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Legends about Luther: Nailing the 95 Theses

October 31, 1517: Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg with hammer strokes which echoed throughout all of Europe. This act has been portrayed numerous times thoughout the centuries, and until the 21st century it was accepted as fact. It has become a symbol of the Reformation as nothing else has.

It was like a slap in the face when the catholic Luther researcher, Erwin Iserloh, asserted in 1961 that the nailing of the theses to the door of the Castle Church belonged to the realm of legends.
The facts are convincing, the first written account of the event comes from Philipp Melanchthon who could not have been an eye-witness to the event since he was not called to Wittenberg University as a professor until 1518.
Also, this account appeared for the first time after Luther's death and he never commented on 'nailing anything up' in 1517.

Announcements of upcoming disputes were supposedly regularly hung on the door of the Castle Church. But, openly hanging the theses without waiting for a reaction from the Bishops could have been seen as a clear provocation of his superiors. Luther would not have done that because he only wanted to clear up some misunderstandings.

It is also worth noting, that there was no open discussion of the theses in Wittenberg and that no original printing of the theses could be found.

One thing is sure: Luther wrote a letter to his superiors on October 31, 1517 in which he denounced the sale of indulgence and asked for repayment and removal of the misunderstandings. With the letter he included 95 theses which were to be the basis for a discussion on the topic.

Today, the majority of Luther researchers see it as fact, that Luther did not nail his theses to the door of the Castle Church on that day. But the picture of Luther nailing the theses to the door of the church is still today the most common in regards to Luther, the reformation and Lutherstadt Wittenberg.

Copyright (c) KDG Wittenberg 1997, 2001
Copyright (c) KDG Wittenberg 1997, 2001

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