Martin Luther's Polish Revolution

Martin Luther's Polish Revolution
Hendrik Schmidt/dpa via AP

ast year, Playmobil issued one of its best-selling and most controversial figurines yet, a three-inch Martin Luther, with quill, book, and cheerful pink plastic face. This mini-Luther celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation: throughout 2017, in Germany and beyond, a flood of re-enactments, conferences, and state ceremonies remembered the Saxon monk's opening attack on medieval Catholicism in autumn 1517. The packed “Luther Year” has now drawn to a close, but 2018 marks 500 years since the Lutheran Reformation's arrival in the kingdom where it was to enjoy some of its most spectacular, ground-breaking early successes—Poland.

Poland has a reputation for being impeccably, historically Roman Catholic—the land of Pope John Paul II, Jesuit churches and popular folk piety. A Lutheran Poland, as part of the Protestant world, today requires some serious re-imagining of European history. Yet, however improbable it sounds, Poland has a claim to be one of the major birthplaces of the European Reformation—as scholars back in the 19th century well knew, penning thick tomes on this problem. It was the 20th century's total wars, extreme nationalisms, and crazy-paving redrawing of borders which obscured this story from view, removing it from the familiar Reformation histories we tell, retell, and remember today.

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