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Interfaith Programs

Exhibition Shows Ruhr Region’s Religious Diversity

Germany-2017-10-07-Exhibition Shows Ruhr Region’s Religious Diversity

Essen, Germany—A UPF group visited a special exhibition showing the effect of the Reformation of 500 years ago on the current religious diversity of the Rhine and Ruhr region.

Members of UPF from the city of Düsseldorf gathered on October 7, 2017, at the Visitors Center of the Zeche Zollverein, a coal mine that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to visit an exhibition titled “Heaven Divided—Reformation and Religious Diversity in the Rhine and Ruhr Region.”

Dr. Rolf-Michael Hilkenbach, the guide for the exhibition, said that religious life in the Ruhr region is very diversified, with more than 250 religious denominations in the Essen area alone.

This diversity is quite clearly a fruit of the Reformation, Dr. Hilkenbach explained, because the free choice of religion “would have been unthinkable in [Martin] Luther’s time."

A plaque at the exhibition stated, “The Rhine-Ruhr-area belongs today, with Berlin, Tokyo, Mumbai or New York, to the densely populated areas with the greatest amount of plurality." The exhibition described several religions, such as Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism, in greater detail and demonstrated their similarities.

The first area of the exhibition was dedicated to Judaism. It displayed a Hanukkah candelabrum with nine arms. Its burning light symbolizes the presence of God.

The area for Islam had a special emphasis on the pilgrimage, or Hajj. There were many objects exhibited that people wear or take with them on the Hajj. For example, pilgrims cover themselves in two unsewn white linen cloths and wear open shoes. And during the pilgrimage, the cutting of hair and nails is prohibited. This is known as the state of consecration of the pilgrim. Dr. Hilkenbach described the various rituals carried out during the three-day pilgrimage.

Another area focused on the Catholic Church, showing a wooden statue of Mary dating from about 1460. The topic of indulgences also was dealt with, and a pre-printed letter of indulgence from 1517, on which the name had to be added in handwriting, demonstrated the extent to which this practice became commercialized. Not only Luther but other critics of the church, such as Erasmus from Rotterdam, Melanchthon and Calvin, were given space in this exhibition.

Dr. Hilkenbach clarified the differences and characteristics of the Catholic and Protestant churches at various displayed items, such as the gold-plated communion chalice from the Reformed community dating from 1658.

A further topic was the Anabaptist movement, today called the Baptists. They criticized child baptism and carried out baptism only when adulthood was reached. Jan von Leiden, who was seen in a portrait in the exhibition, established a stronghold for baptism in the city of Münster, but with it came a reign of terror. The Catholics attempted to recapture Münster and harrowingly tortured Jan von Leiden and his comrades-in-arms. Their bodies were hung in iron baskets from the tower of St. Lambert’s Church. Out of the Anabaptist movement came the Mennonites as well as the Baptists and the Amish movement.

A further area of the exhibition is dedicated to Christianity in action. “Altruism and charity are accepted Christian virtues. But the great tasks of caring for the sick, and education in society—these are fruits of the Reformation,” Dr. Hilkenbach stated. Pietism and counter-reformation were further topics touched on.

All in all, the exhibition showed that the divided heaven is actually a shared one, because all religions in the end have the same basic values.

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