History of Germany between 1517 - 1617
In the early 16th century there was much discontent in Germany occasioned by abuses such as indulgences in the Catholic Church, and a general desire for reform. In 1517 the Reformation began with the publication of Martin Luther's 95 Theses; he posted them in the town square and gave copies of them to German nobles, but it is debated whether he nailed them to the church door in Wittenberg as is commonly said. The list detailed 95 assertions Luther believed to show corruption and misguidance within the Catholic Church. One often cited example, though perhaps not Luther's chief concern, is a condemnation of the selling of indulgences; another prominent point within the 95 Theses is Luther's disagreement both with the way in which the higher clergy, especially the pope, used and abused power, and with the very idea of the pope.
In 1521 Luther was outlawed at the Diet of Worms. But the Reformation spread rapidly, helped by the Emperor Charles V's wars with France and the Turks. Hiding in the Wartburg Castle, Luther translated the Bible from Latin to German, establishing the basis of the German language. A curious fact is that Luther spoke a dialect which had minor importance in the German language of that time. After the publication of his Bible, his dialect suppressed the others and evolved into what is now the modern German.
In 1524 the German Peasants' War broke out in Swabia, Franconia and Thuringia against ruling princes and lords, following the preaching of Reformers. But the revolts, which were assisted by war-experienced noblemen like Götz von Berlichingen and Florian Geyer (in Franconia), and by the theologian Thomas Münzer (in Thuringia), were soon repressed by the territorial princes. As many as 100,000 German peasants were massacred during the revolt. With the protestation of the Lutheran princes at the Imperial Diet of Speyer (1529) and rejection of the Lutheran "Augsburg Confession" at Augsburg (1530), a separate Lutheran church emerged.
From 1545 the Counter-Reformation began in Germany. The main force was provided by the Jesuit order, founded by the Spaniard Ignatius of Loyola. Central and northeastern Germany were by this time almost wholly Protestant, whereas western and southern Germany remained predominantly Catholic. In 1547, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V defeated the Schmalkaldic League, an alliance of Protestant rulers. The Peace of Augsburg in 1555 brought recognition of the Lutheran faith. But the treaty also stipulated that the religion of a state was to be that of its ruler.
The Augsburg formula preserves for half a century an uneasy peace in the German lands, while princes use their religious freedom as a form of diplomacy. In 1608/1609 the Protestant Union and the Catholic League were formed. Early in the 17th century the two sides form up in opposing blocs, each headed by a branch of the Wittelsbach family. The Wittelsbachs of the Rhine Palatinate, in southwest Germany, are Calvinist; they lead the Protestant Union, formed in 1608. The Wittelsbachs of Bavaria, just to the east, form the Catholic League in the following year.
This confrontation does not immediately lead to armed conflict - until the Protestants of distant Bohemia elect as their king, in 1619, the Calvinist Wittelsbach, Frederick V. The response by the Catholic League, in alliance with pope and emperor, becomes one of the opening encounters of the Thirty Years' War.
The Erfurt Synagogue was built c. 1094. It is thought to be the oldest synagogue building still standing in Europe. Thanks to the extensive preservation of the original structure, it has a special place in the history of art and architecture and is among the most impressive and highly rated architectural monuments in Erfurt and Thuringia. The synagogue was constructed during the Middle Ages on the via regia, one of the major European trade routes, at the heart of the historical old quarter very close to the Merchants Bridge and the town hall. Many parts of the structure still remain today, including all four thick outer walls, the Romanesque gemel window, the Gothic rose window and the entrance to the synagogue room.
After extensive restoration, the building was reopened in 2009. On display in the exhibition rooms is an collection of medieval treasures discovered during archaeological excavations. This includes 3,140 silver coins, 14 silver ingots, approx. 6,000 works of goldsmithery from the 13th and 14th centuries and an intricately worked wedding ring of the period, of which only two others are known to exist anywhere in the world. A mikveh (Jewish bath) has been excavated close by (13th/14th century). The Old Synagogue, the Small Synagogue and two Jewish cemeteries together form a network of historical buildings and sites which vividly portray the role of Jewish life in the history of Erfurt.