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2 The Reformation Decline of Pilgrimage
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The Reformation Decline of Pilgrimage

In constructing a history of Germany in the decades immediately preceding the Reformation, scholars have often cited a number of incidents of sudden, mass pilgrimage—to Wilsnack, Niklashausen, Sternberg, Grimmental, Aachen, Trier, and Regensburg—to demonstrate the extent of late medieval piety as well as a pervasive anxiety about salvation in that era.[1] For our portrait of these events we are forced to rely primarily on the accounts of contemporary chroniclers, who as observers can scarcely be considered dispassionate. Their reports, filled with stock topoi, frequently betray their own prejudices toward the pilgrims, rather than providing us with a true picture of the behavior and motivations of the participants. "Common people," they write pejoratively, were suddenly seized with an uncontrollable desire, even compulsion, to see some miraculous new shrine. Forgetting everything, peasants would vacate their fields. Servants shirked their duties, children ran away from their parents, and mothers and fathers abandoned their responsibilities. Underlying the criticisms in these accounts was a profound distrust of both religious enthusiasm and mobility, and the disorders each created.

The Reformation and Counter-Reformation attempted to address these issues by bringing order and a new rationale to lay religious life. For the Protestant reformers who launched their war against idolatry, the "excesses" of popular devotion needed to be expunged. Through persistent denigration and ritualized and sym-


bolic inversion, Reformation theologians, preachers, and artists transformed the saints into perverse embodiments of a "false" and even demonic religion. From the perspective of many within the institutional Church as well, the rapid development of sacred sites into immensely popular shrines had long been viewed as problematic. Even when we apply a healthy dose of skepticism to accounts concerning the behavior of pilgrims at late medieval shrines, it still must be allowed that the explosion of cults produced enormous disruptions.

Perhaps the most persistently controversial of Germany's late medieval pilgrimage sites was the Holy Blood shrine at Wilsnack. In 1383 after a marauding knight had attacked and burned this Saxon village, the local priest had discovered in the still-smoldering ashes of the church three unconsumed, blood-flecked hosts. Word spread in the surrounding region, and soon a pilgrimage developed, with several German bishops awarding the nascent cult indulgences. One year later, the pope, too, conferred an indulgence on the devotion to support the building of a larger pilgrimage church. A little more than a decade later, in 1395, the shrine's presiding bishop at Havelberg, recognizing its potential income, incorporated the church into his episcopal household. As a consequence, two-thirds of that income flowed directly into his coffers. This practice was not unusual, but Luther and others attacked it early in the Reformation as an incentive for ecclesiastical officials to encourage "false" pilgrimages.[2]

While reports of dubious miracles and hundreds of hysterical pilgrims visiting the site had circulated as early as 1387, no official investigation of Wilsnack was undertaken until 1405, when the archbishop of Prague dispatched a team of examiners.[3] This com-


mittee, which included the later heretic John Huss, concluded that the miracles publicized at the shrine were fraudulent; the archbishop of Prague responded by forbidding the pilgrimage to those who lived within his archdiocese and commanding his clergy to preach against the shrine at least once a month.[4] One year after his visit to Wilsnack, Huss wrote a treatise, On the Blood of Christ , that denounced both that cult and a number of other European eucharistic shrines. Relying on an orthodox Thomistic theology, Huss argued that the existence of blood relics of the Savior was physically impossible because Christ's earthly and divine natures had been hypostatically fused following the Resurrection. Blood relics like those at Wilsnack he denounced as sacrilegious, and their miracles as frauds.[5] Yet although Huss's attack may have resonated well within the Prague archdiocese, it had no impact on the shrine's popularity; Wilsnack continued to draw faithful from throughout Central Europe and as far afield as Scandinavia and England.[6]

The general tolerance accorded the cult outside the archdiocese of Prague began to change in 1412, when the archbishop of Magdeburg, metropolitan of the province in which Wilsnack was located, ordered his own investigation. His team, like the Prague visitors before them, reported that the majority of the pilgrims at Wilsnack were poor and that they frequently displayed hysterical behavior at the shrine. Many fell into ecstatic fits, shouting, "Help me, Holy Blood" or "Free me, Blood of Christ." Further, the archbishop's investigators charged that because the pilgrims were unaware of the theological complexities involved, Wilsnack led them into error. The shrine gave them the opportunity to venerate the corporeal blood on the hosts, a heresy again because of the hypostatic union of Christ's earthly and divine natures. An archdiocesan synod discussed the investigators' report and, although it considered suppressing the pilgrimage, settled on the less controversial option of merely condemning it. Despite other unsuccessful attempts to prohibit the pilgrimage, Wilsnack survived, growing even more popular in the second half of the fifteenth century.[7]


This upswing in popularity climaxed in the wake of a series of children's pilgrimages to the site in 1475. Reminiscent of similar events, especially the notorious juvenile processions to Mont-Saint-Michel that had commenced from South Germany in 1456, these journeys to Wilsnack were criticized for their disruptiveness.[8] Groups of youths making their way along the route to the shrine were greeted alternately with horror and enthusiasm. Even as town authorities tried to force the children to disband and return home, others interpreted the processions as a sign of divine grace and aided the participants. By the summer of 1475, the traffic to the shrine was thick as hundreds of peasants, vagabonds, and day workers joined the youthful bands. At towns along the way, late medieval chroniclers tell us, the processions were often greeted as a kind of plague. At Erfurt, for example, the town locked its gates to the approaching pilgrims, refusing to fulfill the traditional Christian duty of providing the travelers with food and lodging. Yet even though the town council prohibited its own youth from joining the processions, one chronicler recorded that 310 children left the city.[9]

Despite the hyperbole that marked the written accounts, it must be admitted that events like these would be bound to result in a degree of chaos. As the ranks of faithful making their way to a shrine suddenly swelled, they passed through towns and villages ill prepared to provide food and accommodation. Yet an increase in poverty and the landless was also beginning to afflict Germany in


the late fifteenth century. In discussing Wilsnack and other mass pilgrimages, commentators sometimes linked the surge in these cults' popularity with the generally hard economic times. Referring to the pilgrims as "common people" or "the poor," chroniclers drew explicit connections among bad harvests, dearth, and the episodic outbreak of "pilgrimage fever." In an anonymous tract about the Wilsnack pilgrimage of 1475, one writer charged that this journey provided those suffering the effects of the recent famine the generally more attractive possibility of begging for food among strangers:

