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Reformation cantatas by J S Bach

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“Because you know it’s all about that grace, ‘bout that grace…” – Reenacting Reformation at Oxford University

Exactly 500 years after the Lutheran Reformation started off in the German city of Wittenberg, the historic event was now commemorated in Oxford. On 31st Oct 2017 Martin Luther, surrounded by a flashmob of students, again successfully posted his Ninety-Five Theses.

actors in re-enactment

On Tuesday afternoon about 250 fellows and students of Oxford University spontaneously gathered behind the Faculty of History building to celebrate the Reformation’s quincentenary with ginger beer and German Lebkuchen. Staff and students of the History Faculty and the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages had prepared the event and even organised ‘contemporary’ costumes so that Martin Luther alias Edmund Wareham could present his freshly printed Ninety-Five Theses to the – slightly amused – Archbishop Albrecht of Mainz (Milo Saville) and the preacher and indulgence commissioner Johann Tetzel (Benjamin Moore).

Finally accompanied by great applause Luther glued his Theses, audibly pronouncing that he would *not* nail them, to the door of the Faculty. The spectators were wowed, as were the organisers, who did not expect such a huge interest in the event: “Expecting a crowd of about 30, it was somewhat daunting seeing all the people gather expectantly outside the History Faculty – not least because I couldn’t remember a thesis to say out loud! The reaction when I emerged out of the door was quite something and I don’t think I’ve ever had so many photo requests in my life. As one person noted to me afterwards: ‘I had no idea Luther smiled so much!’” (Edmund Wareham).

But the posting of the theses wasn’t the only event that was re-enacted that day. Following the instructions of Richard Lawrence (Superintendent of the Bodleian Printing Press) spectators could test their skills at one of the original printing presses from the Bodleian Library, and could purchase handmade reprints of catholic indulgences or Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses – hard to tell which one of them was the more popular.

Though the nailing of the theses to the church doors in Wittenberg probably never took place – the event was most likely invented 100 years later for the centenary in 1617 – the flashmob was a great success as a voice from the audience put it: “I came for the Lebkuchen and stayed for the event. The re-enactment was done in best Oxfordian fashion: a teeny tiny bit of awkwardness, a lot of enthusiasm and in good humour.”

lebkuchen and ginger beer

The event was advertised on social media beforehand and reached a broad audience, as not only turned out by the number of participants on the day itself, but also by the virtual feedback. ‘St Edmund’s’ reply to the tweet of Prof Henrike Lähnemann got the heart of it: ‘Because you know I’m all about that grace, ‘bout that grace: no Tetzl!’. The Cherwell’s video of the flashmob already has nearly 30.000 views (https://www.facebook.com/CherwellOnline/videos/10159388676185167/).

You can also view the History Faculty’s own video  below – have fun!