Pope makes historic visit to hallowed Lutheran site
The place where Pope Benedict XVI Friday delivered a groundbreaking plea for greater Christian unity with praise for Reformation pioneer Martin Luther is full of historic symbolism.
The Augustinian monastery in the eastern German city of Erfurt housed the young Luther for six years. It was here he celebrated, in 1507, his first mass. He later said the holy site informed his work and thought.
A decade later, Luther, then at Wittenberg, began his dissent from Rome that led to the Protestant Reformation in Europe, splitting the western Christian Church.
A hallowed site for Germany's 24 million Lutherans, the monastery, dating from 1277 and badly damaged in a British bombing raid in 1945, was certified as a "national heritage site of special cultural interest" in 2004.
Erfurt itself is a picturesque city of nearly 200,000 people and was known in the Middle Ages as the "Rome of the North" for its array of some 30 spires and steeples.
The pope asked for his meeting with top Protestants to be extended to 30 minutes to underline the importance of reaching out to other faiths, despite his breakneck schedule during the four-day trip to his native Germany.
He also led an historic ecumenical service for a mixed congregation that included Chancellor Angela Merkel, herself the daughter of a Lutheran pastor.
After his visit to Erfurt, some 300 kilometres (200 miles) southwest of his first stop, Berlin, Benedict was due to travel to a chapel in the nearby tiny community of Etzelsbach to hold vespers.
The area around Erfurt was also home to one of the largest and most resilient Catholic communities in communist East Germany, which was officially hostile to organised religion, before the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.
© 2011 AFP