Diet of Worms~Martin Luther

Ah, Research. It leads you down a twisting turning rabbit trail.

I wanted my heroine, in 1880 Montana Territory to be impoverished by her worthless husband, who spends all her money, dies and leaves her alone in the merciless west. But I wanted her to still have some unknown valuable thing.

I came up with an old, old family Bible. Her worthless husband somehow knew it was valuable and he mortgaged it. A nice, cruel moment of betrayal for poor Cassie.

Well, turns out that Bible, which the Banker forecloses on but kindly agreeds to work hard to find it’s true value, sends the book back east only to find out it’s a Gutenberg Bible worth………………………

 (insert cricket chirp here)

That’s right. I can’t find out worth WHAT????

I can find out all about it being printed! I know Mr. Gutenberg’s life story! I can find out what it’s worth NOW! I can find out how many copies exist NOW! I even found out where each and every one of those Gutenberg Bibles are and what condition they’re in NOW!

But I know antiquities always had value. I know it because…Louis L’Amour told me in To The Far Blue Mountains. Barnabas Sackett, found old stuff in England, Roman statuettes and coins and the like, and sold them and paid for his trip to America.

So I’m minding my own business, Googling everything I can think of about antique books, historical prices, Gutenberg, and man oh man it just got so interesting.

My conscience speaking “Mary, stop being such a baby. Stop reading and go write your book for heaven’s sake.”

So I’ll tell you a little bit about my research and why it caught my interest so deeply.

1454 – Gutenberg Bible…this Bible was the first use of the Gutenberg Press

            Someone told me once that, although electricity was added of course, the Gutenberg Press was essentially unchanged from 1454 until the invention of the computer. The little iron letters, lined up by hand and inked and rolled over paper. How cool is that?

            There were only 180 Gutenberg Bibles made but that press was so revolutionary it changed the whole world. Until Gutenberg ALL PRINTING had been done by hand. There was no other way. Can you imagine it? No wonder no one could read. Why bother? There weren’t any books.

1492 – Columbus discovers America

            This is important (well, no, it’s probably NOT important to my book, but it’s interesting) because it helps us to realize just how long America was discovered before a permanent settlement survived in North America. There were settlements in Hispanola and Cuba and San Salvador and other places. And of course the settlements we talk about are in North America by the first recorded Europeans (don’t get me started on the Vikings coming earlier, another long rabbit trail—bottom line? Vikings didn’t write stuff down—Columbus did) Think about this, too. The Europeans tried and tried and tried. They’d leave people behind at a settlement and come back in a year and nuthin’! ALL GONE.

It’s said (Again, maybe by Louis L’Amour…no, I’m sure I’ve heard it other places-I don’t get ALL my history from Louis!) that there WERE Europeans in the New World before Jamestown. Their settlements didn’t survive but some of the people did. They moved inland, some lived among the Indians, some lived on their own. But they were essentially lost forever.

1517 – Martin Luther nails his 95 Theses to the church door. The Gutenberg Press (Gutenberg again) enables this document to be reprinted and spread all over Europe. Protestant Reformation Begins.

Here’s where it starts to get pretty fascinating. Do you ever think about what a wild-eyed radical Martin Luther must have been? And he wasn’t alone. Yes, he wrote these Ninety-Five Theses but he had friends. These guys were truly, truly, deeply radical. They were taking on the whole world with their writings. It truly did start out as a reformation. They wanted to REFORM the church not break from it. But that was a hugely dangerous proposition. If you want to find out just how powerful the church was, check out this next one……………

1524 – William Tyndale burned at the stake for translating the Bible from Latin to German

Death penalty. For translating the Bible into a language that could be understood by more than a tiny handful of monks. They had some serious clout there!

1538 – First English Language Bible

The king had it done. Henry XIII. Far more well known for his wastrel lifestyle and multiple marriages. I suppose fundamentally Henry did it to be a trouble maker. Or maybe not. I could keep hunting for motives!!!

“The Pope won’t let me get a divorce, well guess what? I’m starting my own church.”

Okay, Mary is putting her own spin on history with that one!!!

I suspect Henry’s motives were far less pure and honestly less radical than Luther’s. He just wanted his own way. More of an arrested adolescent than a radical

1560 – First recorded use of the word Puritan

But it’d been going on since even before Martin Luther’s 95 Theses. This was a caldron boiling for a long, long time.

1565 – St. Augustine, Florida, first surviving European settlement in New World

I included this just because it made me aware of the old saying, “The winners write the history books.”

Do you ever really realize that Spain had the first permanent settlement in North America? We think Jamestown. Maybe Plymouth Rock. But they came later. But in school they teach English-centric history. And, oh yeah, there’s a really old town in Florida, too.

