While most of his friends back home will be donning Halloween costumes and eating candy, St. Joseph’s College junior Dean Gandley will join an expected crowd of more than two million in Wittenberg, Germany, on Oct. 31 to witness the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.
“This year is a great year to come to Germany for someone who studies history,” said Gandley, an honors student at SJC Long Island who will chronicle his Wittenberg experience for OnCampus. “Oct. 31 marks the the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his theses on the doors of the Wittenberg Cathedral, and I will be (there).”
People started celebrating this event a decade ago, referring to the past 10 years as the “Luther decade” in Germany. The entire town of Wittenberg has transformed to honor the memory of Luther, the father of Protestantism.
SJC’s Department of Religious Studies Chair Thomas Petriano, Ph.D., explained the significance of Luther’s actions.
“As devotion to the saints and prayers for the souls in purgatory grew and developed in the Catholic Church, reformers like Martin Luther believed that it had become excessive and misplaced,” Dr. Petriano said. “Hence, Martin Luther quite deliberately chose All Hallows’ Eve as the date to post his 95 theses on the doors of the Wittenberg Cathedral.”
Dr. Petriano said it was a highly symbolic gesture that emphasized Luther’s rejection of the cult of the saints and prayers for the souls in purgatory that had developed in the Catholic Church.
“This Halloween marks the 500th anniversary of that momentous and historic action that began the Protestant Reformation,” he said.
I think that the anniversary resonates with us today because of what Luther stood for. While he was still rooted in medieval traditions, he challenged the dominance of the Roman Catholic Church — perhaps the most powerful, international institution in existence.” –SJC Department of History Chair James Blakeley.
The main attraction in Wittenberg that day will be the Reformation Festival, which starts with a 10 a.m. service at two main churches in the city. After service, people will line the streets of the city to enjoy live music, a parade, street theater and exhibitions throughout the historic city buildings. For a full list of all events celebrating the 500th anniversary, click here.
“To say that this is a big event for Reformation historians like me is an understatement,” said SJC’s Department of History Chairperson James Blakeley, Ph.D., who urged Gandley to visit Wittenberg. “It’s huge and being celebrated at universities around the world. The German government has invested huge sums of money for the past decade to publicize it.”
In fact, an estimated 78 million dollars have been put into Wittenberg to help publicize and prepare for this year’s visitors, according to Washington Post.
“I think that the anniversary resonates with us today because of what Luther stood for,” Dr. Blakeley said. “While he was still rooted in medieval traditions, he challenged the dominance of the Roman Catholic Church — perhaps the most powerful, international institution in existence.”
Dr. Blakeley added that Luther’s movement altered the way many Christians viewed their relationship to God and the divine.
“No longer would the church stand in between believers and their God,” he said. “In the end, (Luther) gave voice to popular anger that was focused on the abuses of Rome.”