For the days are very long and empty of things to do, and many are driven to pilgrimage for lack of bread to eat ... having no bread, and being too poor to stay with friends or neighbors, they were ashamed to go begging near their own homes. And so they decided to go on this pilgrimage and beg in each town along the route, reckoning that it was better to beg in a strange district than from people they knew.[10]

This writer then associated the onset of famine directly with the rise of the shrine's popularity: Wilsnack provided for many a way of earning a living through begging on the pious journey. We will never know for certain how widespread such a practice was, yet begging remained a widely respected act of ascetic devotion in late medieval Germany. Certainly, not all who begged along the route to Wilsnack did so because of need. As a sign of apostolic poverty, the begging of alms remained a sacrificial act that many believed made their journeys more pleasing in the eyes of God.[11]

Those who commented on phenomena like Wilsnack certainly feared the pilgrims' dispossession and poverty. Given the proper catalyst, they likely reasoned, such events might easily erupt into rebellions in demand of social reform. In the late fifteenth century—even as the ranks of pilgrims making their way to shrines like Wilsnack swelled dramatically—rural revolts were on the rise in


many parts of Germany. Protesting the imposition of new feudal duties and generally unattractive kinds of tenure, peasant rebels sometimes looked to Mary and the saints as their patrons.

The fear that an underlying kinship could exist between mass pilgrimages and rural revolts was bolstered by the processions to Niklashausen that began in 1476. Since the mid-fourteenth century, this tiny village in the Tauber Valley of Franconia had been home to a small Marian cult.[12] An indulgence awarded the church at that time had granted those who visited the site the same rewards as the Roman pilgrimage. During Lent of 1476, an itinerant shepherd, Hans Behem, arrived at Niklashausen and began to preach a world-renouncing and anticlerical message. On the surface, the shepherd's sermons initially resembled those of John of Capistrano, who had conducted preaching missions in Franconia during the 1450s. Into the asceticism typical of many fifteenth-century preachers, however, Behem soon wove strands of apocalypticism, anti-clericalism, and social rebellion. Attacking the corruption of Rome, the pope and his officials, and to a lesser degree the emperor and the German princes, the shepherd of Niklashausen voiced the demands of rural revolts both past and future. He called for the woods, streams, and pastures to be made free for all and for the tithe to be abolished—a message that was, he said, confirmed by a steady stream of Marian apparitions. The Virgin, he alleged, had told him that more grace was to be found in the tiny Tauber Valley than in all the churches of Rome. Warning that the Apocalypse was close at hand, she was calling on the faithful to journey to Niklashausen to prevent the wrath of God from being unleashed on the world.[13]

By the summer of 1476, all reports reckoned the number visiting Niklashausen in the thousands.[14] Even if these figures are exaggerated, they do indicate that Behem's message had a widespread appeal in the surrounding region. First drawing its participants from the rural hamlets of the Tauber Valley proper, the new pilgrimage quickly reached areas more distant, and within a short time the


agrarian population was augmented by city dwellers from Würzburg, Nuremberg, and other towns. That summer, territorial, ecclesiastical, and urban leaders throughout South Germany repeatedly—and ineffectively—prohibited their subjects from visiting the site.[15] As the pilgrimage continued gathering strength, the bishop of Würzburg reacted decisively by having Behem captured, imprisoned, and burned at the stake, and his ashes scattered in the Main. To clinch the matter, the small Marian church at Niklashausen was torn down to insure that no residual devotion persisted.[16]

A popular preacher like Behem was enough of a catalyst to develop a small, preexisting cult into a phenomenon bordering on full-scale revolt. A steady stream of visions and miracles, moreover, had validated this preacher's social revolutionary message. Frequently, those who reported about mass pilgrimages such as Niklashausen recognized the role that miracles played in creating and sustaining these events, and their accounts resound with attacks on people's credulity. People, they state, were impressionable, gullible, and able to believe in any and all kinds of wonders. The Thuringian chronicler Konrad Stolle, for instance, wrote that when pilgrims on the way to Wilsnack were asked why they were journeying to the shrine they responded that they had to go "there where there was a great miracle." But when asked what the Holy Blood of Wilsnack was, they did not know, except that it was miraculous. Chroniclers and contemporary critics reported that when people heard of miracles a sudden, uncontrollable desire to visit the wondrous place would simply seize them.[17]

In Bavaria, although the cult of the saints was increasing to new heights of popularity in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, pilgrimage was at the same time a source of controversy for ecclesiastical officials. Sanctity could multiply in ways unacceptable to the "official" Church, and spontaneous wonder-working could develop previously insignificant places into popular destinations. In


1417, for example, a healing spring issued from the earth outside a Marian chapel in the Lower Bavarian village of Laberberg. When its waters were discovered to possess curative powers, local peasants, artisans, nobles, and even a Lower Bavarian duke visited the site to bathe in its flow. Assessing the revered spring a "superstition and an idolatry," the bishop of Regensburg soon investigated. He prohibited the cult, and when his decrees went disregarded, he threatened those who continued to journey there with excommunication. Finally, his emissaries filled in the spring and boarded up the adjacent chapel.[18] In their continuing efforts to prohibit such unsanctioned cults, Regensburg's bishops also forbade the construction of churches, chapels, and altars that had not been approved, their cornerstones laid by the bishop, and their space ritually consecrated. Yet the frequent repetition of these ordinances leads us to conclude that the diocese's officials were never particularly effective in curbing the proliferation of unsanctioned shrines.

