Martin Luther maintained close contacts with the County of Mansfeld throughout his lifetime. He travelled to Eisleben, the city of his birth, on several occasions in an effort to intervene in the fate of the city. During his last journey, which was intended to reconcile a dispute among the counts, the reformer died there on 18 February 1546.
Today, above the market in Eisleben, there is a museum commemorating the location of Luther’s death. The building has been considered Luther’s Death House since 1726. The Prussian state purchased the house in the second half of the 19th century and turned it into a memorial. In 2013, the listed building was renovated and extended through the addition of a modern new structure to create a museum quarter.
The exhibition in Luther’s Death House takes you along on the final journey of the reformer’s life. You can explore the complex in a single, continuous tour that is largely barrier-free. Unfortunately, the restrictions imposed by the building’s listed status mean that it is not possible to make the ‘death rooms’ themselves barrier-free.
As a result of his close ties to Eisleben, Martin Luther felt an obligation to help mediate a years-long dispute amongst the Counts of Mansfeld. An initial journey in October 1545 to help solve the dispute was unsuccessful, and as a result, negotiations were set to resume at the start of the following year. Luther set off from Wittenberg on 23 January 1546. It was to be his final journey.
‘I was born here in Eisleben, and this is where I was baptised – what if I were to remain here?’
The final days and hours in the life of the reformer
‘Luther’s last journey’ tells the story of the reformer’s last journey and of his final days in Eisleben. During the course of the strenuous journey, Luther suffered a heart attack. Even in his weakened state, however, he fulfilled his duties as a mediator. Furthermore, he gave four sermons and ordained two priests in spite of his deteriorating health.
Luther’s final hours are rendered in great detail in a report of his death that his confidant Justus Jonas sent to the Elector. The report made by Paul Luther, who was an eye-witness to his father’s death, is particularly striking. During the night in which Luther died, painter Lukas Furtenagel created a portrait of the deceased. These documents still survive, and are presented as part of the exhibition.
Luther and death
The exhibition features numerous objects that help it to depict Luther's thoughts on dying and death: what experience had Luther had in mourning others, and how did he act when called on to provide consolation or to minister to others? What role does death play in Luther’s theology, and what impact did this have on the culture of dying in his time?
Doctors, providers of palliative care and theologians who deal with dying in the present day offer their views on the existential questions of the finite nature of life.
Thhe 'death rooms'
The most important rooms on the tour are the so-called ‘death rooms’ – the bedroom and the room in which he died. In the late 19th century, they were set up as a memorial and furnished by Friedrich Wilhelm Wanderer in the style of the 16th century. Since the refurbishment of the museum in 2013, the restored items and furniture can now be experienced in exactly the way that was planned by Wanderer.
In the ‘death room’, you will find the exhibition's central exhibit: the original pall used to cover Luther’s coffin in 1546.
Of all the Luther memorials, Luther’s Death House is probably the most unusual. That is due to a mix-up that occurred during the 18th century, the result of which being that people now refer to an ‘old’ and a ‘new’ Death House, as well as a ‘genuine’ and ‘false’ Death House, even though the ‘new’ one is confusingly old, and the ‘false’ one is very much a true memorial.
The historic building on Andreaskirchplatz, which is now home to a museum, has served as a memorial commemorating Luther’s death since the 19th century.
In 2013, the house was renovated and extended through the addition of a modern new building.