THE BRITISH LIBRARY

European studies blog

05 May 2017

Reformation 1517-2017 at the British Library


95 Theses Latin
The original Latin version of Luther’s 95 Theses ([Leipzig?], 1517) C.18.d.12.

When Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg on 31 October 1517, without knowing all the implications of that momentous act, it proved the beginning of a ‘Glaubenskampf’ – a struggle of faiths – across Germany, Europe and farther afield, which would also be the impetus for wars and bloodshed over centuries and would lead to religious separation and a split from Rome. Later, he further changed the world with his translations of the Bible into German, with a New Testament published in 1522 and a Complete Bible (with books excluded from the canon used by Roman Catholics) published in 1534.

1534 Bible tp and coat of arms

 Biblia, das ist, die gantze Heilige Schrifft Deudsch. (Wittenberg, 1534) 1.b.9. The first complete edition of Luther’s German Bible translation.

500 years later, Luther’s life and work and the Reformation are celebrated in the German-speaking countries, across northern Europe and North America, and other parts of the world as achievements of enlightenment, illustrious in their influence not only on Christian theology, but also in disciplines and areas of human endeavour such as art, literature and music. In many ways, Martin Luther’s achievements and the Reformation are also today celebrated in the spirit of reconciliation. For the first time in history, ordinary people had begun to have access to the Bible in their own language, and were able to inform themselves and make choices about issues of religious faith.

In Germany this year, festive events in heartland areas of the Reformation and across the whole country are the culmination of the ‘Luther Decade’ of the Evangelischen Kirche in Deutschland. Each year of the decade has had its own dedicated thematic strand, devoted to a particular achievement of the Reformation – its impact not only on theology, but also on culture, music, literature, unification, and enlightenment.

Luther inscription Zweig MS 200 f003r Signed inscription by Martin Luther from the ‘Reformatoren-Gedenkbuch’, a collection of inscriptions bny prominent German reformers, Zweig MS 200

Martin Luther’s impact has helped make our world as we know it today what it is – and the Reformation is also frequently regarded as the end of the (‘dark’) Middle Ages. At the British Library we are joining in this year’s anniversary celebrations and marking the Reformation: language and languages, the distribution of texts and knowledge, access to information are cornerstone elements of the Reformation and also central to our Library’s mission and achievements.

The British Library will present a small “Reformation 2017” exhibition in its Treasures Gallery during the month of November. The exhibition will focus on the four themes of: religious and political setting, early response and controversy, Bible translation and impact, and legacy.

Themes of the Luther decade are also areas where the British Library will make its contributions through the display of valuable items in our exhibition and via posts on the European Studies blog throughout the year. We shall be considering the Reformation in word and print, the spreading and influence of the Reformation across Europe (other German-speaking countries, Scandinavia, the UK, the New World), the impact on literature, translation, and music – to name just a few. We are also planning a Study Day at the Library. Events throughout the year at the British Library and at other locations are being listed at: www.reformation500.uk

Dorothea Miehe, Content Specialist Humanities & Social Sciences, Research Services