The German Reformation – hands on!

Students and staff at the University of Oxford have been celebrating the inauguration of Prof. Henrike Lähnemann as the Chair for Medieval German Literature and Linguistics. As part of the events, students and staff of the sub-faculty of German have launched a new website that celebrates some of the 500-year old prints held by the Taylorian Library. One of OGN’s student ambassadors, Kezia, has been handling the texts and introduces the students’ work here…

Friday, 22 January 2016 was the day the Reformation 2017 Taylorian website was launched! 2017 will be the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, which launched a seismic religious, social and cultural shift throughout Europe, and it will be the year that the Taylorian Library really gets to show off its incredible collection of Reformation pamphlets. So the German sub-faculty has started preparing already!

Students and staff at Oxford University present Reformation prints from the holdings of the Taylorian Library
Eyn Wunderliche Weyssagung von dem Babtstumb detail Taylor 2
A page from Eyn Wunderliche Weyssagung von dem Babsttumb (1527), held in the Taylorian Library, Oxford.


A group of German graduate students and I have started to scratch the surface of the trove of early sixteenth century prints. Thus far, we have read roughly 10 pamphlets and have already discovered: a previously-unknown print of a pamphlet by Andreas Karlstadt; detailed marginalia in Latin and German surrounding two copies of Luther’s De captivitate babylonica; Hans Sachs’ Shoemaker Dialogue, the shoemaker’s nose roughly cut and pointy in the title woodcut. We found a copy of Passional Christi und Antichristi with Christ and the Pope having a face off across each double spread – the Pope definitely coming out the worse for wear. The Pope also features in the 30 images of Eyn Wunderliche Weyssagung von dem Babstumb, including with a bear on his head, as a dragon, and in his underwear! The Lustgarten der Seelen also offers an intriguing, less blatant example of a Protestant text as every page shows an image of a saint in the process of being martyred in their own particular way, despite saints being devalued by the Lutheran movement.

There are over 500 of these pamphlets in the Taylorian and they are accessible by all Oxford University students, any subject, any college, which makes them an incredibly resource for anyone who touches on the Reformation period, printing or woodcuts. It is an amazing feeling to be working on printed pamphlets that have never been looked at in detail before and there are so many more to go! On top of that there is now a transcription of each of these pamphlets we presented, along with digitised images and information about them, available on the Reformation 2017 website. The pamphlets themselves are also in the display cases in the Voltaire Room in the Taylorian Library at the moment.

Go, have a look, the pictures are definitely worth it! And there are going to be more events, including music and a Reformation Trail, as the year goes on…

Kezia Fender, OGN Student Ambassador


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