Along the way, there are many narrow side streets and alleys to explore. One of our detours led us to the Old Synagogue, now a museum, and we decided to visit. Dating back to 1094, it is one of the oldest Synagogues in Europe and an important part of the town’s religious history. There’s a display of gold and silver treasure called the “Erfurt Schatz,” or Erfurt treasure, which was buried by a Jewish Merchant in 1349 and discovered in 1998 near the Merchant’s Bridge.
Our next stop was Cathedral Square. It was packed with rides and booths. Erfurt has its own Oktoberfest, which was about to open.
At the far end of the enormous square, two huge churches sat side-by-side on a small hill overlooking the city.
We took the wide staircase that led up to the cathedrals where we could hear a soloist warming up for a free concert that evening. We wandered inside St. Severus, the larger of the two churches, where Martin Luther was ordained and preached, and admired its impressive stained glass windows and huge altar.
From the top of the stairs, we had a perfect view out over the square, bordered by attractive houses, to the city beyond. Judging by the many spires we saw, Erfurt has an unusually large number of churches. That is because the town became a spiritual center in the Middle Ages, and there are still more than 30 churches today. In fact, at one time, every Catholic order had a monastery in Erfurt.
One that we did not want to miss was the Augustine Monastery, built by Augustinian hermits in the thirteenth century. It was where Martin Luther lived when he was preparing to become a Catholic priest and a short walk from the Merchant’s Bridge.
Inside the gates, we located St. Augustine Church, where Luther had his first communion. It was late in the day, and we had the church to ourselves. Inside the dark, silent space, the enormous stained glass windows glowed in the late afternoon sun.
We found the spot where Luther said his daily prayers and looked up to see the white rose that became his symbol, and the symbol of today’s Lutherans.
Afterwards, we wandered through the rest of the complex. Some of the buildings were quite modern and must have replaced the originals. We later learned those had suffered from neglect and were beyond repair. But the new buildings nicely complemented the originals.
The monastery is a Protestant conference center and hostel – with many guests – so we could only explore the grounds. Once outside the gates, we returned to town down a tidy and peaceful lane, fully satisfied with our stay in Erfurt.