In the first quarter of the sixteenth century, the problem persisted. During the 1510s and 1520s, for example, the suffragan of Regensburg, Peter Krafft, collected new revenues for the diocese by touring town and countryside and consecrating the altars, chapels, and churches that had been constructed in previous generations. In months spent on the road in Bavaria and in neighboring Bohemia, Kraft journeyed with no other purpose than to perform the official Church's rite of consecration. The detailed records that he left behind in his diaries testify to the virtual powerlessness of the clerical hierarchy to define the development of cult. The Church could do little more than add its stamp of approval—the consecration—as an after-the-fact legitimation to devotions and churches already in existence.[19]

Such a conclusion is true for all of Bavaria's dioceses. Clearly, from the perspective of the Church hierarchy, the multiplication of unsanctioned shrines and cults was a problem.[20] Yet even when a


new devotion enjoyed "official" validation, lay reverence could quickly overwhelm the clergy's ability to influence and control it. At Regensburg in the years after 1519, a new cult inspired the most amplified chorus of criticisms of any late medieval mass pilgrimage. The shrine, however, had initially enjoyed the approval of the Regensburg bishop, who laid its cornerstone and consecrated the modest wooden structure hurriedly thrown up to accommodate the pilgrims who flocked to the site. Soon, however, his enthusiasm waned, and he, along with numerous Reformation critics, denounced the cult.

The sudden outpouring of devotion in Regensburg during the years from 1519 to 1525 arose from a bitter legacy of dispute between the city's Christians and Jews, who functioned as interdependent yet distinct communities. In Regensburg as in other German cities, the emperor owned the regalian rights over resident Jews, a fact that granted the group a certain autonomy from local control. In the course of the fifteenth century, the city's economy had declined severely as trade routes shifted in the region. Regensburg's Jews, who had formerly been responsible for dispensing long-distance imperial financial responsibilities, now found their livelihood more circumscribed within the town walls: by the end of the century, they had become primarily lenders and pawnbrokers to the Regensburg populace, serving the city's petty nobility, small merchants, artisans, and lower clergy. In an increasingly impoverished and bleak economy, the town council often heard bitter complaints about the Jews, and in 1478 these tensions had erupted into a protracted ritual-murder trial involving several members of the Jewish community. During the lengthy proceedings the town council tried unsuccessfully to secure the emperor's permission to expel the Jews, and afterward an undercurrent of suspicion and hatred persisted.[21]


In 1516, relations between the Christians and Jews of Regensburg again worsened with the arrival of the preacher Balthasar Hubmayer in the city. Educated at Ingolstadt in the period of the Reuchlin controversy over the study of Hebraic texts, Hubmayer shared the violent anti-Semitism of his mentor, Johannes Eck.[22] In his sermons as cathedral preacher, Hubmayer dealt at great length with Jewish crimes, recounting stories of ritual murders of Christian children, desecrations of the host, and numerous insults against the Virgin. For three years he used his pulpit to excite latent hatred and fears, urging burghers once again to approach the town council and request the Jews' expulsion. In January 1519, in the interregnum following Emperor Maximilian I's death, the council recognized an opportunity, and it evicted the Jews, allowing them only five days to pack up or sell their belongings. In order to prevent their return should the new emperor reverse their action, the council decided to raze the ghetto and on the site of the former synagogue erect a Marian chapel. For this there was ample precedent: Nuremberg, Bamberg, Würzburg, and Rothenburg ob der Tauber were just a few of the South German cities in which Marian chapels had been built on the sites of former ghettos.[23]

Once the expulsion was complete, the Regensburg council employed laborers to demolish the ghetto. During the destruction of the synagogue, however, part of the roof collapsed, and a mason named Jacob Kern was buried beneath a pile of rubble. When his


fellow workers cleared the rocks away, they discovered Kern with blood flowing from his mouth, nose, and ears. He was rushed to his bed and prepared for death, whereupon his wife began praying to Mary, vowing to take his place at the work site if he would be spared. "Immediately," Regensburg's first printed miracle book tells us, Kern recovered and told the group assembled that the Virgin had appeared to comfort him in his unconsciousness.[24] That afternoon Kern's wife went off to help in the demolition of the ghetto, to be joined in a few days by Jacob himself.

As word of Kern's miraculous recovery spread throughout Regensburg, volunteers from every layer of the town—including even the aristocratic canons and the bishop of Regensburg cathedral—joined in the work of razing the synagogue and ghetto. Inspired by their example, one chronicler reported, hundreds of peasants flocked in from the surrounding countryside to cart away the rubble.[25] Thanks to the workers' fervor, the site was quickly cleared and a wooden shrine constructed, which the Regensburg bishop soon consecrated.

Even during the demolition work, a bizarre and carnivalesque atmosphere reigned. One day a group of patrician women proceeded to the site behind a banner emblazoned with the Virgin's image. For several hours they helped cart away stones before turning their attention to the synagogue's cemetery. After tearing down its stone wall and ripping up its tombstones, the women set a herd of pigs to forage through the graves. The tombstones, however, they conscientiously stacked and saved, to be used as the foundation for the future Marian chapel.[26]

Initially the cathedral preacher Hubmayer, Regensburg's bishop,


and the town council all cooperated to stimulate the cult among burghers and people from the surrounding vicinity. Hubmayer's influence in particular over the cult's early development is detectable in the choice of the chapel's appellation, "Fair Mary" (Schöne Maria), which not only connected Regensburg's Madonna with the triumphalist doctrines of the Immaculate Conception, but also harmonized with the preacher's personal attacks on the Jewish community for their numerous slanders against the Virgin. The title Fair Mary, then, emphasized both the Madonna's purity and her victory over Jewish detraction.[27]

In addition, the dedicatory name Church of the Fair Mary linked the Regensburg shrine with two other famous Marian churches in the adjacent duchy of Bavaria: the Church of Our Fair Lady (Unsere Schöne Frauenkirche) in Ingolstadt and the shrine of Our Lady in Altötting. Indeed, more than just names linked the three sites. Until 1509, a famous golden statue known as the "Fair Mary" had been housed in the Church of Our Fair Lady in Ingolstadt, having come to that church's treasury through a medieval marriage alliance between the Wittelsbach dukes and the French crown. Part of a collection of jewels and regalia known as the "French Treasure," this "Fair Mary" had been pledged to the Altötting canons by the duke of Bavaria-Landshut as security for loans he received during the civil war of 1503-1505. When the duke lost the war, the Altötting canons' hopes of retrieving their money vanished, and in 1509 they claimed their collateral. The "Fair Mary" remained at Altötting for almost three centuries, the most famous and valuable item in the church's possession.[28] Hubmayer had been a student in Ingolstadt during this period and had served for a time as parish priest in the Church of Our Fair Lady. In choosing the appellation for the shrine at Regensburg, the preacher lent his chapel luster by connecting it with a famous object and two already-distinguished sanctuaries.


