We can’t know with any great certainty where Luther stepped for each of the 1500 km he walked during the six weeks of his southward journey. And even if we did, the chances that we could still walk in his steps would be pretty slim. He would have kept to major roads—really only muddy cart paths at the time. The problem is that many of these have become today’s roads and highways: hardly routes conducive to a pleasant walk.
We can know with a bit more certainty, however, where he laid his head at night. Our cheat-sheet is a hundred-year old gem by the thorough — as only a German scholar can be — Heinrich Boehmer, Luthers Romfahrt (Leipzig: Werner Scholl, 1914). We’ll be hearing much for from Boehmer before this trip is up. Luther kept no log, unlike the other pilgrims whose notes make up our modern knowledge of pilgrims’ paths. But there are scattered references to places and people he visited in that most entertaining and fecund source of Luther lore, his Table Talk.
Of Swabia, he calls the people “naturally openhearted.” He notes that Bavaria was home to “well-built houses and strongly fortified towns.” Switzerland was “nothing but mountain and valley,” and its people “strong, clever, and talkative.” He noted the other German peoples possessing “such strong dialects that they can’t even understand each other” (pp. 82-83). Of Florence, he noted none of its now-celebrated art or architecture but only its impressive orphanage (p. 87).
These reveal nothing specific, nothing really to guide our own path. But one simple biographical fact fills in this great lack of documentation rather fully: Luther was an Augustinian. In all likelihood, then, he overnighted at Augustinian houses and convents when possible.
Fortunately, we have a pretty good idea of where these houses were. Along our own chosen path we’ll be passing through 23 towns that are known to have had an Augustinian house or monastery, and near to 5 others. Chief among these were Erfurt, Ulm, Nuremberg, Milan, Florence, Viterbo, and Rome. So there’s a good chance we see at least a few places where Luther certainly slept.