As early as the 15th and 16th centuries Leipzig was already of paramount importance for intellectual and economic life in the Electorate of Saxony. It is well documented that Martin Luther stayed in the town on 17 different occasions.
His most significant stay is considered to be the occasion of his participation in the Leipzig Disputation, which took place in the summer of 1519 in the Pleißenburg Castle (since 1899 the New City Hall of today stands on the site of this castle). This disputation (or debate) was occasioned by people openly purchasing letters of indulgence from the Leipzig Dominican Johann Tetzel - who was blatantly offering them for sale - instead of turning to God in repentance. Luther observed this and then used his 95 theses to issue an invitation to a scholarly disputation on the subject of indulgences.
When Duke Henry the Pious introduced the Reformation in 1539, Luther was once again invited to Leipzig and preached in the chapel at Pleissenburg Castle. The castle was destroyed in 1547.
Leipzig was of particular importance for the progress and consolidation of the Reformation, because it was this renowned centre of books and publishing that made possible the mass circulation of Luther's writings, including his German Bibles, and numerous evangelical songbooks.
In 1521 a late-Gothic pulpit was created for St. Nicholas Church, which was named the “Luther pulpit”, even though the reformer himself never stood in it.
* If you would like to follow in Luther's footsteps in Leipzig, a good place to start is the Church of St. Thomas, which is still home to the world-famous St. Thomas choir today.
It is St. Thomas Church that is most closely associated with Luther. The Leipzig Disputation began with a service here on 27th June 1519, in which the St. Thomas Boys Choir took part under their cantor, Georg Rhaw.
Martin Luther then launched the Reformation in Leipzig with his Whit Sunday sermon in St. Thomas Church on 25th May 1539. Inside the church there is a bronze plaque commemorating this momentous event. In the wake of the Reformation the church acquired the appearance it still has today.
During alterations to the church at the end of the 19th century stained glass windows were inserted in the south wall. Luther is depicted in one of these.
* Contemporary impressions of the great Reformer can be found at the nearby gallery.
* The route to the gallery takes you past the historical Auerbachs Keller restaurant which Goethe liked to visit, and whose name is derived from a friend of Luther.
As long ago as 1525, guests were enjoying the hospitality of Auerbachs Keller. None other than Martin Luther was a visitor here. The café's owner, Heinrich Stromer von Auerbach, was one of the enlightened, progressive men of 16th century Leipzig. Luther had his admirers but also had many opponents. To protect himself from his enemies when visiting Leipzig, Luther would seek accommodation in safe houses, including that of Auerbach.
* In the Museum of City History, visitors can see the 1547 cityscape and an 1823 model of the city, showing the buildings, squares and streets that Luther would have known.
The museum also houses:
- the wedding ring of Katharina von Bora,
- a portrait of Katharina von Bora (1499 – 1552) in oil,
- a Luther goblet,
- a gallery of rulers with portraits of George the Bearded, Duke of Saxony, Emperor Maximilian I and Charles V.
The museum also contains the pulpit from the old St John's church and portraits of Lucas Cranach the Elder and the Younger, and writings by Luther printed in Leipzig.