For Hubmayer, the development of a popular pilgrimage within the Regensburg town walls validated the religious truth of his anti-Jewish message. And while the town council certainly shared his prejudices, a number of very practical benefits derived from their decision to transform the site of the former ghetto into a place of religious devotion. Because the expulsion of the Jews had been blatantly illegal, a shrine, especially one confirmed by numerous miracles beyond the original one of Jacob Kern's recovery, vindicated their unlawful action in the name of divine authority. During the first three years of the cult's existence, church scribes assiduously recorded more than seven hundred intercessions;[29] these were then published in multiple editions and sold at the chapel under the auspices of the town council. In addition, the development of a long-term successful pilgrimage promised the enormous benefit of helping to revive the town's sagging economy.

The civic and religious boosterism of Hubmayer and the city fathers soon bore fruit. Indeed, the pace at which the cult grew was astonishing. The miracle of Jacob Kern's recovery had occurred at the end of February 1519, and on March 25 the modest wooden chapel was completed. By June, the Regensburg council had secured a papal indulgence complete with the signatures of twenty-five cardinals. And in less than half a year's time, the Church of the Fair Mary had become one of the most popular pilgrimage sites in South Germany. By September—that is, in the six months following the church's consecration—seventy-four miracles had been reported. Even more amazing was the number of masses that were said during this time: a total of 3,684, or an average of 25 each day. In the first three years of the pilgrimage's existence this daily average decreased only slightly, to approximately 23, with a total of 25,374. The desire of visiting priests to say mass at one of the chapel's altars was said to be so intense that one would begin reciting the service before another was finished. Reports of chaos within the chapel were abundant.[30]


Not only priests, but droves of lay pilgrims as well clamored to see the new shrine, their numbers swelling most dramatically on those feast days when an indulgence was available at the church. On Pentecost in 1520, for example, one report estimated that twenty-seven thousand people were in attendance, and that same year on St. George's Day the count was set at fifty thousand.[31] Although early modern chroniclers are commonly accepted as having dramatically overestimated such figures, these estimates may ring more true than modern scholars are willing to admit. After the pilgrimage began, the Regensburg town council commissioned the minting of a commemorative medallion to be sold to pilgrims as souvenirs. Used as amulets against bad weather, the pain of childbirth, and disease, medallions like these were common devotional items at many late medieval German shrines. In 1519 alone, the town council at Regensburg sold more than 12,000 of these objects, and the following year the total climbed to almost 120,000.[32] Given the pattern of particularly heavy pilgrimage traffic on special feast days, these sales figures for medallions suggest that reports of twenty-five thousand, even fifty-thousand people visiting the church on a single day may not be exaggerated.

As attendance climbed, the same reports of abuses and excesses alleged at Wilsnack and Niklashausen began to circulate. Besides the standard complaint that people abruptly dropped all duties to run off to the Regensburg shrine, a variety of enthusiastic and sometimes hysterical behaviors at the chapel were cited as well: of pilgrims who fell suddenly before the statue of the Virgin that stood outside the shrine, prostrating themselves with outstretched arms before it or falling into hysterical fits; of those who danced in groups around the image. Although the prostrate posture was a routinized way of conducting prayers in the late Middle Ages, at least one chronicler reported that at Regensburg, the faithful fell before the


Madonna "as if they had been struck by lightning."[33] Some pilgrims reported apparitions in which the Virgin had assured them that their pilgrimage had freed some family member—father, mother, brother, or sister—from purgatory. Many arrived at the shrine with their work tools still in hand, a sign in some chroniclers' eyes that they were "bewitched." Although the giving of tools as votive gifts was a common practice in medieval rural society, symbolizing the votant through his or her occupation, in reports of the Regensburg pilgrimage the presence of tools became one more proof of the "false" and even diabolic inspiration of the cult.[34]

As at Niklashausen, apocalyptic sentiment was also present at Regensburg, with at least one preacher rising to speak of the world's impending doom. To ward off this imminent event, he commanded his audience to leave behind their hair for the Virgin as a gift.[35] To stop such unsolicited preaching and dampen religious enthusiasm at the site, the Regensburg town council soon enlisted Hubmayer and several monastic orders to circulate in the crowds and provide reassurance. In addition, they hired workers to carry away those who had fainted to places where they could be revived. Despite these precautions, outbreaks of enthusiasm continued to occur, unstoppable by Hubmayer and the other clergy at the shrine.[36]

We will never know whether these accounts are a faithful testimony to what transpired in the city's former ghetto. But the reports that appeared in contemporary historical chronicles and the pamphlets of the early Reformation certainly repeated many of the same criticisms and formulaic accusations regarding late medieval mass pilgrimages. In the case of Regensburg, spread of the shrine's reputation as a host of "pilgrimage fever" seems to have been aided in


part by the Regensburg artist Michael Ostendorfer, who in 1520 published a print of the event that was widely disseminated (fig. 4). Flying atop the humble Church of the Fair Mary in this picture is a banner emblazoned with an image of the Virgin and child and the crossed keys of St. Peter, seal of the city of Regensburg and symbol of the town council's patronage of the chapel. On either side of the church the last remnants of the Jewish ghetto can still be seen. Two processions approach from the right, one of priests and monks, the other of women. A third group nears from the left, scythes and sickles rising from the crowded mass. These bands, however, must stop outside the chapel because of the crush of pilgrims within. In the print's foreground, another large group, also waiting to enter the sanctuary, directs its attention to the stone statue of the Virgin standing in the square. Elevated on a pedestal, Mary holds the Christ child in one hand and a scepter in the other, a symbol of her role as the immaculately conceived "Queen of Heaven." Pilgrims clamor at her feet, some writhing in fits, others prostrating themselves on the ground in prayer.

