Germany Celebrates 500 Years since Reformation

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Germany on Tuesday celebrates 500 years since theologian Martin Luther nailed his "95 theses" to a church door, marking the start of the Reformation that created the Protestant church and transformed European society.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Frank-Walter Steinmeier will attend a service at the same church where Luther is said to have first displayed his list of criticisms of the Catholic Church in 1517.

The 2.30pm (1330 GMT) service at the gothic Schlosskirche (All Saints' Church) in Wittenberg will mark the end of year-long celebrations by protestants in 700 German towns and cities.

Wittenberg, a town of 47,000 inhabitants 100 kilometers (60 miles) southwest of Berlin, has itself received tens of thousands of Christian visitors from around the world in recent months.

Reformation Day on October 31 is this year a public holiday across all of Germany. Usually it is a day off only in certain states.

Half a century ago Luther challenged Catholic clerics' practice of selling "indulgences" to repentant worshipers.

He said Christians could not buy or earn their way into heaven but only entered by the grace of God. 

His challenge led to a historic break from the Catholic Church.

However, the theologian's name has also been associated with one of Germany's darkest periods: his attacks on Judaism in his writings were used as a reference for Nazi ideology.

Merkel, herself the daughter of a Protestant pastor, said it was essential that Luther's anti-Semitism never be scrubbed from his theological legacy.

"That is, for me, the comprehensive historical reckoning that we need," she said in her weekly video podcast on Saturday.

A row over a medieval anti-semitic carving which remains on the facade of another church in Wittenberg risks overshadowing the celebrations.

It is one of the last remaining examples of anti-Jewish folk art that was common in Europe at the time.

A petition started by British theologian Richard Harvey has called for the sculpture to be removed from the public sphere and displayed in a museum.

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