Lutherhaus or Cottahaus - Eisenach



    Pen and Ink Sketch - Erwin Weber - 1980


In his Table Talks, Luther's called Eisenach "meine liebe Stadt" - my beloved city. He had come to the city on numerous occasions and resided there twice. Luther's mother, the former Margarethe Lindemann, was born in Eisenach, and his ancestral home, Möhra, was a mere 12 miles south of the city. Although his parents were poor, they wanted to give their son the luxury of a college education. His father wanted his son to become a lawyer, marry into a fine family and have children. He did not want his son to work underground in the mines bringing the ore to the surface. It was an unhealthy life of hard, back-breaking work and subjected to the constant fear of death. For this reason his parents sent their son at age 15 to Eisenach where the family had relatives and Martin would be able to continue his education. But his relatives were too poor to take care of him. As he had done in Magdeburg, Martin joined a group of singers in Eisenach and went from house to house to sing songs. He attended the "Pfarrschule", the parish school of St. George, where he developed an admiration for his teachers. He soon found a place to stay with a pious, distinguished, well-to-do lady, who had enjoyed his singing and devout praying in church. The lady was probably the wife of a prosperous business man, Heinrich Schalbe, but whether Luther lived here or with the Cottas, who were relatives of the Schalbes, or at another place in Eisenach, is not known for certain. Nevertheless, through these families, Luther came into a circle of people in which religion was the most important part of their lives.

This pen and ink sketch shows the Cotta house in which Luther is said to have lived. He had a small room on the second floor furnished with a bed and a desk. During his stay in Eisenach, for the first time in his young life, Luther came in contact with people above the rank of poverty for the first time in his young life. He undoubtedly gave tutoring lessons to the children of the businessmen and came in touch with the monastic life of Eisenach. More than 200 monks and nuns lived within the city walls. From them he became familiar with the legend of St. Elisabeth, the 13th century princess at the Wartburg Castle. According to legend, Elisabeth was born in Hungary in 1207, the daughter of Alexander II, King of Hungary. At age four, she was sent to the court of the Duke of Thuringia to who's infant son she was betrothed. She married Louis of Thuringia in 1221. In spite of her position at the court, she began to lead an austerely simple life, practiced penance, and devoted herself to works of charity. Each day, she left the Wartburg Castle with a basket of bread and went to the city to take care of the sick and the poor. As she was about to leave the castle one day, her husband, the Duke of Thuringia, stopped her at the gate and demanded to know what she carried in the basket covered with a red-checkered cloth. "Oh", Elisabeth said, "There are only roses in there." When the duke pulled back the cloth, a miracle had occurred. Instead of the bread in the basket, there were only roses. After Louis was killed during the Crusades, Elisabeth renounced the world and became a tertiary of St. Francis. She built the Franciscan hospital at Marburg, and devoted her life to the care of the sick until her death at age twenty-four in 1231.

It is interesting to note, that Luther's coat of arms is equipped with a red rose and a black cross. They are expressions of love for Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead to bring us eternal life. After his stay in Eisenach, Luther entered Erfurt University. Reflecting upon his experience in Eisenach, he undoubtedly believed a few years later, that the only life worth living is within the walls of one of the strictest monastery in Erfurt which he entered four years later in 1505. In the later half of the 19th century, Franz Liszt (1811 - 1886) wrote an oratorio in honor of St. Elisabeth.

The Cotta House is one of the oldest houses in Eisenach. Originally there were two buildings here. They were united after the city was destroyed by fire in 1536 by Hans Leonard who created the beautiful half-timbered facade in 1561. Next to the main portal is a relief dating back to 1490. The house was heavily damaged during World War II. Since 1956 the house served as a museum and a school for boys.