Such a throng left behind a flood of offerings, including money, wax, clothing, grain, and livestock. Soon after the pilgrimage commenced, the stock of gifts had grown so vast that the town council provided Hubmayer with one still-standing Jewish house to use as a store. From this location, donations that were not needed for the upkeep of the chapel and its clergy were resold, and the proceeds saved for the building of a larger vaulted church. By 1525, over thirty thousand gulden had been collected for this purpose.[37]

Both Hubmayer and the town council had anxiously desired a successful devotion, yet soon after the processions to their city commenced the cult appeared a mixed blessing. Not only was the outpouring of religious enthusiasm at the shrine disturbing, but the town's preexistent sacred economy and its relations with the resident bishop were also being disrupted by the Fair Mary's success. The new Marian devotion soon displaced older, more established shrines in Regensburg, most notably one at the grave of St. Erhard located in the Lower Münster, an ancient imperial cloister. To preserve their devotion, the Franciscan preachers at the church commissioned a Marian statue and installed it beside the body of Erhard


to lure pilgrims to the church. Meanwhile, the cloister preacher denounced the shrine of the Fair Mary as an abomination. In his sermons he warned that pilgrims should not seek out the Virgin at the "stinking hole" of the new chapel, since Mary is present everywhere; only within the Lower Münster, however, could the faithful find the body of St. Erhard preserved intact.[38] Yet despite ingenious arguments like these, the Fair Mary's cult continued to grow. The rising tide of pilgrims making their way to Regensburg's former ghetto had introduced the specter of competition into the town's religious life.

The Fair Mary's success also exacerbated long-standing disputes between the town's council and its bishop. It was customary in the later Middle Ages to forward at least a quarter and sometimes as much as a third of the income from pilgrimages to the presiding bishop. Because the town council had acted on its own to expel the Jews and seize their property, it now claimed all rights of patronage over the new church. As early as 1519, their decision to withhold the bishop's customary share of the shrine's income caused a legal dispute that ground on until 1525. It was in these years, prompted in part by the controversies and chaos the Fair Mary caused, that support grew in the council for the evangelical doctrines of the early Reformation.

In the midst of these squabbles, in 1522, Regensburg's councilors approached Luther and requested him to send an evangelical advisor who would aid them in their efforts to reform the local Church and in their ongoing disputes with the bishop. Responding to their inquiry in 1523, Luther stipulated that the destruction of the Fair Mary was an essential prerequisite if Regensburgers desired religious reform. Three years earlier, in 1520, the reformer had already included the Fair Mary in a long list of "devilish" churches that should be razed.[39] Now, when writing to the town council in 1523, he was even more insistent about the devil's role in the cult's creation. After the expulsion of the Jews, he charged, Satan had seized the site of the former ghetto, working false miracles there in


the name of the Virgin to deceive the simple. To allow the pilgrimage to continue to prosper, or even to exist, was consequently to aid the devil in his ongoing conjurations at the site.[40]

By 1523, many in Regensburg and in Bavaria appeared ready to agree with Luther's assessment. An outbreak of the plague in the town late in 1521 had already sent the pilgrimage into decline. And although the traffic persisted throughout 1522 and 1523, the numbers had fallen off from the heyday of 1519-1521. By 1525, the shrine was drawing only scattered remnants of the faithful. In the dioceses of South Germany, conservative bishops had forbidden their laity from journeying to the Fair Mary, and in places as distant as Dinkelsbühl and Augsburg preachers actively denounced the cult. Even within Regensburg, the reform-minded now spoke out openly against the pilgrimage.[41]

When assessing the Fair Mary, everyone seemed to agree that it was a "false" cult, yet the pilgrimage's brief life had coincided with the beginning of the Reformation. In these years, the Protestant Reformers worked to popularize their radical critique of late medieval worship and saintly devotion. Although the shrine's pilgrimage evaporated quickly in the wake of the new evangelical doctrines, the Reformation's ongoing war against idolatry was to lend the Regensburg Fair Mary and other mass pilgrimage sites a lingering, if dubious, notoriety. Each of the major intellectual leaders of the early Reformation—Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, Martin Bucer, Heinrich Bullinger, and Andreas Karlstadt—rose in turn to attack pilgrimage, the cult of the saints, and late medieval worship practices generally. They were united in their distaste for shrines like those at Regensburg, yet each advanced varying reasons and motivations for expunging these devotions.[42]

For Luther, people's habit of "running off" to sites like the Church of the Fair Mary was unseemly, a waste of time and money. Pilgrimages sapped society's resources, and because they were intricately linked to the trade in indulgences, they sponsored "false"


notions of works righteousness. Although widely revered as an act of pious devotion, the pilgrimage was in Luther's mind but another component in a deceived religion which served to increase clerical greed. The image of anxious pilgrims willing to give their time and money encouraged the ecclesiastical hierarchy and the clergy to promote sites that were at best only marginally important, and at worst totally insignificant. Moreover, these journeys, which were thought to aid salvation and offer cures, appeared to provide the simple with an opportunity to barter with saintly patrons. In short, the cult of the saints inspired the widespread misconception that the Christian religion was nothing more than a system of commerce and exchange.

While the Saxon reformer was more extreme than most of his contemporaries in his denunciation of pilgrimage cults, his criticisms were surpassed by the emerging "reformed" theologians. In contrast to Bucer, Zwingli, and Bullinger, who argued for the complete purification of Christianity from these "heathen" idolatries, Luther refused to deny the saints any function in a renewed Christian religion. Dissociated from extravagant and "senseless" displays of religious enthusiasm, from clerical greed, and from "exchanged" miracles and indulgences, the saints could still be a powerful source of examples, helping to inculcate Christian rectitude and behavior. Only in this last sense, however, did Luther judge their veneration to be a matter of "indifference" (adiaphoron ). Those cults that he found particularly distasteful, like the Regensburg Fair Mary, however, the Saxon reformer denigrated as demonically inspired. By working "false" signs at such sites, he said, Satan was laboring to destroy the last remnants of a pure Christian faith.

