Legacy of Protestant Reformation celebrated at new exhibition

Dr Jonathan Mattison (left), museum curator with Edward Stevenson, Grand Master of Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, at the opening of the exhibition
Dr Jonathan Mattison (left), museum curator with Edward Stevenson, Grand Master of Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, at the opening of the exhibition

A major exhibition marking the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation has officially opened at the Museum of Orange Heritage in Belfast.

‘Staunch and True’ examines the impact and legacy of the momentous event, and its enduring relevance in terms of theology, politics and wider society.

Rev Mervyn Gibson, grand secretary of Grand Orange Lodge, reading an old Bible presented by Sandy Row True Blues LOL 15 to the Ladies LOL 2 in 1890

Rev Mervyn Gibson, grand secretary of Grand Orange Lodge, reading an old Bible presented by Sandy Row True Blues LOL 15 to the Ladies LOL 2 in 1890

In October 1517, Martin Luther nailed his ‘95 Theses’ on the castle door in Wittenberg in Germany – an act widely seen as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, which spread throughout Europe.

Focusing on Luther’s principle role in what was a watershed moment for Christianity, the exhibition also explores the impact of pre-1517 reformers and how figures within the Loyal Orange Institution have played their part in fanning the ‘spreading flame’.

The Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, Edward Stevenson, formally opened the exhibition.

He said: “As an organisation wedded to the reformed faith and based on Biblical principles, it is only natural that we should pause in this 500th anniversary year of the Reformation and celebrate, not merely the events of 1517 and the 16th Century, but the impact and legacy these events have bequeathed to the modern world.

A biography of William Tyndale, a leading figure in the Reformation, with a bullethole in it from the start of the Irish Civil War when anti-treaty forces occupied Grand Lodge headquarters in Dublin in 1922

A biography of William Tyndale, a leading figure in the Reformation, with a bullethole in it from the start of the Irish Civil War when anti-treaty forces occupied Grand Lodge headquarters in Dublin in 1922

“Our latest major exhibition provides an informative insight into the historical context of the Reformation and how its powerful legacy impacted and inspired future generations.”

The exhibition looks at a number of key protagonists in the story of the Reformation.

Beginning with Martin Luther, who nailed his 95 theses to a door at Wittenberg on October 31, 1517, the exhibition charts the path and the legacy of the Reformation through to the present day.

“There were a number of earlier figures who were important, but it was Martin Luther who broke the dam,” said Dr Jonathan Mattison, curator at the Museum of Orange Heritage.

“The exhibition looks at theological aspects of the Reformation as well as its impact on everyday life through politics, arts, music, education, economics and architecture.”

The displays make references to artists like Rembrant who focused on the secular aspect of Old and New Testament stories rather than the previously grandoise Biblical imagery.

Dr Mattison told of a famous musician who was shaped by the Reformation.

He said: “Johann Sebastian Bach was heavily influenced by Luther’s writings and the Protestant Reformation. Well over three-quarters of his 1,000 pieces were drawn from Biblical inspiration. He ended a lot of pieces with Soli Deo Gloria, To God Alone be the Glory.”

Key local men also feature in the story including Jeremiah Menelly, Dr Thomas Barnado, Rev Dr Thomas Drew and The ‘Big Vicar’ Cyril Elliot.

Dr Mattison said: “The printing press really took off in the 16th century and the ideas of Luther were able to spread very quickly.

“The other key thing was the translation of the Bible into different languages, which moved it away from being the preserve of the educated elite.”

To that end the exhibition features a number of translated Bibles as well as a lifesize replica of a 16th century printing press.

Also among the exhibits is a book damaged by a bullet during the Irish Civil War when anti-treaty forces occupied Grand Lodge headquarters in Dublin.

The exhibition will run at the Cregagh Road museum until the end of November.

The Museum of Orange Heritage is open Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 5pm. Group bookings can be made by arrangement.

The exhibition opening comes ahead of a major rally to mark the Reformation anniversary in Co Armagh next month. Members of the Loyal Orders will take part in a procession through Portadown on Saturday May 6, prior to a religious service at Shamrock Park. The latter is due to start at 7.15pm.