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In 2004, archaeologists found a stone seat at the Luther House

The latrine from stone at Luther House in Wittenberg
The latrine from stone at Luther House in Wittenberg. (Photo: Stiftung Luthergedenkstätten in Sachsen-Anhalt)

Did Martin Luther really gain his central insights for the Reformation on the toilet? There is a lot of speculation about the exact place where Martin Luther learned to understand that people experience divine grace not through good works, but through faith alone. This insight eased his conscience and liberated him from the nagging fear that one had to deliver a substantial enough amount of penitence before being judged by a punitive God.

The monk suffered from chronic constipation

The Reformer himself does not make a mystery out of the location of his insight. In the table talks we read that he himself has called the place of discovery "locus"; which is "place", or "in cloaca", which means "on the toilet, on the loo". "This art was given to me by the Holy Sprit on this Cloaca on the tower."

Luther suffered from chronic constipation and therefore spent a lot of time on the toilet. It may well be that he had his spiritual liberation experience on the place where he also experienced physical relief. "There I began to understand God's justice as one where the righteous lives through God's gift, which is through faith (…) Then I felt like totally newborn, and through open gates I entered paradise", Luther describes his happy emotions..

In 2004, archaeologists discovered a stone seat

Or did Luther simply talk about his study above the toilet? Whether in the study or on the toilet: Martin Luther's insights about the merciful God were most probably not only due to a sudden flash of inspiration at a certain location, but were the result of a long struggle over the course of many years, with self-doubts and fear, in dialogue with himself and with God.

For a long time it was unknown where this "cloaca" had been. In Summer 2004, archaeologists discovered Martin Luther's latrine on the site of the Luther House in Wittenberg. They found a stone seat, 30 centimetres wide, with a drain. But even this find can not completely secure the opinion of many scholars that the Reformer indeed has had his central insight of the Reformation on the toilet.