guide became radiant in recital of the seventy thousand Französen lost, we could not but be touched with a shade of melancholy always awakened by the contemplation of that dark setting of the sun that blazed forth in such grandeur. The celebrated Gewandhaus concerts had closed for the season, but the sound of scales and runs and trills told the tale of musical Leipsic and its devoted students. The University students, four thousand strong, possess the town, and are met at every turn ; they are a homogeneous set all over the land ; — colored cap, long pipe, lofty condescension of manner, that is the German student.
We hurried on to the Luther places, and in the night-time arrived at Eisleben, and it is a shocking thing for females to travel alone at night, — but we had learned that, as long as we maintained our own dignity, we could ignore some conventionalities that stood in the way of our convenience and purpose. Eisleben, by some coincidence, is the place of Luther's birth and death. It is a quaint little town, in a valley, with beautiful hills on all sides, and air so pure and clear that the houses of centuries age seem new as those of to-day. Here is the place where Hans and Greta stopped on their way to the forests ; here where Greta won so many friends, and here where came to earth the babe who was to shape and overthrow foundations deeply rooted in hoary centuries, and make old Europe a modern nation.
"This is the town of Luther" was the cry of satisfaction as the stage rolled through the very narrow, cobbled streets, and the loud cracking of the whip brought out the portier " zum goldenen Schiff." It is like a ship, but makes a rambling sort of an inn, with halls at all angles, black beams and rafters above, and odd corners to lead you astray. The hotels, even those in large towns, are quite primitive, with no elegance nor taste but exquisite cleanliness. Candles are used, and there is extra charge for light. Our little room in Eisleben had its two beds, its two toilet-stands, and its high feather-bed coverings, under whose weight, on this July night, we dreamed of Luther as a babe in this spot, and then, after the life of battle, carried out from his native town, in the silent slumber of death, to the desolated Wittenberg home and the broken-hearted Katherine.
Early the next morning we wandered about the little town until we came to a house where the tablet Geburtshaus, told us that this was the house in which the Reformer was born. It is a pretty place, hung with vines, -- the prettiest place in the town. A little girl acts as guide, and leads us through the house and into the room where, four centuries ago, that noble soul came into the world — what a destiny before him ! One must not let mere curiosity rule, but open the heart to all the emotions awakened by the sacred associations of hallowed spots. The place itself is so much that the relics lose their interest, although we did put on the betrothal and wedding rings of Ketha and Martin with a pleasure, mingled, however, with doubt, for we had seen a similar set of rings at Wittenberg which were pronounced genuine, and knew there was another at Heidelberg, and who can be certain which is the original ?
For an artist, here was a pretty picture ; the two Americans coming down the worn steps, led by the little barefooted, bareheaded guide; inthe hall just below, about a table, a group of students, each having a garland of roses and ivy-leaves wound over one shoulder and about the body, — they were singing Luther songs, — while a little girl was just entering the opposite door, bringing foaming mugs of beer. A charming picture, that lingers in memory.
Just beyond is the church where the babe was taken on St. Martin's day, and given that name, now known throughout the earth. We chanced into this quiet place, where a number were being received into membership, and stood just by the font where Martin was baptized. Farther on is the Andreas Kirche, from whose pulpit the mighty word sounded forth, where his voice was heard the last time. Here we must tread lightly, — it is holy ground. What a privilege to ascend the chancel steps and kneel there on the stone where did that great man, as his heart ascended to the sure stronghold for help in the words that must be spoken. How the thoughts come over one as a flood let them fill the soul ! The Sterbehaus. Here, after the years of struggle, he came to die. Up the stone steps, into the little room — ah, bow the head in reverence — here the soul of the faithful steward winged its way to the Master ! Here the tired heart, after those years of sternest, intense conflict, found peace and rest in its God. The quiet little spot that gave him birth saw him depart. Birth — Death — what lies between in such a life as this ! What results, touching the ages and reaching into eternity, are here ! O, sacred spot!— Soul, receive here new baptism, new holy consecration !
Thoughtfully, quietly, we take our way back through the little streets, ever hallowed by the associations with the life of the Reformation hero. The loaded wagons may drag their burdens over the noisy stones, the turmoil and tumult of traffic and dull commonplace life may reign in these borders, —yet ever beneath are the still sacred memories, they find voice to touch the true soul, which ever may find a new reverence, love, consecration, in this quaint, isolated — O, favored town of Eisleben !
From Eisleben to Eisenach—thus the young Martin took his way, and we, retracing his foot-steps, follow on to Eisenach, the picturesque town lying beneath the towering heights of the Wartburg.
To rest beneath the shadow of the Wartburg ! To wake and see the moonlight streaming upon the old castle looming on high, showing its dark outlines against the midnight sky ! To rise and see the bright gleams of breaking day touching with glory those lofty summits old in story ! What a happy experience ! As happy as mortal can well be are we, in this most romantic of spots connected with so stern a thing as the Reformation.
