New exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts shows how Martin Luther used the printing press to fuel the Protestant Reformation.

Five centuries ago, a German monk named Martin Luther decided to protest and take a stand that shook Europe and changed the world. Christians at that time who hoped to go to heaven thought that they would spend a few thousand years in fiery purgatory so as to be purified their sins. The Catholic Church gave them hope, saying a cash offering could buy an “indulgence” certificate that would guarantee a shorter purgatory sentence. The cash, however, went into the church officials and their political friend's pockets so, in 1571, Martin Luther protested against this practice and that year he presented publicly 95 handwritten “Theses” against the sale of indulgences.

Luther wanted to get a conversation started about Christianity, but ended up starting a revolution. The Protestant Reformation disrupted the ecclesiastical and political order across Europe. Luther challenged European leaders through artwork and thanks to the invention of the printing press, through printing his 95 Theses, which led to spreading revolution of cultural, religious and societal change.

Martin Luther’s story and the Protestant Reformation are told through historical objects and artworks in the exhibit “Martin Luther: Art and the Reformation” on display now at Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA). This is a milestone in itself as the exhibit has never been on display outside of Germany. The exhibit is in commemoration of the upcoming 500th Reformation anniversary, bringing new insight into the era and the man behind it. The exhibit includes more than 400 sculptures, gold, paintings, textiles and paperwork’s that were Luther’s personal belongings and archeological artifacts from his home in Eisleben, Germany. Included is an actual 16th-century indulgence chest with heavy hinges, iron plates, and five separate locks. People who wished to buy an indulgence to reduce their stay in purgatory would drop their coins in at the top of the box.

Kaywin Feldman, MIA director, says when they contacted the museum officials in Germany, their first question was “'How can we make this the best Luther show ever?” This exhibit shows the success of Luther as in the propaganda phenomenon. The Catholic Church characteristics would have gone unnoticed if there was no introduction of the new technology, the printing press a few decades earlier. This challenge was provocative to the church, and German printers saw it as a hot item, and they sent 95 Theses into type, print and reproduced them. When they saw how fast they were selling they made more copies, and it went viral.

Luther’s words had reached hundreds and it could not be stopped. Centuries later this shows how new information technology can change the world.

The exhibit is on display until January 15.

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