In 1523, the same year of his letter to Regensburg's town council denouncing their part in the promotion of the spurious Fair Mary, the reformer entered into a bitter and protracted dispute with the North German diocese of Meissen over the cult of St. Benno, an eleventh-century bishop who had experienced an increase in popularity during the later Middle Ages. Armed with testimonies of Benno's miraculous cures and intercessions, officials of Duke George of Saxony had secured the bishop's canonization from Pope Adrian VI in 1523. The following spring, the conservative George planned an elaborate ceremonial exhumation of the saint. The cousin of Luther's protector Frederick the Wise, George intended


Benno's elevation as a dramatic affirmation of traditional religious practice vis-à-vis the growing Lutheran movement in Germany. He sent invitations to numerous German princes, including Frederick, and requested that the nobles quash criticism of the event. Upon learning of the impending elevation, however, Luther preached a sermon at Wittenberg that denounced the event as an "assault of Satan." He published the treatise under the title Against the New Idol and the Old Devil Soon to Be Resurrected at Meissen , thereby opening a tractarian battle over the cult. For Luther, the elevation to be enacted in this diocesan capital was nothing more than a "fool's game ..., a lie and deceit of the devil."[43] To those who protested that Benno's cult had been confirmed by miracles, the reformer responded that the saint's signs were real, but demonic. Thus, like many later sixteenth-century Protestants, Luther admitted the fact of these miraculous proofs even as he located their origins in diabolic agency.

However reasonable he could be in his attitude toward the saints as pious models, Luther always demonstrated an enormous distaste for "false" outpourings of devotion like those at Meissen and Regensburg. Although the demonic critique of contemporary religious practices was not dominant in Luther's works, he shared it with other early Protestant leaders such as Bucer.[44] In the more generally addressed pamphlets (Flugschriften ) of early Protestant propaganda, the devil was not cited as the primary reason for the popularity of pilgrimages, though he was sometimes invoked as the ultimate cause of the "false" devotion of the later Middle Ages. In these formulaic statements, rather, the devil usually functioned as a kind of embodiment of mortal failings and credulity, not as a maleficent and cunningly shrewd manipulator of events. Instead early Protestant pamphleteers directed their rage at the social evils of


traditional religion, thus joining their voices to an already powerful strain of anticlerical sentiment. Willing to stop at nothing to bilk credulous lay persons out of their money, they averred, the clergy were the true cause of Germany's devotional excesses. In search of riches, bishops and priests had "duped" people into believing that ultimately useless acts like pilgrimage and prayers to the saints produced aid. As for the "pious good works" of the late medieval Church, these were deemed lavish excesses that squandered society's scarce resources. Finally, by teaching people to revere earthly places and objects—shrines, relics, and images—the clergy in effect stressed material things over the things of the spirit. The focus on discrete sites fostered in pilgrims the belief that God could not be approached in prayer everywhere, but had rather to be propitiated at certain places through specific rituals of self-sacrifice.[45]

Though united in their distaste for the "worship" of the saints, Protestant writers of pamphlets sometimes voiced various, even conflicting explanations for the saints' miracles. Here both great theologians and writers of modest tracts faced the same logical problem: if the shrines so scattered throughout the German countryside had indeed provided healing and intercession, how could their saintly patrons now be judged false and impious? Even before the onset of the Reformation, the Renaissance humanist Desiderius Erasmus had provided one answer to this question. In his famous colloquy A Pilgrimage for Religion's Sake , he had lambasted the clergy for promoting fraudulent miracles at shrines.[46] Similarly, Protestant propagandists insisted that the reports of wonders that emanated from some sites—the Saxon shrine Wilsnack being one persistent example—were cases of clerical fraud. Within that church's distinguished lineage of critics they particularly celebrated the presence of the condemned heretic and Reformation "precursor" John Huss,


whose denunciation of Wilsnack's "miracles" as clerical forgeries was powerful ammunition in the attack on traditional religion.[47]

Despite this frequent charge of fraud, not every miracle could be called clerical artifice. During the decades immediately preceding the Reformation, thousands of intercessions had been reported at various places throughout Germany; indeed, certain miracles possessed veracity precisely because they were so common. As a result, the reformers, in trying to expunge popular appetite for stories of saintly thaumaturgy and divine intervention, were often stopped short by an enduring, conservative belief in supernaturalism. Although they insisted that tangible signs of divine affirmation were unnecessary for those who possessed faith, their audience longed for more concrete testimony of God's approval.

Consequently, among lay Protestants a tendency to equivocate was evident in the first years of the Reformation. In discussing early Protestant iconoclasm, for example, Robert Scribner has observed that conflicting impulses and essentially traditional motivations underlay the popular destruction of religious images, a practice in large part consonant with the medieval exercise of "trying" the saints. When religious paintings and statues had ceased to work intercession in the later Middle Ages, they were often ritually "embarrassed" by being defaced, thrown into a river, or smashed to bits. The image's inability to defend itself against such treatment, in essence, proved once and for all its worthlessness. In the early Reformation, similarly, individual and group iconoclasts would conduct rites of humiliation and trial on once-revered but now denigrated conduits of power. In this sense, iconoclasm was as much a didactic experience for the crowds witnessing these acts as it was a pious exercise and affirmation of the new doctrines for those who waged the destruction. The object was to prove, both to the image breaker himself and to his observers, that the magic that had so recently flowed through the painting or sculpture was impotent when confronted with the power of faith.[48]


Inherent in these demonstrations was the belief, not that religious images were ineffective, but that their efficacy had derived from false, magical sources. The authors of Reformation pamphlets and treatises on the supernatural, then, sometimes had no choice but to consider the ultimate source of the numinous wonder-working that had so recently and vigorously functioned in the German countryside. In one such pamphlet from the early Reformation, for example, the origins of the Regensburg Fair Mary pilgrimage were attributed to a belief in the potency of Jewish magic. Entitled "A Conversation Between Four People About Their Views on the Pilgrimage to the Grimmental," this anonymous work from 1523 or 1524 was typical of much early Reformation propaganda.[49] Based on a "dialogue" between traditionalists and reformists about various cults, the tract focused on condemning the famous mass pilgrimage to the Grimmental, which had begun in the 1490s when a statue of the Virgin had begun to weep. More generally, though, the work was a catalogue of contemporary religious abuses. At one point in the conversation, a participant posed the following telling question: "What do you think of the Regensburg pilgrimage, where many people came in many different states of excitement, young and old, women and children, some with banners, others with sickles?" Another participant, an artisan, theorized that the pilgrimage was probably caused by Jewish magic. By recounting other instances where Jews had used animal hearts and incantations to force people to perform bizarre acts, he reasoned that the Regensburg pilgrimage had likely been caused by some kind of spell the Jews had cast on the site of their synagogue. After that structure's destruction and the erection of a Christian chapel, this magic had continued to work miracles and lure pilgrims by the thousand to Regensburg.

