In 1521, Martin Luther appeared before the Imperial Diet in the City of Worms refusing to renounce his writings – a crucial moment in world history. The city on the River Rhine is celebrating the anniversary with a number of events.
Worms, in April of the Year 1521. The city with a population of 7,000 on the River Rhine is hosting almost as many visitors. All are waiting impatiently for the Imperial Diet to convene – and for Martin Luther, who is to defend his writings before the assembly. In January of that same year he had been excommunicated by the Pope –a pronouncement that would normally be followed by an Imperial ban. Yet the imperial princes and nobles insisted that Emperor Charles V give Luther a hearing at the Imperial Diet. The Emperor guaranteed him free passage, and Luther boarded a carriage with three horses to make his way from Wittenberg, south of Berlin, to Worms.
The atmosphere in Worms was heated. A Papal nuncio reported to Rome that “ninety percent of the Germans have adopted the battle cry ‘Luther’, while the rest are prone to exclaiming ‘Death to the Roman court’.” When Luther arrived from the north through the Martinspforte gate on the morning of 16 April, a crowd of people awaited him. Luther lodged at the Johanniterhof, while the hearing was to take place at the Bishop’s Court, which elevated the “Luther affair” notably above the actual matters to be debated at the Imperial Diet, which were to be dealt with at the Bürgerhof (the town hall) and the Haus “Zur Münze”.
On 17 April 1521, Martin Luther appeared before the Emperor and the princes at the Bishop’s Court dressed in his monk’s habit. After the corresponding reports, the presiding officer from Trier asked Luther whether he had penned the writings that appeared under his name. In his answer, Luther admitted it was not such an easy question to answer, so he asked for some time to think. The Emperor granted him until the following day, and on 18 April 1521, Martin Luther was fetched at around 4.00 p.m. He acknowledged his own writings and refused to renounce them: It would be wrong, he said, to act against a conscience that was captive to the word of God. “May God help me. Amen.” Later on, he added: “Here I stand, I can do no other!” And with these words, his appearance went down in world history. In 2021, the City of Worms is staging various events and a Luther tour to commemorate Luther’s refusal to renounce his beliefs 500 years ago. Unfortunately, none of the buildings where Luther appeared or stayed are still standing, since the city was destroyed in 1689 by troops of Louis XIV and later by a fire at the time of the revolution in 1794. There are some places, however, that testify to the history of the Imperial Diet and the Reformation. At the site of the Martinspforte through which Luther entered the city, there is now a building dating from 1904 whose artfully designed façade is definitive of the name Martinspforte. On the presumed site of the Johanniterhof, meanwhile, a bronze plaque commemorates Luther’s lodgings, and at the site of the Bishop’s Court, the Heylshofpark commemorates the events of 1521.