And at some point they might even mention there are some pyramids in Mexico and Peru. Oh, yeah, there were people here before even the Spanish. Even before Columbus.

1620 – Pilgrims-a part of the Puritan movement-land in Plymouth Rock. This is the second successful New World Colony. Jamestown was founded in 1607.  St. Augustine, Florida??? Fuggedabouddit

I’m going to stop now. But I’m telling you there is no fact in this article that you couldn’t look up and read for an hour. Man oh man that Columbus guy was a jerk. Also a flippin’ genius, driven, in his own way a complete radical and one heck of a sailor. He figured out Trade Winds. Which, I’ve heard the word before but I didn’t know much about it. I could write a blog about that.

The King James Bible, another whole really interesting trail to follow.

Jamestown…they tried eighteen times before the next ship came back and found people. Go read about The Lost Colony of Roanoke. The word ‘Ill-Fated’ is used waaaaaaaaaaay too much.

Columbus had four trips to the New World. He died thinking he’d landed in Asia. He got to Central America and South America. I didn’t know that. I thought he was stuck on the islands. And I thought it was three trips.

His body was moved six times after his death. Was it because he was wanted or unwanted???

Martin Luther – I’m writing a whole post on something called The Diet of Worms. The title here is just a teaser, mainly because I thought it was so weird sounding…hint-it’s got nothing to do with eating or worms. Very interesting.

You think Martin Luther was a radical? I’m going to tell you about Patrick Henry sometime. He made Thomas Jefferson look as calm as a 92 year old nursing home resident on triple strength Haldol (a drug nicknamed Chemical Labotomy–and I could write about THAT, too!)

Oops, wait. I said I was going to stop.

Does any of this surprise you?

So, what of all this didn’t you know? What do you want to add? What did I get wrong?

And, most importantly, does ANYONE know what a Gutenberg Bible would be worth in 1880? And could such a book, already ancient in 1880, be in private hands? My heroine’s great-grandmother was a Spanish princess so there might be some room for the woman to have owned something unusually precious.

Or is there some other old thing you can think of that would be valuable?

How about if Martin Luther had scribbled NOTES on the Gutenberg Bible???

What do you think Louis L’Amour would make of all this?



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24 thoughts on “Diet of Worms~Martin Luther”

  1. Oh, Mary, I loved this post! I was raised Lutheran and taught American Lit (totally entwined with history) for a bazillion years so sooo much of this was like coming home.

    The Huntington Library in San Marino CA has a Gutenberg Bible. They might be able to postulate it’s worth 30 years ago.

    Worms is a place and pronounced Voorms. But it does look ghastly LOL.

    Thanks for a great start to my day. It’s actually still yesterday to me as I haven’t been to sleep yet. See you all later on. 🙂 Gonna catch some z-z-z-z-z’s now.

  2. Morning Mary! Very interesting blog today.

    Had you come across this about the 2 volume one they have in Texas and can be viewed online?

    The last line did catch my attention-
    “Although the cost of the book is not known, it would have been far too expensive even for wealthy individuals, and so most copies were likely purchased by churches and monasteries.”

    Perhaps, in your story something even more secret could be hidden among the pages and a monk could have given the Bible to Cassie’s great-grandmother, the Spanish princess, for safe keeping, not telling her the value of it, to get it out of the country…though I’m not sure what could have been hidden within the pages.

    I’m not really surprised about a lot of this stuff. I believe that legend was written a lot more often than actual history and it depends on who’s writing the history..what side was being told..Just like the whole Paul Revere and his famous ride. He wasn’t the only one who rode that night to alert people and he didn’t make it to Concord, another man did, but Longfellow made Revere far more famous in history with his poem..using Revere’s name because it rhymed better with key words than the other men’s names.

    There’s two episodes of a show called Assume the Position with Robert Wuhl that airs on HBO from time to time and deals with-

    “The stories that made up America and the history that America made up.”

    There’s also a quiz you can take to see how much truth in history you really know-

    It’s amazing what truths is hidden beneath the storytelling throughout history.

    I didn’t know how many trips Columbus had made, though I did know he thought he’d found one place, when really he’d found another. There’s an email about rules men wished women knew that I got the other day and one of the rules is that “Columbus didn’t need directions and neither do we.”

    Unfortunately, Columbus wound up at the wrong destination anyway…so I think that makes that “rule” null and void. LOL

    Great thought provoking blog today!

  3. Hey, I got a 2 a.m. visitor. 🙂 Good morning, Tanya.

    Yes, Diet of Worms. Martin Luther was required to attend. He did what you might call, “Speak truth to power.” Instead of grovel and beg for forgiveness and after that he was declared ‘wanted’ or maybe a better way to say it was, “Shoot on sight.”
    The King of … France I think, spirited him away from the meeting and kept him safe a while before things calmed down.

    Things did NOT go well.

