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Martin Luther painted by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1528, now in Museum Veste Coburg, Germany (photo Wikimedia Commons)

Five hundred years ago, on 31 October 1517, Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the doors of Wittenberg’s castle church, which – unintendedly – sparked the Protestant Reformation.

In practice, however, ‘the’ Reformation can not be pinpointed in time. It was a gradual transformation which lasted several generations. Such long-term processes have often been overlooked because historical studies have usually focused either on the Catholic middle ages or the Protestant early modern period.

This website aims to overcome this fictitious divide by looking at religious life in Bergen by taking the year 1517 as a starting point. From that point of time, we will both look back into the Middle Ages and forward to the Lutheran era.

An impression of Bergen and its churches around 1350 (source: Byantikvaren Bergen)

The Reformation as a long-term process is made clear by the changes in Bergen’s medieval church landscape. During the Middle Ages over twenty-five churches and chapels were built here, and most have been lost over the centuries.

A view of Bryggen with Bergenhus fortress to the left (photo Justin Kroesen)

The last decades before 1536-1537, before Lutheranism was officially introduced in Norway, were a period of great turmoil. During this period all of the city’s monasteries were closed down and several churches demolished. One could say that the Reformation started well before it became official. 

Lutheran ideas reached Bergen through trade. The Hanseatic merchants who lived in Bergen all year round in the Bryggen area were an important channel for the new ideas. The first Lutheran service was held in 1527, but Lutheran practices had probably begun before in merchant homes and workplaces.

St Mary’s church (Mariakirken) (photo Justin Kroesen)

On the other hand, a considerable number of medieval objects and practices also survived until long after the Reformation, as is illustrated by the interior of St Mary’s church and the church art collection at the University Museum.

Hieronymus Scholeus’ view of Bergen Anno 1581