Although this particular tract associated the Regensburg pilgrimage with Jewish sorcery, most mature Protestant polemic pointed to the devil and the traditional clergy to explain Regensburg's popularity. In the 1536 edition of his famous Chronicle , for instance, Sebastian Franck judged the shrine a product of "the devil's swin-


dling" and clerical greed.[50] Even more vitriolic in his treatment of the cult was Caspar Goltwurm, who made the Fair Mary into a symptom of a disease that Germans had long suffered. In his Book of Wonders and Miraculous Signs , published in Frankfurt in 1557, Goltwurm undertook the ambitious project of cataloguing every wonder that had occurred since the beginning of time and classifying each according to its cause.[51] He did not deny the reality of the miracles worked at Regensburg, or in the traditional Church generally. The question was why they had occurred. His theory was that Satan had produced them to encourage idolatry. Not the least of these "atrocious public idolatries" was, of course, the Church of the Fair Mary. Although Goltwurm considered the cathedral preacher Hubmayer's original motives in promoting the cult to be pure—for the destruction of the Jewish ghetto was "a Christian work with good intent"—the devil had seized upon this otherwise pious opportunity to work his deceits. "He did not abandon his ancient, cunning style"; indeed, he worked through Hubmayer to draw many mad and senseless people to the church. Soon, however, God had inspired pious Christian teachers to preach against the diabolic cult—a reference to the rise of the Reformation. Dealing the Fair Mary one last polemical blow, the theologian concluded his account of the Regensburg events with the "cleansing" of the sanctuary in 1541, when Emperor Charles V, attending the imperial diet in the city, paid a visit to the now-infamous church. Seeing the numerous votives that the "mad and deluded" had left behind at the shrine, he ordered that everything be cleared away and burnt. Thus the abominable Fair Mary was finally renounced—a conclusion doubly sweet for the Protestant Goltwurm because a Catholic prince had performed the purification rite.

Attacks like these were not confined to theological treatises and pamphlets, for the Reformation quickly adopted a rich visual imagery to convey its message to those who could not read or hear it. In 1542, Duke Ottheinrich of the small but important Upper Palatinate became one of the first princes on Bavaria's borders to introduce a Lutheran church ordinance. In the decades that followed, the terri-


tory became an important center for the Protestant movement in southeastern Germany, and actively sought to export the Reformation to her neighbors. Throughout the 1540s and 1550s, Ottheinrich's court artist, Matthias Gerung, published numerous broadsides designed to destroy any residual popular devotion to the Roman Church. The subjects of these prints are often typical of Protestant polemic, showing, for instance, Christ damning the Roman clergy to hell or the devil tearing up an indulgence while welcoming priests into the inferno.

Often, though, Gerung directed his attacks more specifically at the religious practices of Bavaria and South Germany. In several prints, the artist explicitly related Old Testament symbols of idolatry to contemporary shrines. In his "The Worship of the Golden Calf" and "The Destruction of the Golden Calf" (fig. 5), for example, he depicted the famous Old Testament "false" god spoken of in Exodus 32 installed atop a contemporary Bildstock , a column on which pilgrimage images and medallions were displayed and venerated in the fields and forests of late medieval Bavaria. Believed to confer protection from harmful spirits like the wandering "poor souls" from purgatory, these picture columns called the faithful to pray to local shrine patrons to watch over the surrounding countryside. Gerung's identification of the Golden Calf with widely diffused contemporary religious practices was not just a condemnation of an abstract "idolatry"; he was raising a battle cry to rid the South German landscape of the magical, heathen cult of pilgrimages, as represented by the Bildstock .[52]

In another print entitled "The Threefold Idolatry of the Roman Church" (fig. 6), the artist shows three groups engaged in the worship of false gods. In the left foreground, a group of people kneels before a three-headed beast representing the papacy. To the right, a second group of burghers and nobles worships the goddess Fortuna, who doles out crowns and vestments to her wealthy admirers. Cloven hooves identify the otherwise beguiling woman as


an evil goddess. In the center of the print, several figures clamor around a statue that recalls Michael Ostendorfer's famous engraving of the Fair Mary of 1520 (see fig. 4). Rather than showing the admiring throng standing before an image of the Virgin, however, Gerung depicts the worshippers gathered around a seminaked male deity with tree boughs for arms and flames billowing from the left appendage. The figure represents the ancient Canaanite god of fertility, Moloch, who required human sacrifice. Pilgrims to his shrines were required to place their hands within a hollow in his breast cavity, an opening that appears in Gerung's depiction. They would then be drawn into the idol by means of a conveyorlike contraption, to be consumed in a fiery immolation.[53] In the background we see the evils that have befallen contemporary society—war, pestilence, and murder—as a result of the worship of "false" gods. While not every viewer will have understood the difficult and often contrived symbolism in this image, Gerung's print drew explicit parallels between the ancient "whoring after false gods" and the contemporary situation. Quoting Ostendorfer's depiction of the extraordinary events at Regensburg made the message clear: revered images, shrines, and pilgrimages did not just deflect attention away from the true God; they were false forms of worship that brought disaster and damnation in their wake.

What impact did attacks like these have in Bavaria, a territory relatively far from the center of religious controversy? Scholars have long recognized a kinship between the Wittelsbach duchy and the Counter-Reformation. Yet while it is true that Bavaria eventually became a bastion of Counter-Reformation Catholicism, Roman hegemony was only achieved by rooting out those who called for the evangelical reform of the Church.

The Wittelsbach dukes, in fact, were among the first German princes to condemn the new doctrines and to punish those who preached or printed them. Already in 1523, a conventicle of Bavarian bishops meeting at Mühldorf adopted measures designed


to keep Reformation teaching in check within the territory. Capital punishment, though rarely used, was one means promised to stamp out heterodoxy. In addition, the Wittelsbach princes set themselves the task of eliminating abuses among their own clergy. Concubinage, sacramental and burial fees, and the worst excesses of the indulgence trade were prohibited. Despite the high aims of the reforming program formulated at Mühldorf, however, disorganization and disaffection among Bavaria's clergy quickly plagued its realization.[54] As a result, Protestants continued to multiply in the region during the first years of the Reformation.

