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500 Years On: Martin Luther and The Protestant Reformation


Fri 2 Jun 2017, 8:30am–5:00pm
Tue 6 Jun 2017, 8:30am–5:00pm
Wed 7 Jun 2017, 8:30am–5:00pm
Thu 8 Jun 2017, 8:30am–5:00pm
Fri 9 Jun 2017, 8:30am–5:00pm

Where: University of Otago Library, 65 Albany St, Dunedin, Otago

Restrictions: All Ages

Ticket Information:

  • Admission: Free

Martin Luther (1483-1546) was a friar and Professor of Theology at the University of Wittenberg, Germany.

While undertaking scriptural studies, Luther arrived at an essential tenet: the Bible alone was the source to salvation and true Christianity. Luther rejected the authority of the Pope and thought that people should go to the church and pray, directly to God or Christ, and not to anyone who claimed special powers or holiness.

On 31st October 1517, All Saints’ Day eve, an occasion that attracted many pilgrims to the city, Luther is said to have nailed 95 theses to the church door. These disputations, in Latin, were a provocative attack on indulgences, which he saw as a money-making scheme by the Church. Initially posted to generate scholarly debate, the theses marked a beginning of the Reformation timeline. Importantly, it was not only the theses that sparked the revolution; the time was ripe for action.

Luther was a preacher with a prolific publication output. He utilised the relatively new technology of printing to disseminate his works, many slender tracts (flugschrift) and sermons written in German, to a wider audience. Supporters helped, including Philip Melanchthon and Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony. And of course there were his opponents such as Johannes Cochlaeus, who wrote the first biography on him, and Emperor Charles V. The Papal authorities saw Luther as a ‘notorious heretic’, and he was excommunicated at the Diet of Worms in 1521.

This exhibition is a celebratory one that not only acknowledges Luther’s provocative action back in October 1517 but also the result, the spread of Reform that followed across Europe. The major players in this drama included Huldrych Zwingli, John Calvin, John Knox, and Henry VIII, who was instrumental in starting the English Reformation.

There was also the inevitable backlash, those involved in the ‘Catholic’ Counter-Reformation. On-going Catholic and Protestant differences resulted in the wholesale persecution of various sects, the English Civil War, and internal religious and social strife throughout many European countries.

The exhibition presents an overview of what was a massive revolution that occurred in Europe, and Luther’s legacy continues to impact on the world today. The books on display are from Special Collections, University of Otago, the Hewitson Library, Knox College, and a private collection. Notable items include Hartmann Schedel’s famed Nuremberg Chronicle, printed in 1493; a late 15th century medieval Book of Hours; a sheet of the German Bible, printed in 1483, an early guidebook to Rome (1515), and most notably, a rare Latin Bible (1481) that contains fragments of indulgences printed by William Caxton. Luther’s own work features, including his Deuteronomy (1525), his Works (1550), and a facsimile of his Bible, Die Propheten Alle Deutsch (1534).

Works by Johannes Cochlaeus, Erasmus, and Philip Melancthon, Luther’s friend and colleague, also feature. Also on display are colourful facsimile leaflets (flugblatt) from the period including the image seen here by Erhard Schön, ‘Der Teufel mit der Sackpfeife’ (The Devil playing the Bagpipe), (Nuremberg), 1535. Facsimile. Private Collection

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