From Eisenach, the little town below, the castle on the height of the Wartburg is plainly seen, the golden cross shining through the thick dark foliage of the Thuringian forest trees. Eisenach itself is interesting, for here the little Martin wandered about as the singing student. Before how many doors here has he stood carolling his songs, and from how many of these homes came forth the Hausfrau, and divided out the needed bread ! There still stands the Cotta house, and, as we stood before the door, all having the familiarity of a well known spot, we could picture the group of singing boys, the pleasant face of Ursula, set off by the snowy Kopf-lappen her words of greeting as she appears, then the scattered bread and its grateful acceptance, and finally the faint delicate boy fainting at her feet. The house has a home-look still, and we can well realize that those years within its shelter were happy ones for the student Martin. Here he learned the music afterward so loved in the Wittenberg cloister home. No doubt he thought of these hours of his boyhood as he looked down on the little village from the lofty heights of his forest retreat on the summit of the Wartburg.
Now a beautiful path winds from the village to the castle, and many are the pilgrims who, on mules, chairs, or by their own good walking ability, ascend the heights of this sacred shrine of Reformation story. Four hundred years ago, this dense Thuringian forest knew no easy ascent, when Junker Georg lived in unmolested seclusion, with no fear of intruding tourists. A different life existed here in those centuries ago, and now the traveller recalls with delight and emotion all the romance, poetry, seriousness of that distant time. The castle lifts its turrets from the most beautiful point in the Thuringian forest, in a region one of the loveliest in Germany. It is an old castle — one of the very oldest. In the year 1070, when the world had scarcely shaken off the gloom of the Dark Ages, this tower of defence raised its bulwarks. Here young Louis the Springer, while out upon a chase, chanced upon this mount, and, ravished at the glorious landscape spread out before him, kneeling, he cried : " Warte, Berg ! du sollst noch eine Burg bekommen ! " After a little waiting, the Burg was erected, and hence came its name Wartburg. Many, many, were the old scenes of gayety in the romantic days of chivalry, during the two centuries of the stirring days of the Landgraves. Here it stands before us in perfect restoration, " a faithful picture of the condition of the castle in the twelfth century, its most glorious era, when it was occupied by the art-loving Landgraves." In 1847 it was restored in all its old grandeur and beauty, and while we are glad to thus see exactly the ancient feudal castle, and thus to know more accurately the life of the age, we are thankful that the restorer's hand stopped at the precincts of those apartments made sacred by the presence of Martin Luther, in the still hours of exile, from which came forth the Sacred Word for his own German people. Here all is still the same, old bare, plain, simple ; yet forever far more precious and beloved than all the beauty and magnificence of the Wartburg castle.
The castle itself is picturesque. It is the finest existing secular building in the Romanesque style of architecture, and one realizes the solidity, the labor, the wonderful architecture and work, in the structures of the early ages. What an immense labor to erect such a building at such a height, and in those ages lacking modern machinery. They worked faithfully and well, however, for in some of the oldest rooms the walls are as firm and solid as in the day they, were raised. Ruins are weird in their interest ; yet the Wartburg appeals to our imagination, and gives more real historic truth, and we are glad that from the ruins has come this beautiful castle, for, try as we may, colossal as the ruins may be, we can form but a vague picture of what once existed. Here is the noble gateway, now guarded by the Prussian soldiers, as then by the retainers ; here the towers of defence, the mighty ramparts, and, within the walls, the pal-ace, baths, stables, and the court beautiful in vines and flowers. Within the palace, the frescoes record the history of the early lords and their ladies ; there is the charming Elizabeth gallery, — the good Elizabeth, so protected by the saints that at the angry frown of her lord the bread in her basket turns into roses, and saves her from his wrath for her deeds of mercy. Still more charming is the Sänger-Saal, where stood the rival minstrels in the traditional Singer-krieg, when Walther von der Vogelweide and Wolfgang von Aeschenbeck contended with each other in song. All this has the poetic charm ; but a higher power touches the heart as we enter the Luther room in the Wartburg.
Up the stone steps, worn by the many tourists, into a little anteroom, with illuminated Luther verses, and then, — there— there is the Wartburg room, just as it was when the knight bent over his books changing the dead words into life for the people, giving them a weapon sharper than a two-edged sword, and which all the powers of Rome could not defeat. We look from the little window into the dense forest, and the whole story comes vividly to mind. There, after the struggle at Worms, despite friendly warnings, he rode calmly onward, and suddenly came the seizure, and next he is in this little room. It is romance — a strange thing even in this changing life of Luther, so full of crises and dramatic scenes. The little room has a worn wooden floor, whitened walls ; here is the old bed, the table, the book-case, the armor of Junker Georg, the foot-stool, pictures,-- all personal reminiscences of the Reformer in the hours of exile. Here, too, is the ink-spot in the wall, — no, the hole where was the ink spot, — the original plaster has been carried away by early tourists, more zealous than reverential. We think of the work accomplished here where, from these ten months of exile, he came forth bringing with him the work of that time, — the New Testament Scriptures to the nation, now intelligible to them in their own tongue.
