Motherland of the Reformation

Motherland of the Reformation


Spreading the word

“It is the intention of this building that nothing else shall happen inside it except that our dear Lord shall speak to us through His Holy Word, and we in turn talk to Him through prayer and praise.” With these words on 5 October 1544, Martin Luther inaugurated the world’s first newly-built Protestant church in Torgau’s Hartenfels Castle. Although it had to fit into the limited space of the castle, this building implemented the spiritual program of the Reformation in architecture and art for the first time. In keeping with the desire of Luther, the church is simple. In the center, to preach the Word, is the pulpit with motifs by Lucas Cranach, who was also responsible for the color scheme of the entire interior. The Torgau Castle Church became the model for many other Protestant churches and can be visited today in almost its original form.

Painters of the Reformation

Although the Saxon court painter Lucas Cranach the Elder made no secret of his sympathy for Luther and the Reformation and became famous for his portraits of the Electors of Saxony and the Reformers, he still worked for Catholic clients. Luther’s translation of the Bible was published in 1522 with illustrations by Cranach. He passed on his workshop to his equally famous son Lucas Cranach the Younger, who continued it successfully. The world’s largest collection of paintings from the Cranach workshop is owned by the Dresden State Art Collections. The altar in St Wolfgang’s Church, Schneeberg, is especially significant as the first monumental altar of the Reformation, whose panels are to be understood as a catechism sermon. However, the altar in St Catherine’s Church in Zwickau and the painting of “The Fourteen Holy Helpers” in St Mary’s Church in Torgau are pre-Reformation. In Meissen Cathedral works by Cranach can be seen at the lay altar and in St George’s Chapel. The altarpiece in the church at Augustusburg Castle depicts the family of Elector Augustus and their Protestant understanding of faith.

The first cantor

Music had an important role in spreading the spiritual message of the Reformation. Because of the many hymns he wrote, Luther was nicknamed the “Wittenberg Nightingale”. The Reformer found an ally in Johann Walter, who in 1520 started working as a singer with the court orchestra of Frederick the Wise, and after this closed, as a cantor in Torgau. He worked with Luther on the “German Mass” and other hymns, and published the first Protestant hymnal, the “Little Spiritual Song Book”. Walter also composed an artistic motet for the inauguration of the Torgau Castle Church. On order of Elector Maurice in 1548, Walter, the “first cantor of the Protestant Church” founded the Saxon Electoral Court Orchestra in Dresden, which he directed until 1554. The orchestra has played continuously since that time and is now called the Staatskapelle Dresden or Saxon State Orchestra. The orchestra’s home is now the Semperoper Dresden, one of the most beautiful opera houses in the world.