Castle Church (Lutherstadt Wittenberg)

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Wittenberg Castle Church

The castle church , also the church of the Reformation , is a Protestant church in Lutherstadt Wittenberg and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996 . It is considered the starting point of the Reformation after Martin Luther disseminated his 95 Latin theses for the disputation from here on October 31, 1517 . It is one of the Luther memorials in Eisleben and Wittenberg .


The castle church is located in the west of the old town of Wittenberg at the end of the Schlossstrasse coming from the market. It is structurally connected to Wittenberg Castle and forms the northern side wing of the three-wing complex, which is open to the east. The church is accessed through its north side.

The church is not strictly easted . Its long axis deviates from the east by about 14 degrees to the south.


The first lock on today's place and with it the earliest castle church, the Chapel of All Saints , was around 1340 by the askanischen Duke Rudolf I built. On May 6th, 1346 the foundation "All Saints" was established, which was located in the newly built Ascanian castle. The "All Saints" chapel donated by Rudolf I was placed under the direct rights of the Roman See . On February 24, 1361, Duke Rudolf II furnished the chapel, which had been donated to “all saints”, with income, issued its statutes and regulated its order of worship. These regulations also applied under the subsequent rulers. 1400 were on the instruction of Pope Boniface IX. the town church St. Marien and the Marienkapelle on the Apollensberg subordinate to the castle church. 1415 was under Rudolf III. the chapel moved to a lighter place in the attic of today's castle church in order to cope with a larger number of visitors.

Castle Church Wittenberg (1509), after L. Cranach the Elder Ä.
The church interior around 1730
... and 1832

Between 1490 and 1515 Frederick the Wise had the entire palace rebuilt, starting with the south and west wings. It was not until 1496 that Konrad Pflüger added the castle church as a north wing, where the vaulting work was only completed five years after the church was consecrated (January 17, 1503). Since then, the castle church has formed the north wing. Frederick the Wise put an extensive collection of relics into it, which attracted pilgrims from far away, and furnished it accordingly in a lavish manner . Many of the more than 19,000 "holy objects" (relics) with the equivalent of around two million years of indulgences found their place on the 16 altars of the narrow three-sided gallery, from where their "instructions" (presentation) also took place.

After the Wittenberg University of Leucorea was founded in 1502, the castle church was added to it as a university church in 1507; thereby the church developed into an academic place of consecration. This was where the students received their doctorates, Philipp Melanchthon gave his famous inaugural address, devotions were held in the church, and the university's academic dignitaries were buried here. Some of these dignitaries can still be recognized today by the walls in their epitaphs .

The main portal, then made of wood, was used by university members to pin information. Martin Luther , conventual of the Augustinian monastery and professor of theology, is said to have posted his 95 theses here on October 31, 1517, the eve of the patronage day of the castle church, in order to call for a disputation on the indulgence trade. That was the trigger for the Reformation . Whether the theses were actually posted in this form is controversial. It has been proven that Luther sent the theses by hand to two bishops on the day and to other theologians afterwards.

In 1525 Frederick the Wise was buried in the castle church. In the same year, Lutheran worship was introduced in the church. In 1546 Martin Luther received his grave in the castle church , in 1560 Philipp Melanchthon .

In 1760 the church burned down during the Seven Years' War . Most of the interior was lost, and the exterior was rebuilt until 1770. The castle tower was converted into a church tower. The church suffered new damage, especially on the tower, in 1814 when Wittenberg was stormed during the Wars of Liberation . Most of the interior of the church with its valuable works of art and relics was lost. Only the art monuments made of metal are preserved, in particular the tomb of Frederick the Wise, which the well-known bronze caster Peter Vischer created in Nuremberg in 1527.

In 1815 Wittenberg came to Prussia after the Congress of Vienna . After the Wittenberg University was relocated to Halle (Saale) in 1817 , the castle and university church was given to the newly founded Evangelical Preachers' Seminar for use.

Instead of the wooden theses door, which was burned in 1760, the Prussian king Friedrich Wilhelm IV donated the bronze theses door for the 375th birthday of Martin Luther on November 10, 1858 with an inauguration ceremony.

On the occasion of Martin Luther's 400th birthday in 1883, a profound reconstruction of the church in the neo-Gothic style began under the direction of Friedrich Adler as a “monument to the Reformation”, which was completed in 1892. The inner core was completely redesigned according to historical records and the dome of the castle church tower was rebuilt. On October 31, 1892, the redesigned church was consecrated in the presence of Kaiser Wilhelm II and as part of a historical procession.

