Luther’s chair in Wittenberg

The headquarters of the modern memory cult of Martin Luther is the Lutherhaus in Wittenberg, the redundant Augustinian monastery that became the residence of the former monk and his extended family and household in 1524. Now a major museum of the Reformation and a UNESCO world heritage site, its inner sanctum is a wood-panelled room, sparsely furnished with a ceramic tiled stove, a table, and this curious wooden window seat. Twenty-first-century visitors are told that this is where his wife Katharina van Bora sat to do her sewing; it is certainly hard to see how it could have accommodated the corpulent body of the increasingly fat reformer. It has, however, been known as ‘Luther’s chair’ since at least the nineteenth century, as this stencilled sketch in pen and ink by the Church of England clergyman, Samuel Roffey Maitland, reveals. Made by Maitland, who was later librarian at Lambeth Palace, during an extended tour of Germany and Poland between April and October 1828, it indicates that Wittenberg was by then an established site of Protestant pilgrimage. While the provenance of this piece of furniture is unclear and its link with the founding father of the Reformation tenuous, this Luther ‘relic’ attests to the capacity of material objects to operate as a powerful touchstone for remembering past heroes. AW

Sketches in pencil, ink, and watercolour by Rev. Samuel Roffey Maitland, April-October 1828: fo. 38r, pen and ink sketch of Luther’s chair.

LPL: MS 1944

Brought up a nonconformist but ordained in the Church of England in 1821, S. R. Maitland [1792-1866] is best known for his fierce denunciation of Stephen Reed Cattley’s new 1837 edition of John Foxe’s Actes and Monuments as a biased and unreliable work designed to advance the fortunes of the ‘puritan’ faction, and especially the Protestant exiles who had found refuge in Germany and Switzerland during the reign of Queen Mary I, for whom he had a particular distaste. His earlier decision to visit Wittenberg may hint at his growing lack of sympathy for a version of English Reformation history that stressed it debt to the followers of Zwingli and Calvin. Maitland and others contributed to the nineteenth-century reinvention of the Reformation and the formation of a myth of ‘Anglicanism’ that edited out evidence of its early radicalism in favour of emphasising its inherent moderation.

Further Reading

Website for Lutherhaus, Wittenberg:

Lyndal Roper, ‘Martin Luther’s Body: The “Stout Doctor” and His Biographers’, American Historical Review, 115 (2010), 351–384.

D. Andrew Penny, ‘Maitland, Samuel Roffey (1792–1866)’, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004),

Diarmaid MacCulloch, ‘The Myth of the English Reformation’, Journal of British Studies, 30/1 (1991), 1–19.

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