Melanchthon House

One of the most beautiful town houses in the City of Wittenberg was commissioned by John Frederick I, Elector of Saxony, for Philipp Melanchthon in 1536. By doing so, the Elector hoped to retain him as a professor at his university. The stately house offered sufficient space for Melanchthon and his family, as well as for his students. He lived here until his death in 1560.

Today, you can literally follow in the footsteps of one of the most important figures of the Reformation in Wittenberg in the historic Melanchthon House, because the house has undergone hardly any changes over the centuries since. In the historic building and in the new museum structure opened in 2013, you have the chance to explore the life and works of the reformer in a largely barrier-free tour.

Since 2016, medicinal herbs have once again been growing in the herb garden behind Melanchthon’s house – entirely in keeping with the tradition of this noted scholar and herbalist.

Address

Melanchthon House
Collegienstraße 60
06886 Lutherstadt Wittenberg

 

Humanist, reformer, Praeceptor Germaniae (‘Germany's teacher’), ‘Foreign Minister of the Reformation’ and ‘Father of ecumenism’ – Philipp Melanchthon has been given all these titles over the years. Like Martin Luther, he served as a professor at the University of Wittenberg, and became Luther’s most important companion. In the Melanchthon House, you will be able to get to know Melanchthon both as a scholar and a person.

He lived here with his family, students and many guests from 1539 until his death. This is where he composed most of his treatises and conducted lively poetry competitions with his students; it is also where he suffered insomnia and nightmares.

There is no other place where you can get closer to Melanchthon than in his home, a structure that has undergone no significant modifications ever since. That is why the house itself is the most important exhibit in this exhibition. Illustrations and replicas of everyday objects help you to gain an impression of the life surroundings and everyday life of Melanchthon and his family.

Largely unchanged for centuries, the Melanchthon House is itself the most important exhibit in this exhibition.

Manuscripts, prints, paintings and busts in the exhibition building offer insight into Melanchthon’s work and impact. An original payslip from the professor and the first history of the City of Wittenberg set down in writing by Melanchthon can be discovered here, alongside works and letters from his contemporaries, including the important manuscript ‘Confessio Augustana’, the Augsburg Confession of 1530. One of the most important exhibits is a larger-than-life portrait of Melanchthon by Lucas Cranach the Younger.

The youngest visitors will be given an opportunity to go on a tour of discovery with a cast-iron key. This key opens chests and cupboards with hidden games and concealed media stations designed especially for children. Magdalena, Melanchthon’s ten-year-old daughter, guides visitors through the exhibition with words and images, telling the complicated history of the Reformation and providing information on living and working conditions in the Melanchthon House – and not just for children.

 

Melanchthon's herb garden

 

Philipp Melanchthon was a man of many interests. He researched the literature of the ancient world and gave lectures on technology, yet he was also closely involved in the study of nature. For Melanchthon, nature was part of God’s orderly creation.

He obtained tremendous knowledge of medicinal herbs, and used this in treating illnesses in his family and amongst his friends.

Melanchthon was convinced that every herb had its own healing properties.

In the 16th century, Melanchthon’s garden was used for fruit and vegetables, as well as herbs, and goats also grazed there. In 2016, a herb garden was once again planted behind the Melanchthon House. With its raised beds and clear organisation according to symptoms, this garden is very much in keeping with the precepts of its first owner: among the plants at home in this garden are herbs for treating colds, fevers and heart maladies, herbs to aid digestion and herbs for gynaecological ailments.

Melanchthon’s garden is a particularly inviting destination in the warm months. In addition to medicinal herbs, the garden is also home to fruit trees and conifers that offer shade in which to relax during the summer months. And a small fountain provides refreshing Wittenberg tap water (Röhrwasser) – as it has been doing since 1556.

 

 

History of the house

The Melanchthon House is an architectural treasure. With its striking gable, the Renaissance structure is considered among the most beautiful in the City of Wittenberg.

It was built in 1539 as a gift from the Elector of Saxony to his successful professor. The building has undergone hardly any modifications in the centuries since. As a result, it is still possible today to experience the place in which Melanchthon studied, ate and slept.

In 2013, the house was repaired and extended through the addition of a modern new building.

Chronicle of the building’s history and use

From his arrival in Wittenberg in 1518, Philipp Melanchthon lived in a modest half-timbered house on the property at today’s Collegienstraße 60 – at first as a bachelor and then, beginning in 1520, together with his wife.

John Frederick I, Elector of Saxony, had recognised that he needed to provide Melanchthon – one of the most important professors at the elector’s university – with a prestigious residence in order to keep him in the city and at the university. The elector commissioned the prestigious new house in 1535; he provided 500 guilders, and the university provided another 250 guilders for its construction.

Work was begun in 1536, and the stately structure was completed in three years’ time. The supervising architect, who remains unknown to the present day, had mastered the formal vocabulary of the modern architecture of his time, which was based on Italian models. Portals and decorative gables incorporating round arches – like those of the Melanchthon House – are to be found in somewhat earlier or contemporary structures in Dresden, Halle, and Torgau, amongst other places.

In 1556, the house was connected to the old ‘Jungfernröhrwasser’ system, a supply of potable water from outside the city that also supplied the Luther House.

The house remained in use as a residence for professors after Melanchthon’s death. Craftsmen later moved into the house. The building’s inhabitants made few structural changes over the centuries.

The gateway was purchased in about 1620 and rooms were built above it on the side facing the street. The stairway was relocated to its current position at some point around the end of the 17th or beginning of the 18th century. As a result of its excellent state of preservation, the Melanchthon House can be accurately described as the most ‘authentic’ of all the Reformation memorials in Wittenberg.

The Prussian government acquired the Melanchthon House in 1845, and in 1898/99 it had the study rooms and ‘death room’ furnished as they would have been in Melanchthon’s day.

In 1954 a museum of local history was established in the Melanchthon House, and in 1967 the house became a Melanchthon memorial.

In 1996, UNESCO designated the Melanchthon House as a World Cultural Heritage site.

From 2011 to 2013 the historically significant building was refurbished by the Luther Memorials Foundation, which built an annex on the adjoining property to which the heating, sanitary facilities, ticket office and wardrobe were relocated from the reformer's residence. The new annex also offers exhibition space that satisfies the requirements of modern museums.

2016 also saw the opening of the new Melanchthon garden, where a large number of medicinal herbs offer a vivid illustration of the botanical interests of Philipp Melanchthon and of his studies of the medicinal properties of plants and herbs.
 

Architectural awards

  •                 2014: ‘Fritz-Hoeger-Preis’ in silver
 
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