Where Was the Pope?

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One of the few things we know about Luther’s pilgrimage to Rome is that he didn’t meet the Pope. There’s no reason that he would have even tried. His business was an internal matter within the Order of Augustinian Hermits, and religious orders had their own separate chain of command. It would likely have taken […]

Elsewhere in 1510

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It’s easy to overlook, when diving into the details of the Reformation, that a lot of other very important things were happening at the same time. There’s the Renaissance, of course, whose capital—Florence—we’ve just visited. Boticelli died the same year Luther walked to Rome; Leonardo da Vinci began his training in anatomy. The same rebirth […]

Rustic Brown

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It’s hard to imagine, assaulted as we are by bright colors and flashing screens, the dullness of life in Luther’s era. No, there was plenty of character. But there were also lots of browns, grays, and greens. Flowers lightened up the atmosphere, and so did the blue sky. But the human environment was not very […]

Inventing German

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We’re now deep in the heart of Bavaria. The language here is not like that of where we started in Thuringia, where High German is spoken. Here the “r”s are trilled with the tongue, not the throat, and the vocabulary is distinct, especially when it comes to foods, flora, and fauna. It will become even […]

Rats, Walls, and Needlemakers: Welcome to Late Medieval Cities

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Thomas Hobbes’s famously depressing description of life in a “state of nature” as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” has often been applied to describe life in the Middle Ages. From our vantage point, sitting on sofas in climate-controlled homes equipped electricity, running water, and toilets, this makes perfect sense. Except the solitary part is […]

Designing Bibles



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Today we’re in Coburg, where Luther lived for six months in 1530 during the Diet of Augsburg—his friends wouldn’t let him attend, worried for his safety—and worked on his translation of the Old Testament while hanging around the castle. (If you’re confused and thinking that I should’ve said the Wartburg rather than the Coburg castle […]

Why Luther Went to Rome

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Motivation is one of the most difficult things to determine, even for people who are alive, as any therapist will tell you. The shelves of Luther biographies have accumulated more than their fair share of psychoanalysts. And not without reason. Luther’s fervent piety, the intense anxiety he showed over his own salvation, the degree to […]