Charles V placed Luther under an Imperial Ban, essentially an empire-wide kill order. At Luther House in Wittenberg, I read the edict of Worms from Charles the V: We strictly order that you shall refuse to give Martin Luther hospitality, lodging, food or drink; neither shall anyone, by word or deed, security or openly, succor or assist him by counsel or help. But in whatever place you meet him, you shall take him prisoner and deliver him safely back to us. Furthermore we command you, that no one shall date to buy, sell, read, copy, print or cause to copy or print any writings of Martin Luther.
On May 4, 1521, Luther’s longtime supporter and friend with means, Frederick the Wise, arranged for him to be abducted on his journey home from Worms and hidden away in one of the thirteen castles he owned. In the Thuringia forest, friendly raiders on horseback armed with crossbows captured Luther, blindfolded him, and delivered him to Wartburg Castle, no doubt saving the outlaw. Luther had to conceal his identity, take on the assumed name “Knight George,” and reside in the seclusion of Wartburg Castle for nearly a year (May 1521 until March 1522). At one point, Luther was forced to dress up as a woman to evade being identified. Luther used the time to study and write extensively. Marty adds, “Luther wrote more in his ten months cooped up in the castle than most scholars could in ten years.” For the first time in German history, Luther translated the New Testament from the original Greek, a feat he accomplished in eleven weeks. Since Wartburg Castle is situated atop a 600-foot ridge, several Luther historians believe this inspired him to write the hymn A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. First published in 1529, no copies of the first edition survive. Luther House has the only known copy of the second edition printed in 1533. Notwithstanding an empire-wide kill order against him, Luther courageously produced the German Bible, a Bible accessible to all, in the common tongue. Luther’s Bible had a profound influence in Germany and codified the modern German language we know and appreciate today.