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Martin Luther exhibition opens at Special Collections

Monday, 27 March 2017 1:05pm

luther-drawing-image
Martin Luther, from a 1620 publication.

An exhibition celebrating Martin Luther (1483-1546) and his role in initiating the Protestant Reformation has opened at Special Collections at the University’s Central Library.

Luther, a friar and Professor of Theology, believed the Bible alone was the source to salvation and true Christianity. He rejected the authority of the Pope, and thought that people should go to the church and pray directly to God or Jesus, not to anyone who claimed special powers or holiness. On 31 October 1517, All Saints’ Day eve, Luther was said to have nailed 95 theses to the church door, sparking the beginning of the Protestant Revolution.

Formally opened on Friday by Theology and Religion’s Professor Murray Rae and Knox College Emeritus Professor Dr Peter Matheson, the exhibition 500 Years On. Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation acknowledges Luther’s provocative action back in 1517 and the spread of Reform that followed across Europe.

Special Collections Librarian Dr Donald Kerr says the exhibition was planned to coincide with global 500-year celebrations of Luther.

"I think that staff, and the general public too, would not be aware of the treasures that we have available right here in Otago. We don't have to go overseas to experience the history implicit in these materials, it's all right here."

“With Luther celebrations going on throughout the world, we thought why not us at Otago? We have a fine ecclesiastical collection here (the Canon Shoults Collection) which contains some wonderful material. To highlight just some of these and hopefully engender research by staff and students is our ultimate aim. Get the books used. And of course it promotes awareness of our collections.”

The exhibition was curated by Dr Kerr and Special Collections Assistant Romilly Smith, with advice from Dr Matheson and Theology and Religion Teaching Fellow Dr Brett Knowles. It features some incredible items from Special Collections, Knox College’s Hewitson Library, and a private collection.

Dr Matheson says the exhibition gives an insight into the role of religion in Otago.

“It is interesting to see how over the years evidence about a distant event in distant Europe has accumulated here.”

Dr Knowles agrees: “I think that staff, and the general public too, would not be aware of the treasures that we have available right here in Otago. We don't have to go overseas to experience the history implicit in these materials, it's all right here.”

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One of the facsimile broadsheets on display - Erhard Schön’s ‘Der Teufel mit der Sackpfeife’ [The Devil playing the Bagpipe], 1535.

Notable items include Hartmann Schedel’s famed Nuremberg Chronicle, printed in 1493; a late 15th century medieval Book of Hours; a sheet of the German Bible, printed in 1483, an early guidebook to Rome (1515), and most notably, a rare Latin Bible (1481) that contains fragments of indulgences printed by William Caxton. Luther’s own work features, including his Deuteronomy (1525), his Works (1550), and a facsimile of his Bible, Die Propheten Alle Deutsch [1534]. Also on display are colourful facsimile broadsheets (flugblatt) from the period. They include Weiditz’s ‘Käsebauer und Käsefrau’ [Cheesemaker and his wife] (1521) and Erhard Schön’s ‘Der Teufel mit der Sackpfeife’ [The Devil playing the Bagpipe], 1535.

Dr Knowles says the exhibition gives almost a “tactile” sense of history, and believes it will resonate with its audience.

“The Reformation that arose around Luther and the other reformers reshaped medieval Europe, and set in train processes which have both lasted to the present day and which have shaped the modern and post-modern ways in which we look at the world. Luther's clarion call that ‘neither pope, nor bishop, nor anyone else, has the right to impose so much as a single syllable of obligation upon a Christian man without his own consent. Whatever is done otherwise is done autocratically’ remains current today.”

Come along:

500 Years On. Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation
Fri 24 Mar to Fri 9 Jun 2017
de Beer Gallery, Special Collections, University of Otago Library