"Melanchthonhaus in Wittenberg"



    The Lutheran Journal, Vol. 67, #1, 1998 - Erwin Weber


When Melanchthon arrived in Wittenberg at age 21 to teach Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, he held classes in the College of Liberal Arts located in the Frederici Building named after its founder, the Elector of Saxony, Frederick the Wise. The building is located at the east end of Wittenberg adjacent to the Augustinian Monastery which later was given to Martin Luther as a wedding present by the Elector of Saxony, Frederick the Wise. The University and Frederick the Wise wanted to keep Luther, their famous professor who received his doctor's degree in 1512 and attracted many students from all over Europe.

According to Dr. Christiane Hennen, a Melanchthon scholar, who has researched the history of the 450-year old Melanchthonhaus in Wittenberg in depth, said that it is not known where Melanchthon found a place to live during the first two years of his stay in Wittenberg. It is assumed he lived in one of the college buildings. We do know that after his marriage to Katharine Krapp in 1525, he lived in a modest, half-timbered constructed house called the Bude.

However, the Bude, or little house, in which Melanchthon lived was not only occupied by Melanchthon and his growing family but also Johannes Koch, the professor's aid and housekeeper who helped in raising the children. In addition, there were a few students in the small house whom Melanchthon had taken under his wing. In 1535, the Bude was entirely too small and in such dilapidated condition that it had to be torn down and a magnificent new three-story structure, erected out of sandstone and mortar, built in its place. Melanchthon had complained about his miserable living conditions and had received attractive offers to teach the Classics at other universities, such as Heidelberg and Tübingen. But Luther did not want to lose his closest friend and collaborator who with Luther attracted hundreds of students to Wittenberg and transformed its university to the most important in all of Europe. For this reason the University of Wittenberg and Frederick the Wise paid for most of the cost of the building.

According to Dr. Stefan Rhein, Melanchthon scholar and Director of Luthermonuments in Sachsen-Anhalt, stated that the Melanchthonhaus in Wittenberg has never been destroyed by war or fire. It looks nearly the same today as it did in 1536 when Melanchthon and his family moved into the new house with its typical Renaissance roof and gables, the attractive sandstone portal similar to the one Katharina von Bora, Luther's wife, gave to her husband, Martin Luther as a birthday present in 1540. It is located in the Lutherhalle, a mere 200 yards away.

After entering the building through the oak door held together with wide bands of wrought iron, there is a vaulted hallway which runs the entire length of the building to the back yard in the rear. At the left are doors leading to the former servant quarters and storerooms. A winding stairway leads to family rooms on the second floor. From the central hallway, a north doorway goes into Melanchthon's study which has a beamed ceiling. The room served as a living room. It is the place where Melanchthon died in 1560. The furnishings are not original; they are reconstructions of furniture prepared for the room in 1898/99. The tiled stove, table, benches, and chairs are copies of furniture in Luther's Room. On the third floor were student quarters and a classroom with a tiled stove dated 1550. On the walls are 16th century frescoes depicting coats of arms of former students of Melanchton. The walled-in back yard contained small out-buildings, a brewery building constructed in 1551, running water which was quite a distinction in the 16th century, and a garden for growing fruit trees, flowers, herbs, and vegetables.