In 1949 the castle parish was founded in order to assign the church its own parish in addition to the seminary.

On the occasion of the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's birthday in 1983, twelve glass windows with portraits of the thirteen most important reformer students of Luther were inaugurated in the castle church. The Lutheran World Federation commissioned the Halle artist Renate Brömme, who made the glass paintings in an adaptively timeless style.

From 1978 to 1992 the preacher Friedrich Schorlemmer worked at this church, who became internationally known with the symbolic forging of a sword into a ploughshare - a sign of hope of the GDR peace movement .

In 1999/2000 the roof structure was renovated and the roof re-covered based on the model from 1892.

With a view to the 500th anniversary of the posting of the theses in 2017, a comprehensive renovation of the church took place. It cost around 8.2 million euros. On October 2, 2016, the palace church received from Queen Margrethe II of Denmark an altar hanging designed by her as a royal gift for the reopening after the restoration.



Reticulated vault of the ceiling
Inscription on the tower

The Wittenberg Castle Church is a single-nave late Gothic hall church with a reticulated vault over five bays and an apse with a 5/8 end that was supported by external buttresses until the end of the 19th century. The organ gallery occupies the rear yoke. A stone gallery that has been running around since 1892 is supported by flat arches, its columns now also support the delicate net vault and thus form a wall pillar church .

The interior and the later interior were determined by features that have been changed or are missing today. They can still be read from a traditional floor plan and three traditional illustrations: The woodcut (1509) by Lucas Cranach the Elder. Ä. shows a dwarf in the west roof by the tower as the north gable of the west wing of the palace connecting at right angles to the south of the church. Its roof was supported by a column, which can be seen in the interior view from 1730 in front of the west gallery. Further details can also be seen here: to the left of the fourth south pore pillar was the original pulpit, i.e. in the middle of the longitudinal wall with a view of the central north entrance. The stalls on the ground floor faced the pulpit from three sides; a "naw phorkirche" had been laid out for the elector to the north in 1540. He could get from the west wing through the west gallery to this of his "box". This original character of the castle church as a transverse church is confirmed by the existing floor plan from 1758, which dates back to the construction time. The two devastating fires of 1760 and 1814 resulted in the loss of the vault and the widening of the three-sided gallery, as the interior view from 1832 shows. It was not until the neo-Gothic renovation at the end of the 19th century that the pillars of the now complete gallery led up to the presumably completely new church vault. The neo-Gothic pulpit and the new princely chairs were moved one position closer to the east apse and the seating was aligned lengthways to the altar.

The roof is covered with colorful glazed roof tiles in a diamond pattern . It has a gothic style roof turret and some dormers with a tent-shaped structure. The Gothic pointed arch windows between the outer pillars are divided into two parts. A Gothic tracery adorns the western gable . The original western transverse roof structure of the west wing with its northern dwelling no longer exists after the fires and the conversion of the castle into a fortress.

The main eye catcher is the tower. It is one of the two castle towers that has been converted into a church tower. On a massive round shaft it carries a filigree, ornate, copper-covered neo - Gothic tower dome (1885/92) and thus reaches a height of 88 meters. This makes it visible from afar and shapes the cityscape. Under the hood it is enclosed by a banner made of mosaic stones, on which the words of Martin Luther's hymn " A strong castle is our God , a good defense and weapons" can be read.

Thesis door

Thesis door

The old door of the Wittenberg Castle Church, on which, according to tradition, Martin Luther posted his 95 theses in 1517 , was destroyed by fire in 1760 and replaced by a wooden one. The bronze so-called thesis door, which the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm IV. Donated to the city of Wittenberg in 1858, reminds of the posting of the theses . It contains the text of Luther's 95 theses and is crowned with music-making boys. Based on drawings by Ferdinand von Quasts and models by Friedrich Drake , it was cast by the ore caster Friebel from Berlin.

The strongly profiled walls of the church door are still original; The year 1499 can be seen on both sides of the apex. In 1845, the figures of Elector Friedrich the Wise and Duke Johann the Steadfast were placed over the portal by Friedrich Wilhelm Holbein on high pedestals adorned with coats of arms . The designs for this come from Friedrich Drake . In the arched field there is a crucifix with Luther and Melanchthon in front of the Wittenberg city silhouette in lava painting by August von Kloeber . The spandrels of the rectangular frame contain a barely legible inscription in capitals , which reminds of the fire of 1760 and the subsequent repairs.


