"Leucorea University in Wittenberg"



    The Lutheran Journal, Vol. 68, #1, 1999 - Erwin Weber


In 1502, the University of Wittenberg, located along the banks of the Elbe River in north-central Germany, was established by the Elector of Saxony, Frederick III, known as the Wise. When its doors were opened on October 18, 1502, it was called Leucorea which is the Greek translation of "Wittenberg" (leukos = white; oros = mountain). Apparently the early settlers of Wittenberg such as the Flemish immigrants and the native Wends named the settlement "Witten Berg". To the settlers from the Netherlands, who were accustomed to seeing flat land, saw in Wittenberg a modest hill of white sand.

The universities played an important role in the intellectual life of Europe and the Reformation. The earliest universities, established by the pope or emporer, were in Bologna (circa 1190), Paris (c.1208), and Oxford (c. 1208). They were founded by the Pope or Emporer. By the early 16th century, Europe had more than 50 active universities which were founded by the prince of city government. Among them were Erfurt (1379), Heidelberg (1385), Cologne (1388), Leipzig (1409), Rostock (1419), Greifswald (1456), Basel (1460), Ingolstadt (1472), Mainz (1476), Tübingen (1477), Wittenberg (1502), and Frankfurt on the Oder River (1506).

During the first half of the 16th century, the Leucorea was the most important university in all of Europe. Through it, the entire city of Wittenberg received new life. Since the university needed classrooms and student housing, the building industry blossomed. In addition, Wittenberg attracted skilled craftsmen amd artisans. Even paper manufacturers came to Wittenberg. But above all, famous professors, doctors, and students came to Wittenberg. Among them were the physician, Dr. Martin Polich von Mellerstadt, who was the first president of the Leucorea; the theologian Karlstadt; the Brothers Schurff,one a doctor of medicine, the other a doctor of law; the painter Lucas Cranach; Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon. With the arrival of Luther and Melanchthon who attracted hundreds of students, Leucorea became the largest German university.

The Leucorea celebrated its 300th birthday in 1802 with magnificent splendor filled with great expectation. Thereafter came its downfall. During the occupation of Wittenberg by the French in 1813, Napoleon's army occupied the university buildings and the classes were closed. After Wittenberg became part of Prussia through the Congress of Vienna in 1817, Wittenberg University, or the Leucorea, became part of the University of Halle. The university buildings in Wittenberg were converted into Prussian army barracks in the 19th century. Later they were reconstructed into apartment buildings. Since 1933, the university in Halle was named Martin- Luther-Universität-Halle-Wittenberg as a reminder of the great Reformer and tradition in Wittenberg.

With the unification of Germany in 1990, the awareness of Germany's intellectual tradition awakened anew. Thus the wish arose to convert the former university buildings in Wittenberg into academic facilities, so that they may be used for teaching and research. This was to be accomplished with the cooperation with the Martin-Luther-University-Halle-Wittenberg. Thus the Leucorea Foundation was established in Wittenberg. It is an integral part of the university in Halle. Its goal is to convert each former university building for academic purposes by the year 2002, the 500th anniversary of the University in Wittenberg. In 1993, members of the Senate from the university in Halle came to Wittenberg for the festive opening of the Leucorea Foundation. Classes in the field of linguistics, philology, culture and civilization, health providers, as well as Reformation history and Lutheran doctrine were offered by the Leucorea.

In 1995, the Center for American Studies was established at the Leucorea. In 1997, the Center for American Studies offered courses in the German language at the beginning, intermediate and advanced levels. Dormitories and cafeterias are available in the former university buildings. Thus the university, established by Frederick the Wise in 1502, is again attracting students to the Leucorea from all over Europe as it did in the days of Luther and Melanchthon, as well as from the far-reaching corners of the globe. Thus Wittenberg is seeking to become once again a national, as well as an international center for intellectual studies of the Reformation period of the 16th century.