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Reformation Europe

Martin Luther posts his Ninety-five Theses.Martin Luther posts his Ninety-five Theses. According to legend, a German monk called Martin Luther (1483–1546) nailed a document on to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany on 31st October 1517. The document, known as the Ninety-five Theses, contained a series of attacks on the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church, including the practice of offering pardons from sin for money. The devout Luther believed that people were saved by faith alone. (In fact, rather than nail it to a church door, Luther sent his document in a letter to the Archbishop of Mainz). Luther's act of protest marked the beginning of a religious movement that came to be called the Reformation.

Desiderius Erasmus, a Dutch humanistDesiderius Erasmus, a Dutch humanist

Church corruption

By the time of the Renaissance, the Roman Catholic Church was extremely powerful throughout Europe. Its centre was in Rome, where the Pope and his court lived in lavish style. Many people thought that the Church had become corrupt, for example in its practices of offering important positions within the Church for money, and of selling “indulgences” (pardons from sins). These abuses were attacked by humanist scholars (who emphasize the value of individual human beings) such as the Dutch priest Desiderius Erasmus (1466–1536). But it was Luther’s protest that started the process that eventually led to a split in the Roman Catholic Church.


In 1522, the Reformation was sparked in Switzerland by the Affair of the Sausages: a group of Zwinglians cooked and ate sausages in the centre of Zürich during Lent, an act forbidden by the Catholic Church.

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