Certain general patterns characterize the diffusion of the Reformation within Bavaria's various dioceses. During the 1520s, the new doctrines first found entry into the province through the publication of Protestant books and the wandering of evangelical preachers. This initial evangelical wave was not, as one might expect, a predominantly urban phenomenon. It penetrated deep into the countryside, finding voice as a protest movement against the clergy, against their control over the sacramental system and economy of salvation, and against pilgrimage, fasting, and the mass. In the wake of the Peasants' War of 1525, the Lutheran movement's disavowal of peasant grievances, and the Wittelsbachs' increasingly determined efforts to isolate and root out Zwinglians, Lutherans, and Anabaptists in their territory, support for this first evangelical movement waned.[55]

By 1550, however, a second wave of Protestantism was gaining ground. Bolstered by the adoption of Lutheran church ordinances in many independent territories within and around Bavaria and by the successful Protestant reformations at Augsburg and Regens-


burg, numerous groups in Bavaria now demanded reform. In contrast to the first stirrings of evangelical sentiment, this second Reformation was concentrated primarily in the Bavarian nobility and among the prosperous burghers, artisans, and patricians of the territory's towns. At Straubing, a Lutheran community was already flourishing in the 1550s, despite the city's function as a center of Wittelsbach state administration. In Munich, Protestants in the town council demanded Lutheran reforms from the Wittelsbach dukes well into the late 1550s. At that time, the Bavarian state's increasing determination to enforce religious uniformity placed the town's elite cadre of Protestants on the defensive, and many later emigrated beyond Bavaria's borders. Although eventually contained at Munich, evangelicals persisted in numerous other towns throughout the territory in the second half of the sixteenth century.[56]

This later reform movement has often been characterized as a "chalice movement" (Kelchbewegung ), because in 1553 its adherents lobbied the Wittelsbach duke successfully for the establishment of communion with both bread and wine. Besides demanding the lay cup, however, the reformers advocated the abolition of fasting and priestly celibacy and denied the doctrine of the necessity of good works. In short, they criticized and rejected traditional religious practices, including the invocation of the saints, pilgrimages, and various ecclesiastical rites. In all important respects, then, this second wave of the Reformation in Bavaria was not just a "chalice movement," but an evangelical one. During the 1550s and 1560s, many towns in the diocese of Freising and in the Inn River valley (Innviertel ) of southeastern Bavaria were won over to its program.[57]

Although Bavaria's dukes remained firmly tied to Rome, the Reformation had introduced confusion into the traditional religious life of the territory. For Bavaria's pilgrimages and saints' cults, the


appearance of the new doctrines was nothing short of disastrous, producing decline and disaffection. Already in 1523, gangs were assaulting peasants en route to Altötting, incited by Luther-inspired preachers in towns around the famous shrine who denounced the cult of the Black Madonna; as a result, the once-popular devotion sank into a recession from which it would not begin to recover until the 1560s. During these years, the shrine's annual revenue declined precipitously and continually, until, in 1560, only seventy-nine florins were collected in the offering box.[58]

The events taking place at Altötting and Regensburg were occurring throughout Bavaria in this period as preachers armed with the new evangelical doctrines rose to attack formerly pious acts like pilgrimage and prayer to the saints. Of course, this criticism did not penetrate Bavaria uniformly; in some places, traditional processions may well have survived relatively unaffected by the Reformation's influence. The general picture, however, is one of decline, as the evidence of miracle records conclusively demonstrates. Of the more than twelve thousand surviving records of miracles from late medieval Bavarian shrines, the overwhelming majority are concentrated in the three decades before 1520. With the coming of the Reformation, this flood of miracle reporting slowed to a trickle.[59]

At only one shrine, that of the Upper Bavarian village of Tuntenhausen, did the clergy continue to print the thin miracle books that were otherwise common in the later Middle Ages. Yet despite the longevity of this publishing enterprise, which persisted throughout the Reformation, a gradual decline occurred in the number of editions produced. During the 1530s, the shrine's books appeared at least annually, but in the 1540s, only two editions were printed, and in the 1550s, only one.[60] These works are instructive of the changes that Protestantism produced in Bavaria.

Beginning in 1530, the redactors of the Tuntenhausen pamphlets introduced an unusual feature which shows that even in this re-


mote region many were apparently doubting the efficacy of the saints. At the conclusion of each miracle book the church's priests inserted a statement alleging that the wonders reprinted in the book (usually forty-odd) were only some of a much larger number—which they cited exactly—of testimonies recorded during a specific period. Such disclosures appeared in all but one of the miracle books published between 1530 and 1551. According to these figures, Tuntenhausen's Madonna worked a wildly fluctuating number of intercessions in these years, and more than 6,400 in total. Tuntenhausen, however, was not one of Bavaria's great transregional pilgrimage sites; it was a medium-sized shrine located in a somewhat sparsely populated area. This sum, then, is not credible when compared to surviving records of the same time kept at other sites. At the territory's "most miraculous" late medieval shrine, St. Rasso's in Grafrath near Munich, for instance, 5,173 wonders were recorded in the fifteenth and early sixteenth century—over a seventy-two-year period.[61]

Laboring against widespread doubt about saintly intercession, the Tuntenhausen clergy were clearly striving to retain their adherents with an imposing display of numbers. Most clergy elsewhere seem simply to have abandoned their exertions in the wake of general disaffection.[62] Even at Tuntenhausen, the lavish claims of numerous miracles failed to stem the cult's ultimate, Reformation-induced decline, which was furthered after 1550 by the formal adoption of Protestant reforms in several small, independent territories nearby. By 1570, the clerical overseer of this pilgrimage reported to his episcopal superiors at Freising, "The devotion of the people has partly dissolved through Luther's swindling," and the pilgrimage "by which I have been supported has largely disappeared."[63]


Indeed, throughout Bavaria the evangelicals' denunciation of miracle promotion, their symbolic inversion of the saints and their shrines into a "false" and demonic perversion of religion, and their scathing attack on the "excesses" of late medieval devotion sent pilgrimage shrines into rapid decline. The scores of simple miracle stories that until then had legitimated shrines no longer drew the faithful to worship.


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