Today Protestants all over the world celebrate Reformation Day. It was on October 31st in the year 1517, 500 years ago, when Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Schloßkirche in Wittenberg. At least this is how the story goes.
But that’s not really what I want to write about. I want to take this opportunity to introduce to you my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, Adam Reichardt also known as Adamus Ricardus, one of the first Lutheran pastors in Germany. He was born in the town of Sangerhausen, not far from Martin Luther’s hometown of Eisleben, in 1525. It was the year of Martin Luther’s marriage to Katharina von Bora. Adam was baptized catholic but as the reformation came to Sangerhausen in 1539, he probably became a protestant. He enrolled at the University of Vienna in Austria on the fourth of April 1550 and became a Schulmeister (teacher). But he received a call from his home land to help establish the new Protestant Church.
As the majority of the population in that part of Germany had taken over the Lutheran faith, there still was a lot to do. Mainly there was a desperate need of pastors. Like Adam Reichardt there were other teachers who wanted to become a pastor but there were applicants with other occupations as well, like sextons and craftsmen and even a servant had applied, not to forget the catholic priests who had converted. All of them were ordained, often only after having received some kind of theological “crash course”. It would take years until there were enough pastors with a proper theological education for every parish.
Adam Reichardt was ordained in Wittenberg on Friday, November 16, 1552 and became the pastor of Immenroda, where he stayed for one year. He then left for the parish of Niederröblingen/Helme.
In 1574, it was time to move again, this time he took over the parish of Osmünde, close to the city of Halle. The church of Osmünde, first mentioned in 1191 (but the village is probably 300 years older), had once been a well known Pilgrimage Church due to its statue of the Virgin Mary. With the death of the last Catholic Pastor in 1538, it had become a protestant church. Reichardt’s predecessor and first evangelical pastor of Osmünde had been Matthias Fischer (Piscator), a pastor who had studied theology and had been ordained by Philipp Melanchton. These two pastors should change community life in this parish and form the new, evangelical church. The statue of the Virgin Mary was removed and the pilgrimages to this church were put to an end. Also, they made several changes in the church itself: the altar stone from catholic times was removed and became a step to the new altar and all parts of the old altar except of the figures of Johannes and Maria were removed.
Due to the increase of population and parish members, they needed more space and therefore decided to build a gallery, which was completed in 1582. Adam Reichardt remained in Osmünde for the rest of his life and retired in 1600 and died two years later.
What would he have thought if he would have known that only 16 years after his death, there would be a war between Evangelical and Catholic States which would last for 30 years and would lead to devastation, famine, pestilence, dislocation and bring death to many, all in the name of God? Osmünde itself was sacked several times by different troops and in some years the villagers even left in fear of loosing their lives, hiding in the marsh land for months. The Church was damaged more than once, but survived and was restored after the war. And what survived as well, was the gallery with the carving that reads ARP 1581 (Adam Reichardt Pastor).
Adam Reichardt was the founder of a long dynasty of pastors and wives of pastors. His great-grandson Günther Heyler (1645-1707), Generalsuperintendent of Pomerania, had the first bible in High German in Pomerania printed in 1693; it is said he paid for it with his own funds. This line ended with my great-grandmother Marie Harder, wife of the Pastor Friedrich Stange in Friedeberg, Neumark.
But I do not want to let you go without a song that was sung in the church of Osmünde at the time of my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, the Pastor Adam Reichardt: Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott, written by Martin Luther, who wrote the Ninety-Five Theses and nailed them on the door of the Schloßkirche in Wittenberg (or did otherwise), 500 years ago on this very day.