rublinka relics 2010

Post on 03-Jun-2018




0 download

Embed Size (px)


  • 8/12/2019 Rublinka Relics 2010


    Grapho-Relics: Lutheranism and theMaterialization of the WordUlinka Rublack *


    Religions are historically specic ways of investigating what cultures take tobe the supernatural. But how do beliefs resolve into gestures, habits, andtemperament, ingrained by rituals of spiritual preparation, communication,or of learning?1 Religious identities hinge on practices, which embody andbuild up specic ideals about the way in which communities of believerslocate themselves on earth in relation to the divine. In Lutheranism they implicate the religious self physically as well as intellectually, because ideasare always embodied or materialized in verbal and non-verbal communica-

    tion or objects. They are spoken and performed, written down, inscribed, orvisualized. As they merge with the body through the modulation of a voice,posture,orgesture, orwith matter, such as a desk, ink, and paper, and thereby proclaim particular ideals of writing, they become part of a display which isembedded in cultural assumptions about how ideas are represented as truth-ful and as leading to salvation. It is therefore misleading to think of Lutheranism as a disembodied, interiorized religion of the word, located ina rationally reasoning mind, in contrast to an equally generalized sensuousCatholicism. 2 The problem before us is to reconstruct just how the senseswere implicated in different ways in Protestant traditions. How didLutherans, in particular, invest word-related practices with spiritual meaningand emotional resonances to provide accounts of a truthful religion? 3

    * I wish to thank Sachiko Kusukawa, Trinity College, Cambridge, for her initial help inworking towards the paper presented at the Past and Present conference, as well as Alex Walsham, Lyndal Roper, and Francisco Bethencourt for their perceptive comments.

    1 This paraphrases Lorraine Daston and Peter Galisons immensely useful approach toscientic objectivity, and thus the interaction with the natural, in Objectivity (New York,2007), 52.

    2 For a summary of this position see Ulinka Rublack, Reformation Europe (Cambridge,2005) ch. 4 and Epilogue.

    3 This is all themore important fora period which lacked a systematic bifurcation betweenreal and thought objects, and consequently apprehended matter not as that which is

    Past and Present (2010) , Supplement 5 The Past and Present Society

    a t Ri j k s uni v e r s i t e i t G

    e n t onM

    a r c h 2 4 ,2 0 1 2

    h t t p : / / p a s t . oxf or d j o ur n a l s . or g /

    D o wnl o a d

    e d f r om
  • 8/12/2019 Rublinka Relics 2010


    By inquiring more deeply into word-related practices for what is oftenrather casually typied as the religion of the word, this article seeks to con-

    tribute to an emerging history of Lutheran identities and memory culture. Itdraws particular attention to the importance of Luthers and other leadingreformers handwritten autographs and inscriptions as mediated physicalremains which were intensely treasured by their followers. These grapho-relics need to be integrated into our understanding of the distinct spiritual aswell as cultic nature of Lutheranism, which was developed by Luther andadapted by Lutherans for generations to come. In order to understand theirrelevance, we rst need to look at the transition of Wittenberg relic culturefrom Frederick the Wise, the ruler, to Martin Luther, the reformer.


    Martin Luther was born in 1483, became an Augustinian monk in Erfurt, andfound a position in the nearby newly founded University of Wittenberg in hislate twenties. The small town of Wittenberg to Luther seemed at the margin of civilization; yet Frederick the Wise, who had ruled over this part of Saxony since 1486, attempted to make the town a cultic centre, a centre of learning,

    and a centre of arts and courtly life. The university was to turn it into a centreof learning, his court artist Cranach and burgeoning workshop were to turn itinto a centre of arts, while religious foundations and relics were to make it acultic centre. In 1493, Frederick had made his pilgrimage to the Holy Landand had brought back key pieces, such as St Annes thumb from Rhodes. Atthe Imperial Diet in 1507, Frederick used papal support to request otherimperial representatives, the estates, to hand over further relics to him. 4 By 1509, Cranachs workshop had nished the most detailed ever printed cata-logue of a relic collection, the Heiligthumsbuch.5 It initially included 108woodcuts, and in a second edition printed in the same year there were already

    deprived of meaning but as a principle of structure that underpins all meaning: JulietFleming, Grafti and the Arts of Writing in Early Modern England (London, 2001), 21, and25 for the followingdenitionof cultural graphology in Derridas Of Grammatology . Thisis difcult for us to grasp, but Protestants, for instance, could take words to visualizethings. On a sixteenth-century altar painting the words spoken during the Eucharist thuscreated a chalice and host, Wolfgang Bru ckner, Lutherische Bekenntnisgema lde des 16. bis 18. Jahrhunderts. Die illustrierte Confessio Augustana (Regensburg, 2007), 106.

    4 Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: Sein Weg zur Reformation 14831521 (Stuttgart, 1981),121.

    5 Livis Cardenas, Friedrich der Weise und das Wittenberger Heiltumsbuch: Mediale Repra sentation zwischen Mittelalter und Neuzeit (Berlin, 2002); Lucas Cranach,Wittenberger Heiligthumbsbuch (Munich, 1884).

    Grapho-Relics: Lutheranism and the Materialization of the Word 145

    a t Ri j k s uni v e r s i t e i t G

    e n t onM

    a r c h 2 4 ,2 0 1 2

    h t t p : / / p a s t . oxf or d j o ur n a l s . or g /

    D o wnl o a d

    e d f r om
  • 8/12/2019 Rublinka Relics 2010


    117 illustrations of reliquaries. Of these, only the glass of St Elisabeth withparticles of her dress, hair, and bones still exists. It was said to have awakened

    sixteen people from death, healed a blind man, and helped pregnant women.The Heiligthumsbuch featured this reliquary rst in order to visualize thehouse of Wettins connection with a saint. It likewise proclaimed dynastictraditions through a key relic from the Askanian heritage: a thorn fromChrists crown at his Crucixion. Its title-page was the rst among theHeiligthumsbuch s to memorialize a ruler as relic collector through a portrait,rather than to represent a patron saint. 6 In addition, the book emphasized not just the spiritual value of its pieces to glorify Fredericks territorial rule, but

    also documented the material and artistic value of goldsmiths work throughextremely detailed descriptions of precious materials which had gone into themaking of reliquaries and other objects. 7 Precise woodcuts and extraordinar-ily detailed lists of particles allowed those looking at the book to meditate onand appreciate with full information the relics after the brief moments of anactual encounter. In Wittenberg, the relics could only be seen in the midst of policed crowds and guides shouting out what they were. 8 TheHeiligthumsbuch , as one art historian puts it, can therefore be regarded as

    the rst precursor of the exhibition catalogue.9

    Alongside the collection itself,it lured locals and people from far away to spend on the remission of their sinsin Wittenberg, and thus to nance Fredericks ambitious building plans.

    One year before the Heiligthumsbuch was published Frederick moreovercommissioned an advertising brochure for prospective students. It was writ-ten by Andreas Meinhard, the later Wittenberg town scribe, and describedFredericks art and relic collections at