The city is in Prussian Saxony and was founded by Albert the Bear (d. 1170). He had conquered the surrounding territory from the Slavs and replaced them by German colonists, especially by Flemings from the lower Rhine. These colonists settled near the citadel fortified against the Slavs on the boundary, and called the spot Wittenborg (white mountain). Albert's son, Bernhard, became Duke of Saxony, and founded the Ascanian line of he Dukes of Saxony. His grandson, Albert II (1260-98), was the ancestor of the line of Saxe-Wittenberg whose capital was Wittenberg. In 1293 the city received its franchises. In 1356 the electoral dignity was granted to the Dukes of Saxe- Wittenberg. When the line became extinct in 1422, the country fell to Frederick the Warlike of Wettin and his descendants. During the reigns of Frederick the Wise (1486-1525) and his two successors, Wittenberg became once more the capital of the country. After the battle of Muhlberg (1547) the Emperor Charles V entered Wittenberg as a conqueror and took the electoral dignity from John Frederick. Wittenberg and the Electoral domain were given to the Albertine line, who retained it until it was transferred to Prussia in 1815.
In 1238 a Franciscan monastery was founded at Wittenberg, and in 1365 a monastery of the Hermits of St. Augustine. There were two churches, the town-church and the castle-church. In 1892 the latter was restored to its old appearance; it contains fine pictures by the two Lucas Cranachs, and interesting tombs. Since 1858 a Catholic parish has also existed at Wittenberg. It contains 860 persons ; the Protestant population numbers 19,500.
The university was founded by Frederick the Wise and was opened, 18 Oct., 1502. Professor Martin Polich of Leipzig was its first rector. Funds were provided by the benefices, which belonged to the collegiate chapter of All Saints connected with the castle-church, being increased to eighty; the canons were to be the professors of the university. The theological faculty became the most distinguished of the four faculties. Luther was a member of it; he first lectured on philosophy, and from 1509 he lectured also on theology. On 31 Oct., 1517, he fastened his theses against indulgences on the castle-church. As the students were chiefly from Northern Germany the university was an important factor in the spread of Protestantism. Wittenberg was one of the first cities to accept Luther's doctrine. As early as 25 Oct., 1521, the Augustinians suppressed private Masses. From New Year, 1522, the Lutheran service was used in the town-church and the communion given under both kinds. In 1523 Bugenhagen became the first Lutheran pastor of Wittenberg. During Luther's stay at the Wartburg, Carlstadt had begun the Iconoclastic outbreak. Luther, however, hastened back and restored order.
Among the associates of Luther at Wittenberg were: Melanchthon, who in union with Luther reorganized the university on a Humanistic basis, rejecting Scholasticism ; Johannes Bugenhagen; Justus Jonas; Kaspar Cruciger; Georg Major; and Matthias Flacius Illyricus. Although the professors taught, and wrote learned and popular works, which were circulated throughout the world by the printers Johann Grunenberg, Melchior Lotter, and Hans Lufft, these two occupations were not the limit of their activities. They also went into the different cities to organize the Protestant system of congregations and schools ; thus Bugenhagen went to Brunswick, Hamburg, and Hildesheim ; Amsdorft went to Magdenburg; Jonas to Halle and Ratisbon. All these circumstances made Wittenberg the chief school of Protestant theology. In the doctrinal disputes that soon broke out the position of the theological faculty had great influence. Among the later theologians should be mentioned: Paul Eber (d. 1569); Leonhard Hutter (d. 1616); Ægidius Bunnius (d. 1603); Polycarp Leyser (d. 1610); Johannes Forster (d. 1556); and Abraham Calov (d. 1686). Theology was the great study of Wittenberg, and it cast the other faculties into the shade. Yet the university had also distinguished scholars in the faculty of law : Henning Goden, the last Catholic provost of the castle-church (d. 1521), and Jerome Schurff (d. 1554); and in that of medicine : Salomon Alberti (d. 1600), Daniel Sennert (d. 1637), and Konrad Viktor Schneider (d. 1680).
From the beginning of the eighteenth century the fame of the university was a thing of the past. The theologians of Wittenberg, who clung to the old and antiquated methods, had no share in the Pietistic revival of Protestantism. In 1815 the university was closed; in 1817 it was united with the University of Halle, which since then has been called the University of Halle-Wittenberg. The old university building is now a barrack, while the Augusteum, which also served for university purposes, has been used as a seminary for preachers since 1817. Part of the old library is at Halle, and part is still kept at the seminary for preachers.
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