Sunday, September 22, 2013

Luther's Latrine

I was watching a program called Horrible Histories. It is a BBC production that shows historical events, oddities and figures in comedic terms, all of it nonetheless being rigorously checked for strict historical accuracy. 

The item that intrigued me was that a visitor wanting to meet Martin Luther was shown into Luther’s office, only to find him sitting on a toilet. It seems that Martin Luther went to the toilet so much that he had his toilet turned into his office, “do my business while I do my business” as he put it to the visitor. The visitor, saying that Luther is clearly too busy to discuss church matters himself, would perhaps allow the visitor to see his Number Two, meaning second in charge. Unfortunately Luther misunderstands and shows the visitor his quite different No 2. See it at:

I was inspired by the above to look deeper into Mr Luther’s bowels, no, that doesn’t sound right; to have a closer look at his bowel movements, wait, that doesn’t sound right either. However it is expressed, here are some Lutheran facts:

A short history:

Martin Luther (1483-1546) was a German monk, former Catholic priest, professor of theology and seminal figure of a reform movement in sixteenth century Christianity, subsequently known as the Protestant Reformation. He strongly disputed the claim that freedom from God's punishment for sin could be purchased with money and confronted indulgence salesman Johann Tetzel with his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517. His refusal to retract all of his writings at the demand of Pope Leo X in 1520 and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V at the Diet of Worms in 1521 resulted in his excommunication by the Pope and condemnation as an outlaw by the Emperor. 

Luther taught that salvation is not earned by good deeds but received only as a free gift of God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ as redeemer from sin. His theology challenged the authority of the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church by teaching that the Bible is the only source of divinely inspired revealed knowledge and opposed the belief in the necessity of priests by considering all baptized Christians to be a holy priesthood.

His translation of the Bible into the vernacular from Latin made it more accessible, which had a tremendous impact on the church and on German culture. It fostered the development of a standard version of the German language, added several principles to the art of translation and influenced the writing of an English translation, the King James Bible. His hymns influenced the development of singing in churches. His marriage to Katharina von Bora set a model for the practice of clerical marriage, allowing Protestant priests to marry. 

In his later years, in deteriorating health, Luther became increasingly antisemitic, writing that Jewish homes should be destroyed, their synagogues burned, money confiscated and liberty curtailed. These statements have contributed to his controversial status.

- Wikipedia


Luther was in ill health for many years of his life. He suffered from Meniere’s disease, vertigo, fainting, tinnitus and a cataract in one eye. In 1536, he began to suffer from kidney and bladder stones, as well as arthritis. An ear infection ruptured an ear drum. In December 1544, he began to feel the effects of angina.

After experiencing chest pains and taking to his bed, he died of a stroke in 1546 aged 62.

Luther also suffered from chronic constipation and spent much of his time in contemplation on the toilet.

Luther stated in after-dinner speeches on two occasions that Protestantism was born in the sewer: "The spiritus sanctus imparted this creation to me on dis cloaca." The words “dis cloaca” mean “in the sewer” but some historians have argued that in the above context it can mean “the world” rather than “toilet”. Most accept that the meaning was probably toilet. How about that!!! The 95 Theses were written das Klo. The birth of the Reformation was on the toilet!

(It reminds me of Robin Williams as the delusional Parry, telling Jack in The Fisher King how he first became aware of the little people he sees: “They came to me about a year ago. I was sitting on the john having one of those really satisfying bowel movements--you know the ones that border on mystical.”)

According to Professor Stefan Rhein, the director of the Luther Memorial Foundation and an acknowledged Luther expert, it was common during the period in which Luther lived to denigrate the devil in faecal terms, such as "I shit on the devil" or "I break wind on the devil". According to Professor Rhein "It was not a very polite time. And in keeping with this, neither was Luther very polite."

Luther's toilet and archaeology:

In an archaeological discovery that would be worthy of an Indiana Jones’ film, that very toilet, the seat of the Protestant Reformation, was located and unearthed in 2004. During planting of a garden at Luther’s house in Wittenberg, south-west of Berlin, Germany, the remains of a stone annex to the house were discovered. The toilet that challenged the throne of the Pope of Rome.

· According to a news report:

The 450-year-old toilet, which was very advanced for its time, is made out of stone blocks and, unusually, has a 30-square-centimetre seat with a hole. Underneath is a cesspit attached to a primitive drain. 
Other interesting parts of the house remains include a vaulted ceiling, late Gothic sandstone door frames and what is left of a floor-heating system, which presumably gave Luther an added bit of comfort during the hours he spent in contemplation. 
Professor Rhein said the foundation would stop at letting the annual 80,000 visitors to Wittenberg, who come in search of the spirit of Luther, from sitting on the toilet. "I would not sit on it. There's a point where you have to draw the line." 

"We still don't know what was used for wiping in those days," says Dr Martin Treu, a theologian and Luther expert based in Wittenberg. The paper of the time, he says, would have been too expensive and critically, "too stiff" for the purpose. 

Luther's toilet office

Some Luther quotes on the topic: 

“I’m like a ripe stool and the world’s like a gigantic anus, and we’re about to let go of each other.” 

“I resist the devil, and often it is with a fart that I chase him away. When he tempts me with silly sins I say, ‘Devil, yesterday I broke wind too. Have you written it down on your list?’”

“I am drinking beer from Namburg which tastes to me almost like the beer from Mansfeld which you praised to me. It agrees with me well and gives me about three bowel movements in three hours in the morning.”

“A happy fart never comes from a miserable arse.”

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