View inside the church
as a spherical panorama

The interior of the church essentially corresponds to the renovation phase at the end of the 19th century. In the center of the choir is the French sandstone altar in a filigree, gothic form. Christ stands under three arcades with Gothic tracery, accompanied by the apostles Peter and Paul .

The lavishly designed choir stalls - called prince stalls because they were donated by the German princes - and the pulpit were made by the Wittenberg sculptor Lober. The pulpit shows the coats of arms of cities associated with Luther in the substructure, the four evangelists with their symbols on the pulpit and Gothic tracery on the sound cover. The cast iron baptismal font from 1832 was designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel .

Other pieces of equipment are dedicated to the memory of the Reformation. Larger-than-life statues of nine representatives of the Reformation are placed on pillars in front of the pillars. These are Martin Luther, Philipp Melanchthon, Johannes Bugenhagen , Georg Spalatin , Julius Jonas , Johannes Brenz , Urbanus Rhegius , Nikolaus von Amsdorf and Caspar Cruciger . They were designed by Rudolf Siemering and executed by various sculptors. The gallery is decorated with tracery and the arms of the nobility. In the spandrels there are bronze medallions with the heads of important personalities who were close to the Reformation. This turns the interior of the castle church into a hall of fame for the Reformation and its representatives.

The choir windows, designed according to motifs from woodcuts by Albrecht Dürer , show the birth of Christ, the crucifixion, the resurrection and the miracle of Pentecost. In other windows, coats of arms of cities with importance for the Reformation, dates on the history of the church and the like are shown. Two large chandeliers serve to illuminate the church interior.


The Wittenberg Castle Church contains the graves of members of the Saxon rulers as well as representatives of the Reformation and scholars of the Wittenberg University . Some grave sites are marked on the floor, for others a series of epitaphs adorn the walls, some of which were created before the fire of 1760.

These include the grave slab for Elector Rudolf II († 1370) and his second wife Elisabeth († 1373) as well as another for the daughter from his first marriage, Elisabeth († 1353). For more Dukes of the House of Ascania , Emperor Wilhelm II. One at the west end of the church in 1891 cenotaph erected.

The Saxon electors Friedrich the Wise and Johann the Steadfast from the House of Wettin are buried in front of the main altar . For both of them, next to the main altar, two life-size kneeling figures in knight armor from the old church furnishings are set up and their artistically valuable grave slabs from Peter Vischer's workshop are placed opposite in the choir room.

Martin Luther is buried below the pulpit in the nave and Philipp Melanchthon is buried on the opposite side. There is also a bronze grave tablet for Luther, although it is a cast from 1872. The original of the epitaph from 1548 is in the Michaeliskirche in Jena ; the wooden design (as a patrix to produce the mold necessary for casting ) in the Andreas Church in Erfurt . Other Wittenberg personalities buried in the castle church are the doctors Franziskus Faber , Konrad Viktor Schneider and Abraham Vater , the theologians Joachim Samuel Weickmann and Johannes Meisner , the lawyer Matthias Wesenbeck and the lawyer and artist Caspar Ziegler .


Ladegast organ with case from 1893

After the church fire in 1760, Johann Ephraim Hübner built a new organ with 37 registers on two manuals and pedal in 1771 . In 1863 the organ builder Friedrich Ladegast (Weißenfels) replaced the work in the case of the baroque predecessor organ , which however was exchanged for a neo-Gothic oak case in 1893. The Ladegast instrument initially had 39 registers on three manuals and a pedal. In 1935 the organ building company Wilhelm Sauer (Frankfurt [Oder]) expanded the disposition to 50 registers and equipped the instrument with electro-pneumatic action . In the years 1985 to 1994 the instrument was reconstructed by the organ building company Hermann Eule (Bautzen) and expanded with a swell that included some Sauer registers. The instrument with a total of around 3500 pipes has 57 registers on four manuals and pedal. The playing actions are mechanical.

