Designed by Conrad Pflüger, one of the leading German architects and master builders of the 15th century, this Late Gothic church was built between 1490 and 1511 and served as the chapel to the University of Wittenberg. During the Seven Years War (1756-1763) the building was largely destroyed by fire, along with the priceless works of art it contained. It was rebuilt soon thereafter, and in 1858 new bronze doors were hung to replace the original wooden doors to which Martin Luther is said to have nailed his famous 95 Theses ("is said" because the act cannot be conclusively corroborated). The 95 Theses are inscribed on the doors in Latin. Over the doors is a tympanum depicting the Crucifixion flanked by Luther holding his German Bible and theologian Philipp Melanchthon holding a copy of the Augsburg Confession, which he authored. An extensive renovation of the church was begun in 1883, and much of the present interior dates from that time. There are paintings of Luther and other important figures, along with statues of Frederick III and others. The stained glass is new, dating from 1983. Both Luther and Melanchthon, who preached at Luther's funeral, are buried here. One cannot miss the 88-metre-tall tower on which are inscribed the words to Luther's most famous hymn: Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott (A mighty fortress is our God). The church was renovated again in 2016 in preparation for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and was rededicated in the presence of Joachim Gauck, President of the Federal Republic of Germany, and Her Majesty Queen Margarethe II of Denmark, who dedicated an altar frontal of her own design.
Today, All Saints' Church serves not only as a place of worship, but also houses the town's historical archives and a youth hostel. As can be imagined, it receives thousands of visitors every year. The Wittenberg English Ministry, which hosted the service we attended, was founded in 2014 to serve English speaking visitors. It provides meals and pastoral services and invites visiting Lutheran pastors to conduct worship in English.
Where to begin! Wittenberg (officially called Lutherstadt Wittenberg) is a university town, but the area surrounding the church, which was celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, was lined with businesses, stalls and tents catering to the thousands of tourists who were visiting. There were many people in medieval costumes selling things such as mulled wine, jewelry, and such Christian artifacts as imitation battle axes. And, of course, you could get a Luther t-shirt.
The Revd William Otte, a retired pastor from Rochester, Minnesota, USA, presided.
The Revd Robert Flohrs, retired pastor of the English speaking Trinity Lutheran Church in Frankfurt, Germany, preached.
Hanna Kasparick, Ph.D., Director of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Wittenberg, gave opening remarks.
What was the name of the service?Reformation Service
How full was the building?
Just about completely full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Quite the opposite. My Frau entered the church, but when I followed a man stopped me, insisting it was completely full. After a "polite" discussion, I persuaded him to let me and several others in. We easily found seats.
Was your pew comfortable?
Hard wood pew with an old cushion. Not too bad.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quite excited. People were talking, and technicians were running around with microphones and cables.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A specially printed booklet. There were no Bibles or other books.
What musical instruments were played?
An organ, very skillfully played by Steven Hoffman, A.Mus.D., Kantor at King of Glory Lutheran Church, Cheyenne, Wyoming, USA. The Valparaiso Chorale, from Valparaiso University, Valparaiso, Indiana, USA, who were invited by All Saints Castle Church to take part in the 500th anniversary festivities, sang beautifully.
Did anything distract you?
Mostly the excitement of the whole event. This was not Reformation Day a holiday in Germany that falls on 31 October but it was still an important landmark in church history.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Middle of the road. Although we were in Germany, the clergy were American, and it felt like what you'd encounter in a Lutheran church in the USA.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Pastor Flohrs was a bit more low-key than most of the Lutheran pastors I've heard, but that might be due to the fact that he and I hail from very different parts of the USA. He was well-organized.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
"Freed to Be" was the title. He spoke of the importance of what Luther did in restoring emphasis upon grace, forgiveness, and one's direct relationship to God.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Hearing "Alleluia" sung by the Valparaiso Chorale.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
There were more references to the devil in this service than in any other mainline Protestant service I have attended!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No time to hang around. Our group had to go to lunch.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was no reception.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – If I lived in Wittenberg I would certainly consider it.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
All those references to the devil.