All About Ulm

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Ulm is an amazing city and made us feel once again some regret at the haste of our onward journey. A particularly nice detail about the place is that it was the home of Felix Fabri, a Dominican monk who was a prodigious pilgrim and even more prodigious journaler of his pilgrimages to Palestine. He even designed a little pilgrimage around Ulm itself for Christian ladies who could not undertake the expense or danger of long-distance pilgrimages themselves. Other medieval personages of significance are the Fugger family, also based in nearby Augsburg, a major banking house that financed some of the Roman Catholic-siding armies in the Reformation period. Amazingly enough, the Fuggers are still around, still live in Ulm, and still are bankers!

At the other end of history, Ulm is the birthplace of Albert Einstein—the formula e=mc2 seems to be quite popular in advertising here. During the Second World War the city was 80% bombed, and that legacy is still very evident. The enormous church (never a cathedral, but the pride and joy of a medieval free city) and various houses survive intact, but a good number of the downtown buildings are in the dull boxy style of late 1940s and early 50s restoration projects. The church interior also features a huge statue of St. Michael with outspread wings and an upward-pointing sword, a (now controversial) symbol of protecting the populace from all evil, installed in the 50s. Ulm was bombed by the Allies in part because it was a stronghold of Nazi ideology, but it also boasts another heritage, that of the White Rose resistance movement of students, headed by brother and sister Hans and Sophie Scholl. They printed leaflets in secrets and distributed them publicly, calling into question the lies of the Third Reich. Eventually they were caught and with some of their friends swiftly beheaded for their treachery. An excellent account of their lives can be found in the book Sophie Scholl and the White Rose.

Ulm is located in the region of Württemberg, which has itself an unusual Reformation legacy. The local reformer was Johannes Brenz, a significant contributor to Lutheran christology and also one of the few voices opposing the persecution of Anabaptists. Under his auspices a local Württemberg Confession was authored that remains part of Lutheran identity here. The local dialect is Swabian, which is quite similar to Swiss German. This meant that Lutherans here always had strong ties to the Swiss Reformed and less of the allergic reaction to them that many Lutherans in other parts of Germany had. Perhaps as a result of this strong local identity, Pietism took root in Württemberg and flourished from the 18th century to this day. In fact, the movement was so strong that a sort of peace accord had to be worked out between the official church and the Pietists, which mandated common worship for all in the parish on Sunday mornings, but freedom to form ecclesiolae or what we’d now call small groups in the afternoon for prayers, Bible study, and guest preachers. This was very successful and even now the Pietist regions in southern Germany have much higher church attendance than any of the other Protestant Landeskirchen in Germany. Pietists also had a penchant for forming mission societies; over 50 mission societies came out of Württemberg alone! Last but not least—and perhaps most relevant for our purposes here—the legacy of friendship with Swiss Calvinists, and negotiated peace with Pietists, has meant that Ulm and the surrounding region boast particularly good ecumenical relations today with Catholics as well. The most important development has been working our arrangements for marriages of Catholics and Lutherans (formerly called confessionally divided marriages, now renamed confessionally connected marriages). Marriage has always been the seedbed of ecumenism, because there the division is felt most painfully and yet the trust has been strongest for giving one another a fair and respectful hearing.

We passed our rest day yesterday in a pleasantly lazy manor. The only urgent task was finding me a pair of outdoor pants—when we bought our hiking uniforms in June we had the crazy idea that summer and early fall would actually be warm and a hiking skirt would do the trick. It didn’t. After that we heard a fantastic half-hour organ concert at the church, Bach and Buxtehude and Arvö Part, a contemporary Estonian composer whose piece sounded like the music of the resurrection itself. The rest of the day was spent inert and gladly so. It’s a full 7 days to our next rest period and we are very glad to see a weather report of sunny for the next 2 of the 7!

2 thoughts on “All About Ulm

  1. Prayers & greetings on 9/11. Have been through Ulm once on train I think. Hope the beautiful churches, monasteries & countryside are feeding you both & will remain there all your lives. Thanks again for this wonderful ecumenical pilgrimage and action. Will remember you this coming week at Thomas Merton’s Gethsemani abbey where I will visit my friend, his old secretary Br Patrick Hart, give a talk, celebrate the offices & feast of the Cross with them 9/14.
    Hope the walking is easy, the skies blue, your days full of color & adventure, your love deep & strong.

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