"A Mighty Fortress in Würzburg" - Part I



    The Lutheran Journal, Vol. 48, #2, 1981 - Erwin Weber


There are numerous castles and fortresses throughout Germany erected during the 11th and 12th centuries. With the invention of gun powder, however, almost every castle was destroyed. But a few stood the test of time. One was Fortress Marienberg in Würzbvrg located on the vineyard-covered hills of the Main River in northern Bavaria.

This article deals with the role of the castle during the Peasant Revolt of 1525. Luther spent the night with the Augustinians in Würzburg on his way to the Diet of Worms in 1521 where he defended his religious tracts among which was "The Freedom of a Christian". When the dissatisfied peasants in Germany, who had been neglected both economically and socially for a long time, heard about "The Freedom of a Christian" they seized these words and rallied behind Thomas Münzer. By "Freedom" Luther meant an inner freedom. Münzer believed he was chosen by God to change the social order by force, which Luther rejected. The revolt began in 1525. The nobility in Würzburg fled to Marienburg Castle. The peasants stormed it unsuccessfully and starved it into surrender. During the revolt, Tillmann Riemenschneider, a famous wood carver and members of the city council, urged the citizens to support the peasants. With the defeat of the peasants by the princes at the Battle of Frankenhausen in 1525, Riemenschneider was captured and tortured. His thumbs were brutally flattened by screws so that he could no longer work his trade. Soon thereafter Riemenschneider died July 7, 1531. Today, a great collection of his works is on display in the museum at the Fortress.

On the cover is the city of Würzburg. The view is from the fortress. In the foreground is the Romanesque bridge (rebuilt 1473-1543) over the Main River with statues of famous saints and martyrs (added 1730). They are reminiscent of Charles Bridge in Prague. At the right is St. Killian Cathedral, behind which is the final resting place of Tilmann Riemenschneider, a wood carver, former mayor, councilman and devout follower of Martin Luther.