For anyone interested in the history of the Protestant Reformation, a visit to the city of Worms is a must. It is an ancient Nebelungen city on the Rhine between Ludwigshafen and Mainz, and is the gateway to the Rhinehessen. Though many pre-Roman legends have been associated with the city, it is better known as the Roman Catholic Bishopric since 614A.D.
Our first stop was at the Cathedral of Worms. (Imperial Cathedral of St. Peter) The imposing bronze statue of Bishop Burchard who presided over the church from 1000 – 1025, stands at the entrance. Over the centuries, parts of the cathedral have been destroyed. But as it stands today, the church is very ornamental. The baroque opulence of the altar designed by Balthazar Neumann, the grand Romanesque west choir, the five stone reliefs of the late Gothic period on the eastern side provide a feast to the eyes. The Imperial door on the northern side is called the “Quarrel of Queens.” And the south door through which one enters is a pictorial bible dating back to the late 13th century.
But what the cathedral is famous for is the Imperial Diet of Worms in 1521, when Martin Luther an Augustinian monk was summoned from Wittenberg and ordered to retract his tirade against the Roman Catholic Church. He spent ten days in Worms when church authorities pressurized him to relent. His writings were considered rebellion against Rome. But Luther bravely declared “Here I stand. I can do no other because to go against one’s conscience is neither right nor safe.”
This was the starting point of the historical Protestant Reformation in Worms. The spot where he stood was marked by a plaque. But as that area of the church was destroyed, the plaque was shifted to Heyslop Park behind the Heyslop Schloss where it stands.
Heyslop Schloss is now the Luther Museum and is worth visiting if only to see Luther’s German bible of 1521, with his handwritten notes. Several collections and writings from that period are seen here, including the first printed copy of William Tyndale’s English New Testament of 1526. The bust of Martin Luther designed by Ernest Rietschel is also installed here.
The Luther Memorial (Denkmal) is an imposing structure said to be the largest Reformation Memorial in the world. Luther stands on a high pedestal with his bible in hand. He is surrounded by forerunners of the Reformation – John Wycliffe, Peter Waldo, Girolano Savonarola, Jan Hus, Frederick the Wise, Phillip Melanchthon and others. Three female figures represent the key cities of the Reformation – Speyer, Augsburg and Madgeburg. The monument was built in1868 by Ernest Rietschel and his pupils.
The Trinity Church in the market place has a mosaic of Luther’s face in its tower. It has also five stained glass panels depicting Luther’s declaration, behind the simple altar.
Many legends have sprung up in relation to Luther. One of them is the Luther Tree in Pfiffigheim district. It is said that this huge elm tree blossomed out of a dry stick as a testimony of the truth of the Protestant faith.
Worms was also the centre of Judaism since 10th century. Juddengasse was the Jewish Quarter which was inhabited by Jews since 1034.
The Rashi Synagogue was built in 1175 but was totally destroyed on the Kristallnacht of 10th November 1938. It was rebuilt on the old model in 1959-1960 and is in use by the few Jews who still live in Worms.
The Rashi House which is now the Jewish Museum was once an old vaulted cellar where weddings and festivities took place. This is an interesting place to visit as it contains valuable manuscripts, ritual instruments and a copy of the Worms Mahzor, which is an illustrated prayer book of 1272.
The Holy Sands Cemetery is the oldest Jewish cemetery in Europe with more than 2000 graves dating back to 1706. Two prominent headstones stand out among the others and are piled on top with pebbles and stones. These mark the graves of Rabi Meir of Rothenburg and his rescuer Alexander ben Solomon Wimpfer. The rabbi was captured and died in prison. Solomon paid a ransom and brought the corpse back to be buried in this cemetery. No burial has taken place here since 1911. Outside the cemetery is the Tahara House and a hand washing basin.
Worms was also famous for its wine culture which was brought to the city by the Romans. Monks of the Capuchin Monastery were famous for wine making. Pilgrims said the wine tasted like milk from Our Lady’s Church nearby. So it was called Madonna’s wine. (Leiberaumilch Wine.) Legend has it that the vineyard came up through the help of the devil. Hence the sweet taste. But the sweet taste is attributed to the minerals from wetlands of the Rhine. The wine was popular at the British and Swedish Royal tables. Its fame spread to Australia and Japan as well.
Today Worms is an industrial city but it still retains its old world charm. The Nibelungem festival is celebrated even today even though it has its origins in mythology.