The early 16th century was the crucible of what was to become modern Europe. The previous fifty years had been marked by tremendous events. In 1453 Constantinople – the last stand of classical Rome, and the heart of eastern Christendom – had fallen to the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror. In 1492 Imperial Spain had discovered America.
Then in 1517, in a university town of Saxony called Wittenberg, a monk named Martin Luther pinned his ninety five “theses” on the door of the All Saints church. There was an uncompromising condemnation of the venality of the Church, and of the practice of Indulgences. Then started a hundred and thirty years period of war of religion that was to shape the sub continent.
Luther was brave enough to challenge the authority of Rome, but he was no revolutionary. Popular uprisings that followed were mercilessly crushed by the princes. The Reformation was to sweep Northern Europe and become the official church of many principalities and kingdoms, from Sweden to the United Kingdom. Luther had support, first and foremost from the Elector of Saxony, and from many other German princes who wanted to challenge not only the Pope, but also the Habsburg Emperor. Rome’s reaction, and the onset of the Counter-Reformation, was to seal the fate of a divided Christendom.
Image: Luther Before the Diet of Worms by Anton von Werner (1843–1915)