Wearisome the exile may have been, full of longing to be in the conflict needing him; yet far more needed was the work in the silence of the secret nook in the lonely forest. God works in many ways, and we see clearly his hand in thus taking the hero from the strife. He was still his servant, working still under his guidance, in a work which would help onward the Reformation far more than active battles in the midst of men, powers, potentates. Blessed are those silent hours of the Wartburg ! From his loneliness, he brought forth comfort ; from his exile, a refuge ; from his conflict, peace. The Wartburg gave the New Testament, and the Reformation can look to the Wartburg as the Berg whence came mighty help.
The babe in Eisleben, the student in Eisenach, now becomes the monk at Erfurt, in the old Augustine cloister. In Erfurt we cannot enter the old cell where was the chained Bible and where Brother Martin found light. All has been destroyed by fire ; yet it is still sacred ground, and we tread the same spot where he walked three centuries ago. Beyond is Coburg, among the hills, from within whose castle walls came the Psalms and Prophets, and all those wonderful letters of the scholar Dr. Luther. The room is unchanged ; and one wishes that these old mementos could remain forever, untouched by time or lapse of days.
Next is Frankfort on the Main. We had never thought of it in connection with Luther ;' yet, as we go through the streets, we find two houses bearing tablets with the inscription that here Luther stopped on his journey to Worms, and so we go on to Worms, filled with thoughts of that journey of centuries past.
Here was a great scene in the Reformation, — indeed, its climax ! Here Luther stood out boldly before the world and all its powers ; here, in the assembled learning and the ruling power of Church and State, he fearlessly spoke the truth, as he felt it in his own soul. In this assembly he said from his heart, " Hier stehe ich, ich kann nicht anders ; Gott hilfe mir. Amen !" It is a climacteric point. We feel this as we journey toward the city, whither he went so determinedly, —yea, in spite of all the remonstrances and warnings of friends, for go he would, although there were as many devils in Worms as tiles on the roofs of the houses!" It is a fine journey through Luther regions, — Eisleben, Eisenach, Wartburg, Erfurt, Coburg, and, now, Worms !
The old inn, " zum alten Kaiser," is just opposite the site where was the Hall in which the Diet was held. That has passed away, but the ancient cathedral is still there, lifting; its massive walls and towers above the city. It is a fine structure, — its figures in stone, reliefs, portals, gargoyles, in magnificent Romanesque architecture, but not in good repair, and showing no signs of active life. We can see Luther's influence in the regions where he has been ; in Northern Germany the Catholic Church is weak, the cathedrals ruined : it is a ruined glory.
The chief interest of Worms is its Luther monument. In the midst of the green shrubbery of the Luther Platz rises the world-renowned memorial. It is an imposing and beautiful tribute to the Reformer, and, of all the many and great memorials in Germany, none is more so than this. The German National Monument on the Rhine may be more beautiful, but not so comprehensive. The monument was much visited during the Luther Year, and many celebrations were held here, and it also attracted the attention of America, as a figure was erected in Washington, from this central figure as a model, and made also by Rietscel, the same artist and sculptor. While this central figure is of chief interest, still the monument, as a whole, is interesting.
A massive granite platform, a large pedestal in the centre, and about it, forming a square, seven smaller pedestals, and in the front the space for entrance. At the centre, above the granite, rises a bronze pedestal, and here, crowning the whole, the commanding figure of Luther. The attitude is noble, heroic. In the left hand he holds a Bible, the right hand placed emphatically upon it, while his face, turned upward, is lighted with heroic faith. The face seems to have caught the spirit that lived in the man, and it touches the beholder in a subtle manner. Grouped about him are the figures of the brave ones who before or at the same time with him fought in the Reformation struggle, or in some manner promoted it. Here are Huss, Savonarola, Wickliffe, Waldus precursors of the struggle ; here Frederick the Wise of Saxony, Reuchlin, Melanchthon, Philip of Hessen. Between the latter four are allegorical figures of the Reformation towns ; Magdeburg in mourning, Augsburg confessing, Spires protesting. Between these are the medallion arms of the twenty-four towns that first embraced the Lutheran faith. The figures are nine feet high ; that of Luther, eleven. The whole is a condensation of the Reformation history, and justly above all is Luther. Such monuments are a means of education. The Germans understand that, and place beautiful memorials everywhere. Whenever looked upon, a spirit is awakened, and the beholder is made to appreciate great deeds, great men, great blessings, and, as never before, —
" Our souls, in glad surprise,