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Happy Protestant wandering

11 October 2011

Get your Luther trip set up before 2017, says John Arnold

In the Footsteps of Martin Luther
Heinz Stade and Thomas A. Seidel

Wartburg Verlag £12.75*

Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote . . .
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages.

PILGRIMAGES, as celebrated by Geoffrey Chaucer, were one of the casualties of the Reformation. Now they have returned, in different forms perhaps, but recognisably part of a tradition that goes back at least to the time of Etheria in the fourth century, of visiting sites associated with the incarnation and with heroes and heroines of the faith. By a strange irony, Martin Luther, who, like Chaucer, was critical of the superstition and exploitation associated with late-medieval pilgrimages, has himself become the object of contemporary journeys, and increasingly so in the run-up to the quinquecentenary celebrations of the Reformation in 2017.

Perhaps this is not so surprising; for he often spoke of the Christian life as a journey. “A Christian lives in the process of becoming rather than already being where he wants to be.

. . . Someone who imagines he is already in heaven will never get there, the reverse applies to someone who reaches out to heaven and tries to enter in because that is already the state of being in heaven.” John Bunyan would have understood.

To help us on our way, Stade and Seidel offer us a gazetteer from Altenburg to Zwickau of places associated with Luther, produced to the highest standards of German publishing and adorned with ravishing photographs by Harald Wenzel-Orf.

The alphabetical order shows that this is not an itinerary, but rather a guidebook, interspersed with short, appreciative, but not uncritical introductions to Reformation history and to Luther’s thought. Readers will find many prejudices gently corrected.

They will also find themselves encouraged to visit some of the most beautiful and historic parts of Germany, too long neglected because of their location in the dauntingly forbidding German Democratic Republic. Sachsen-Anhalt and Thüringen, the heartland of the Reformation, are also the heartland of St Elizabeth of Hungary, Goethe and Schiller, Bach and Handel, Cranach and Dürer. There is something for everyone here. Wise travellers will book early and avoid the rush in 2017.

The Very Revd Dr John Arnold is a former Dean of Durham, and is Anglican co-president of the Anglican-Lutheran Society.

*The above title can be obtained from the publisher’s website: www.wartburgverlag.net .

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