Luther Place Memorial Church
Luther Place Memorial Church, located in Washington D.C., is a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. This church was built in 1873 in the Gothic Revival style, and practices the values and traditions of 16th century Martin Luther of Eisleben, Germany. Martin Luther is one of the most influential and controversial Christian figures in history. His followers split from the Roman Catholic Church to begin the Protestant tradition. The church suffered a fire in 1904 but was restored and is still in use for worship. Murals depicting civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. are now part of the church's exterior as well.
Backstory and Context
Luther Place Memorial Church practices the religious views and implications placed by Martin Luther. In July of the early 16th century, Luther experienced a changing of life when he was caught in life-threatening weather. He was caught in a thunderstorm and while crying out for his life, Luther cried out to St. Anne, the patron saint of miners, “Save me, St. Anne, and I’ll become a monk!” (biography.com). After Luther had cried out, he was saved. His decision to become a monk was severely frowned upon by his father, but he felt as though he must keep his promise.
When Luther was 27, he came across the opportunity to be a member of the Roman Catholic church. He was incredibly awestruck by the corruption he saw, and the immorality he witnessed by the Catholic priests disgusted him. "The Catholic Church’s practice of granting “indulgences” to provide absolution to sinners became increasingly corrupt. Indulgence-selling had been banned in Germany, but the practice continued unabated" (history.com). Following this, Martin found the religious enlightenment he desired through his biblical studies.
Martin Luther with committed to the idea that salvation could only be reached by faith and grace. Popular legend states that on October 31, 1517, Martin nailed a copy of his "95 Theses" to the door of Wittenberg Castle Church. His 95 Theses were a list of questions and statements that were ultimately left up for debate against the Catholic church. "The first two of the theses contained Luther’s central idea, that God intended believers to seek repentance and that faith alone, and not deeds, would lead to salvation. The other 93 theses, a number of them directly criticizing the practice of indulgences, supported these first two" (History.com).
In all importance, his central teachings, that the Bible is the central source of religious authority and that salvation is reached through faith and not deeds, ultimately shaped Protestantism. In the 16th century, Lutheranism became formally established in various principalities by being declared the official religion of the region by the relevant governmental authority. (Hillerbrand, 2017).
Luther Place was built in 1873 by architects Judson York, J.C. Harkness, and Henry Davis. The Gothic Revival structure is built of red sandstone, with an octagonal tower and slate-covered spire. It was originally called Memorial Evangelist Lutheran Church and sought to be a symbol of peace and unity after the American Civil War. In that spirit, the church dedicated two pews to Generals Grant and Lee. The first pastor there was Dr. John G. Butler, an abolitionist who advocated to African-American pastors within the Lutheran Church. In 1884,on the four hundredth anniversary of Martin Luther's birth, the congregation consecrated the statue of him outside the church. Over 10,000 people attended this ceremony.
In 1904, Luther Place suffered damage from a fire, leading to restoration of the church and a renewed energy and celebration of its mission. President Theodore Roosevelt spoke at the ceremony after the restoration, saying, "The Lutheran Church is destined to become one of the two or three greatest churches, most distinctly American." (wikipedia.com). It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.
Martin Luther Biography.com. Biography.com. August 08, 2017. Accessed October 25, 2017. https://www.biography.com/people/martin-luther-9389283.
History.com. Martin Luther and the 95 Theses. Accessed October 25, 2017. http://www.history.com/topics/martin-luther-and-the-95-theses.
Hillerbrand, Hans J. Encyclopedia Britannica. Lutheranism. April 05, 2017. Accessed October 25, 2017. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Lutheranism.
Brown, T. Robins. Luther Place Memorial Church, National Register of Historic Places Inventory -- Nomination Form. February 28th 1973. Accessed November 7th 2020. https://npgallery.nps.gov/GetAsset/63563309-ebba-4d3d-ba38-c0ad6404b546.
Luther Place Memorial Church. Our History, About Us. 2018. Accessed November 7th 2020. https://lutherplace.org/about-us/#ourhistory.