I main work C – f 3
1. Principal 16 ′
2. Drone 16 ′ L.
3. Principal 8th' L.
4th Hollow flute 8th' L.
5. Gemshorn 8th' L.
6th Reed flute 8th' L.
7th Octave 4 ′ L.
8th. Pointed flute 4 ′ L.
9. Fifth 2 23 L.
10. Octave 2 ′ L.
11. Mixture IV-V 2 ′ L.
12. Cornett II-IV 2 ′ L.
13. Trumpet 8th'
II Oberwerk C – f 3
14th Darling Dumped 16 ′
15th Principal 8th'
16. Salicional 8th' L.
17th Flauto trav. 8th' L.
18th Dumped 8th' L.
19th Octave 4 ′ L.
20th Fugara 4 ′
21st Forest flute 2 ′ L.
22nd Progress II – IV 2 '
23. Hautbois 8th'
III Swell C – f 3
24. Viola d'amour 16 ′
25th Flute Principal 8th'
26th Viol 8th'
27. Drone 8th'
28. Quintatön 8th'
29 Unda maris 8th'
30th Salicet 4 ′
31. Concert flute 4 ′
32. Nasat 2 23
33. Flautino 2 ′
34. third 1 35
35. Harmonia aeth. III 2 ′
36. Mixture IV-V 1 13
37. bassoon 16 ′
38. Trumpet 8th'
39. oboe 8th'
40. Clarine 4 ′
IV Echowerk C – f 3
41. Viola di gamba 16 ′
42. Fugara 8th'
43. Lull amabile 8th'
44. Dumped 8th' L.
45. Flauto dolce 4 ′ L.
46. Viola d'amour 4 ′

Pedal C – f 1
47. Pedestal 32 ′
48. Principal bass 16 ′
49. Violon 16 ′
50. Sub bass 16 ′
51. Octavbass 8th'
52. violoncello 8th'
53. Bass flute 8th'
54. Quintbass 5 13
55. Octavbass 4 ′
56. trombone 16 ′
57. Trumpet 8th'
L = register from 1863 (loader)


The three bells that were cast in 1960 by the Schilling bell foundry in Apolda are located in the castle tower:

Casting year
Foundry, casting location
Mass (kg)
1 1960 Schilling, Apolda 2667 h 0 If you do not believe, you will not stay ( Isaiah 7: 9  ESV )
2 1629 d 1 Complete love drives out fear ( 1 John 4:18  ESV )
3 1126 e 1 Rejoice in hope ( Rom 12.12  LUT )

The bells were restored during the renovation work.

Recent development

2016: change of ownership

Hardly noticed by the public, there was a change of ownership for the Wittenberg Castle Church from state to church in 2016/2017 : The state of Saxony-Anhalt , represented by the state government with Prime Minister Reiner Haseloff , sold the castle church after all the renovation work was completed (cost: 8.1 Million euros) to the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) - the symbolic purchase price was 1  euros . In return, the EKD transferred the Augusteum to the state of Saxony-Anhalt . In the church newspaper Glaube und Heimat, the EKD put the annual maintenance costs it now has to pay for the Wittenberg Castle Church at around 500,000 euros.

2019: admission price

Since December 1, 2019, admission to the Wittenberg Castle Church outside of church services has been subject to a charge and is 2 euros per person. This follows the example of other much-visited places of worship such as Berlin Cathedral (7 euros), Meißen Cathedral (4.50 euros), Marienkirche Lübeck (2 euros) and Nikolaikirche Stralsund (3 euros conservation contribution).


