Visiting the small, rustic room in Wartburg Castle where Martin Luther translated the New Testament into German is a highlight of a Luther tour in Germany.
A German prince who supported Luther’s efforts for reform brought him to Wartburg Castle, which at the time was a ramshackle structure perched high on a hill overlooking Eisenach in eastern Germany. Luther took off his monk’s robe, grew a beard and long hair, and lived under an assumed name.
In this room, Luther translated the New Testament into German and wrote many doctrinal and polemical pieces. He forged a new identity both on the outside and on the inside. When he returned to public life, he was a changed man.
I found this room moving in part because it is a shrine to a writer. Luther was a theologian and man of the church, yes, but he was also a powerful craftsman of words. We sometimes forget just how powerful words can be, but this little room reminds us that one person, working at a desk with a pen, can shake the foundations of the established world.
During my visit, I stood inside the room for a few minutes and then left, for there was a long line of people waiting outside the door. It was touching to see that the line included many Japanese people, most of them quite elderly. These folks had the look of pilgrims on their faces. Earnest. Reverential.
So that’s what can happen when one person has an idea and devotes his life to it. One day you’re an outlaw fearing for your life. And five centuries later, people from around the world are coming to pay homage to you in the simple, rustic room in which you wrestled with words and ideas.