Reformation City Jena
At the heart of the Reformation
The university city of Jena lies in a picturesque valley of the River Saale, surrounded by fossil-flecked limestone hillsides. It belongs to the Free State of Thuringia in the metropolitan region of central Germany and markets itself as the “City of Light” in reference to the historical headquarters of Zeiss that it has been home to since the mid-19th century, which made Jena the heart of the optics and precision engineering industry. The city’s “Jentower”, its emblematic landmark which was built by the Kombinat VEB Carl Zeiss Jena as a research centre in the German Democratic Republic, remains the highest office tower in Germany’s eastern federal states to this day.
Jena became part of the Ernestine Electorate of Saxony during the 15th century. Winegrowing and beer brewing helped turn Jena into one of Thuringia’s wealthiest cities towards the end of the Middle Ages. The dissemination and strengthening of the Wittenberg-based Reformation was intrinsically linked with the cities in central Germany such as Jena, so the region became known as the heartland of the Reformation. Ernestine Elector Frederick III, later known as “the Wise”, was responsible for instrumental political impetus and initiatives and anchoring the Reformation in Imperial politics.
Reformer Martin Luther also played a key role in shoring and cementing the Reformation in Jena. Luther resided in Jena on several occasions between 1522 and 1537. The first time, he lived there under the pseudonym “Junker Jörg” in order to circumvent the Imperial ban on his person. He stayed at the “Black Bear” hotel in the city, which still exists to this day.
The journey that subsequently led Luther, Augustinian Prior Eberhard Brisger from Wittenberg (1509-1545) and court preacher Wolfgang Stein from Weimar (c. 1487-1553) to Jena and other cities in the Saale valley in the summer of 1524 at the bidding of Duke Johann Friedrich was meant to investigate the “swarming agitation” led mainly by Andreas Bodenstein (1486-1541), known as Karlstadt. The Reformation had commenced in Jena in 1521 in the hands of theologian Martin Reinhardt, a proponent of the radical Reformation movement, of which Karlstadt was one of the first exponents. Karlstadt was a former companion of Luther at Wittenberg University, but his rigorous approach to implementing the Reformation had turned him into a hardline opponent of Luther within the movement.
In the packed St. Michael’s city church, Luther delivered a 90-minute sermon in opposition of Karlstadt, who was also present, and distanced himself from the man. Before the year was out, Karlstadt and fellow Reformer Martin Reinhardt were forced to leave the Electorate of Saxony. From 1525 on, the Reformation was implemented throughout the entire Electorate of Saxony according to the Wittenberg blueprint by means of political church visitation measures instigated by its rulers.
One of the effects of the Reformation in Jena was the founding of its university, which Ernestine Elector Johann I ordered as compensation for the loss of Saxony’s University of Wittenberg in the Schmalkaldic War. One of the first lecturers there was Professor of Theology Matthias Flacius Illyricus (1520-1575). The collections from Wittenberg’s university library were moved to Jena in 1549. The University of Jena also holds valuable prints from the Reformation era, such as the “German Mass” published in 1526 and Luther’s own annotated copies of the Old and New Testaments.
The city of Jena celebrated the anniversary of the Reformation together with the Friedrich Schiller University and Jena’s Lutheran Protestant Church Community. A special highlight promised to be the “Kirchentag roadshow in Jena and Weimar” during May 2017, with its invitation to debate the pivotal question “So, what do you think of religion?”.