  • Bernhard Gruhl: The castle church in Lutherstadt Wittenberg (= Great Art Guide. Vol. 224). Schnell and Steiner, Regensburg 2006, ISBN 978-3-7954-1798-7 .
  • Sibylle Harksen: The castle church in Wittenberg (= small art guide. Vol. 1910). 11th edition. Schnell & Steiner, Munich 2003, ISBN 3-7954-5632-0 .
  • Albrecht Liess: The inscriptions on the tombstones of Martin Luther and Philipp Melanchthon in the castle church in Wittenberg. In: Archival Journal . Volume 95 (2017), pp. 391-396.
  • Silvio Reichelt: The Castle Church - A major project of Prussian-German historical politics. In: Ders .: The experience space Lutherstadt Wittenberg. Genesis, development and existence of a Protestant place of remembrance (= Refo500. Vol. 11). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen / Bristol, Conn. 2013, ISBN 978-3-525-55054-0 , pp 67-87 (Zugl .: Halle [Saale], Univ, Diss, 2011;.. Teildigitalisat in the Google Book Search).
  • G. Stiehr: The castle church in Wittenberg. Overview of their history up to the present. To the secular memory of the two years 1560 and 1760. Compiled and published on behalf of the Association for Local Studies of the Kurkreis. by G. Stier. with five woodcuts. Zimmermann, Wittenberg 1860, OCLC 72855650 ( digitized version ); 2nd edition, continued from 1860 until now. Zimmermannsche Buchhandlung, Wittenberg 1873, OCLC 246272355 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Lutherstadt Wittenberg UNESCO World Heritage.
  2. a b G. Stiehr (ed.): The castle church in Wittenberg. Overview of their history up to the present. To commemorate the two years 1560 and 1760 . Compiled and published on behalf of the Association for Local Studies of the Kurkreis. by G. Stier. with five woodcuts; Wittenberg 1860, p. 6f - digitized version of the Saxon State Library - State and University Library Dresden (SLUB), signature Hist.Sax.H.1915, available as PDF in [1]
  3. ^ Hans-Joachim Krause: The gallery of the Torgau castle chapel in its original shape and function ; in: Architecture and visual arts as reflected in international research ; Edited by the Institute for the Preservation of Monuments of the German Democratic Republic, Central Documentation and Publication; Berlin 1989, pp. 233-245
  4. Dieter Großmann: Emporenkirchen and church galleries in Germany in the 16th century ; in: Jan Harasimowicz (Hrsg.): Protestant church building of the early modern times in Europe. Basics and new research concepts ; Regensburg 2015, p. 30
  5. Heinz Schilling : Martin Luther. Rebel in a time of upheaval. A biography. Special edition, CH Beck, Munich 2016, ISBN 978-3-406-63741-4 , p. 167 f. ( EA ibid. 2012; 2nd, complete edition. 2013; review , H-Soz-u-Kult ).
  6. ^ Daniel Jütte: Theses posting. Did Luther actually swing the hammer in 1517? In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung . June 16, 2014, accessed on August 19, 2016 ("Martin Luther's posting of the theses in Wittenberg is certainly the most famous, but by no means the only one: A history of posting notes on churches.").
  7. ^ Website of the Evangelical Seminary Lutherstadt Wittenberg. In:, accessed on October 8, 2016.
  8. Pictures from the ceremony in 1892. In: Landesarchiv Baden-Württemberg , accessed on October 4, 2018.
  9. ^ Website of the Wittenberg Castle Church Community. In:, accessed on October 8, 2016.
  10. Complete renovation of the castle church in Lutherstadt Wittenberg. In: Construction and property management Saxony-Anhalt, accessed on October 9, 2016.
  11. Restored Wittenberg Castle Church celebrates reopening. In: WAZ . October 2, 2016, accessed October 4, 2016.
  12. Visit to Wittenberg. In: September 20, 2016, accessed on October 4, 2016 (official website of the Queen of Denmark; English; the central motif of the antependium is the Luther rose ; with images).
  13. ^ Friedrich Adler: Castle Church Wittenberg. Restoration - floor plans ; in: Atlas zur Zeitschrift für Bauwesen , ed. v. Ministry of Public Works, vol. 45, 1895 - available as PDF in [2]
  14. Little Art Guide, p. 14.
  15. On the lengthy planning and execution of the door from 1844 cf. Witte, p. 15, and Ferdinand v. Quast : The doors of the castle church in Wittenberg. In: Christian Art Journal . 1859 (listed in the content advertisement 1859. PDF; 94 MB; PDF-p. 3 under no. 3). 49. Explanatory report v. Quasts to his drafts in the GStA Berlin , Rep. 89 H IX Sachsen 5a.
  16. Kleiner Kunstführer, Vol. 1910, p. 16.
  17. ^ Bernhard Gruhl: From the bells of the castle church in Wittenberg. In: Heimatkalender 2007. Drei Kastanien, Lutherstadt Wittenberg 2007, p. 142; Wittenberg 1990, OCLC 552588182 (typewriter copy).
  18. Haseloff mentioned the intention to change ownership in autumn 2016 in a speech in the state parliament of Saxony-Anhalt. This was negotiated in the committee for finance, which approved the sale (committee printed matter 7 / FIN / 24, 03.11.2016): “The committee for finance held a consultation and approved the transfer of ownership of the Wittenberg Castle Church to the Evangelical Church in Germany. “Source: PDF; 485 kB - p. 2, point 5.
  19. ( epd ): Positive assessment of the Reformation Decade. EKD, Saxony-Anhalt and the city of Wittenberg celebrate the conclusion of their framework agreement - EKD takes over the castle church. In: April 11, 2018, accessed October 4, 2018 .
  20. Katja Schmidtke: Prussia's splendor - the Wittenberg Castle Church is the ultimate memorial of the Reformation. After four years of construction, it will reopen on October 2nd with great glory. Denmark's queen is making an altar cloth, and the EKD is getting a new, third church building. In: Glaube und Heimat , print edition, September 25, 2016, p. 13 (4-column article).

Coordinates: 51 ° 51 ′ 58.9 "  N , 12 ° 38 ′ 16.6"  E