Spreading the Word

Printed, illustrated broadsides supported the Lutheran cause and denounced the Roman Church. In the pro-Lutheran image on the left, the Crucifixion scene shows the pope in place of the Bad Thief on Christ’s left; the pope’s cross is on fire and being chopped down by a devil. Reformation publicity was not subtle.

Luther and printing presses churned out texts explaining Protestant theology and religious practice and providing scriptural interpretation. During his thirty-year writing career, Luther produced something for the press on average about once every three or four weeks. At the top right is Luther’s instructional guide for the organization of a church service with an decorative title page by Lucas Cranach. Luther, a great lover of religious music, was instrumental in developing congregational singing, a mainstay of many church services today. Remarkably, recent archaeological digs uncovered the tiny printing types, shown at bottom right, used to print the first Lutheran hymnals in Wittenberg from the 1530s to 60s. An extremely rare find, these are the oldest existing pieces of music-printing type in Europe.

Monogrammist IW, Crucifixion with the Pope as the Bad Thief and Antichrist. Magdeburg: Jörg Scheller, about 1545. Foundation Schloss Friedenstein, Gotha.

Martin Luther, Deudsche Messe und ordnung Gottisdienst (German Mass and Order of Holy Service). Wittenberg: Melchior Lotter the Younger, 1526. Luther Memorials Foundation of Saxony-Anhalt.

Georg Rhau’s Music Printing Type. Wittenberg, after 1532. State Office for Heritage Management and Archaeology Saxony-Anhalt, State Museum of Prehistory Halle (Saale).