Motherland of the Reformation

When the great reformer Martin Luther was born in 1483, Saxony was at the height of its power. But two years later, brothers Ernst and Albrecht from the Wettin dynasty, which ruled Saxony for 829 years, divided up the country, with Ernst moving to Wittenberg and Albrecht staying in Dresden. Ernst’s son Friedrich, called „the Wise“, became Luther’s protector and established Torgau as his new residence. His successors openly became what was later called „Protestants“ after the Leipzig Disputation or Debate of 1519, when the split of the church became inevitable. Torgau now became the political center of the Protestant world and the first newly-built Protestant church in the world was dedicated here by Luther himself in 1544.

The power shifted after the first war between Catholics and Protestants, the Schmalkaldic War of 1546/1547, when Torgau and Wittenberg became part of the Eastern half of Saxony which still carries this name today. Now Dresden became the focal point and the Saxon rulers remained the „Protectors of the Protestant faith“ even after they had converted back to Catholicism. Saxony later was given the honorary title „Motherland of the Reformation“. Even though today’s Saxony is smaller and some important sites of the Reformation can now be found in neighboring states and countries, there are plenty of places worth exploring. So, discover all the places where world history was written or simply follow the Luther Trail in the footsteps of the great reformer. Here’s just a selection of highly-recommended attractions:

Spotlight on Torgau

Today, Torgau is a small town with about 20,000 inhabitants, but it has played a major role in World History. During the times of the Reformation, Torgau was the political center, where the Saxon Electors held court and spread the Protestant faith. Hartenfels Castle and indeed the whole town still look very much like at that time. So, it is easy to walk in the footsteps of the Reformation. Visit the very-first newly built Protestant church, dedicated by Martin Luther himself, the places where the foundations of the Augsburg Confession were laid and the first Protestant hymn book was put together, or the house in which Luther’s wife Katharina von Bora died. Her burial place is in the nearby St. Mary’s Church. Later, Torgau was an important fortress for Napoleon and the place where American and Russian troops first met at the end of World War II. But these are different stories …

Torgau highlights

Hartenfels Castle

St. Mary's Church

© Felix Meier
Paintings of Martin Luther and Heinrich Stromer von Auerbach in Auerbach's Keller restaurant in Leipzig.

Spotlight on Leipzig

Without Leipzig, there would not be a Protestant church. Martin Luther only wanted to reform the church, and he was not alone. But after the fruitless Leipzig Debate or Disputation of 1519, a split became inevitable. The place where Luther and his fellow reformers discussed with the representative of the church, Pleissenburg Castle, was knocked down later, but the New City Hall stands on its foundations and still features the former castle’s tower. During the time after the split, Luther was a wanted man in Leipzig, but still had many friends there. One of them was Heinrich Stromer von Auerbach, founder of Auerbachs Keller or Auerbach’s Cellar, one of the most famous restaurants in the world and popular until today. Eventually, it was Martin Luther himself who introduced the Reformation to Saxony’s largest city. The most famous composer of Protestant church music, Johann Sebastian Bach, spent the last 28 years of his life in Leipzig, creating some of his best-known works while working as a teacher at St. Thomas, where he is also buried. The more than 800 year old St. Thomas Boys Choir, which Bach worked with himself, is still one of the greatest exponents of his music.

Leipzig highlights

St. Nicholas Church

© Wolfgang Gaertner

St. Thomas Church

© PUNCTUM Leipzig Travel
„Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world.”
- Martin Luther, Protestant Reformer and professor of theology, 1483-1546 -

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