Five hundred years ago, an unknown monk named Martin Luther marched up to the church in Wittenberg, a small town in what is now Germany, and nailed a list of criticisms of the Catholic church to its door.
The date was Oct. 31, 1517, and Luther had just lit the fuse of what would become the Protestant Reformation. His list of criticisms, known as the 95 theses, would reverberate across world history. The Church would split, wars would be fought and people would be burned at the stake. It was the birth of Protestant Christianity.
The hub of anniversary celebrations will be Luther’s homeland, Germany, where "Reformation Day" has long been celebrated as a holiday in certain states. This year, it’s set to be a full-blown national holiday. Chancellor Angela Merkel, the daughter of a Lutheran pastor, has encouraged German churches to promote a narrative of unity over division in their celebrations.
Americans are also doing their bit. A musical entitled Luther: The Rock Opera premiered in Wittenberg earlier this year. The North Dakota pastor responsible for the two-and-a-half hour production describes it as “Hamilton meets Jesus Christ Superstar meets Monty Python.” Performances in Berlin and Wittenberg will mark the anniversary.