  4. Well, I’m up now LOL. It was actually just midnight here in Cal. when I wrote last.

    Yeah, we had the “Here I stand” thing hammered home all through grade school. Luther was a pretty brave soul to take on the entire Church of his day, and Columbus too…sailing off into the unknown when everybody else thought he’d sail off the edge. (I always thought Isabella was kinda cool for giving him part of her wedding dowry to fund his expedition…but she’s also the instigator of the Inquisition so I don’t know about her…hmmm. 🙁 )

    I can’t even imagine the bravery it took. I don’t even like to talk on the phone LOL. Well, that might be because I’m addicted to e-mail. 🙂

  5. Hmmm. Mary I have no idea what the bible would have been worth. Could you mention some wealthy person who’d offered $???? for it–then the figure would have been the interested buyer’s estimate and might not have to be accurate, just believable. Or maybe a museum could help you??
    Years ago in an old church in Santo Domingo I saw an iron casket that was supposed to hold Columbus’s remains. It too short for a body, more like a chest. Whatever it was, it gave me goose bumps!

  6. I read Benjamin Franklin’s biography a couple of years ago. Man, Patrick Henry and Samual Adams and Thomas Paine were seriously NUTS. Now we look back and see only wisdom and a thirst for freedom, or with Martin Luther a soul deep desire for God and respect for the Bible.

    But at the time, they all had to be so radical to take on the power of the age.

    We probably would have been afraid of them if we’d lived at that time.

  7. In my Christopher Columbus reading they said something about where his remains are supposed to be and some old casket or grave (probably what you saw Elizabeth) somewhere was found long after it was settled that he was in Italy (or where ever) there’s some question if it’s even him. They did DNA testing. Ick, Come on this is from 1550-ish??? Adn they tested it against the remains of his brother because they ‘know’ where he’s buried.
    Leave the old dead guys alone.

    Hello, can anyone say, “Too much spare time adn money?”

  8. There are so many people in history that we think of as brave and noble, but like you said were probably insanely radical at the time. Doesn’t it make you wonder what crazy person our ancestors will look back upon with awe?

  9. I bet in the 1800’s everyone in the East thought the Pioneers were crazy. My sisters and I all used to say that we would have never gone west. We would have stayed in the east and fainted on couches.
    Also, if I did get to coerced into going West – you can bet I would have given up at the sight of the Rockies and settled in Denver.

  10. Mary — great post today. My theory? If you do extensive research and can’t find the answer..chances are your readers won’t know either! I once asked Susan Elizabeth Phillips about her inner knowledge of the White House when she wrote First Lady and guess what, same thing. She said, if you can’t find the answer after extensive research, you can use your imagination. I like our Elizabeth’s reply, have someone willing to buy it for $$$ and then you’ve got some legitamacy to its worth without really having to commit. 🙂

  11. Charlene, that’s an excellent point. Now the reader will notice if a mistake is glaring or you can easily find the answer. However, if you can’t find it – they probably can’t either!

  12. And that is an excellent point. I think, unless I hear something better, I’m just going to get really vague. I want them to have enough money, the heroine and her new husband, to donate a bunch to the town for something. But seriously what did a school or a church cost to build back then?

    Oh no! Now I have to go research that?

  13. Mary, my gosh you’re in a conundrum today! I vote with Elizabeth and Charlene on the Bible worth. I have no idea and don’t know where you could go to look, unless you find an antique site that might have a Bible there. But it would still only give you today’s value, not what it was back then.

    About the cost of building a church or school…I think people in the town usually donated the lumber and the townspeople worked together building it. And if lumber was scarce, they sometimes built things out of stone. If your characters wanted to donate a bunch of money to the town, I suppose they could purchase the building supplies themselves. I read a Linda Lael Miller book where her characters bought a load of lumber from the mill to build a house for around $100.

    Hope that helps a little. Had to laugh at you about Louis L’Amour being your research source! Too funny.

  14. I read an Elizabeth Lowell book called Moving Target a while back about vellum pages from an antique book and their value. But it was really cool and interesting history, so a lot of what I’ve read about vellum and ‘illuminated pages’ in the Gutenberg research reminded me of that.

  15. Mary, I hope you never go back on your meds (or never go off them, whichever the case may be) because you are a flippin’ trip, woman.

    I MISSED you while you were gone.

    True story: Dorothy Garlock once told me she researched all her stories through Louis L’Amour books. She has an old calendar, which I’ve tried to find to no avail, which lists where each book was set. So there you have it. Louis wrote the bible/s on American history.

  16. Ah, if only they had meds for what ails me, Cheryl.

    So far I remain a mystery to everyone.

    Something to consider if you’re going to tell the ‘real truth’ about something that is different than the widely held myth of the past, no one will probably believe it. We might as well do it Louis’ way.

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