The Hessian State Archives in Marburg

Yesterday was my first time back at the Marburg archives since my visit last year. A little about the institution: the present building is located at the Friedrichsplatz in Marburg, a small park with a fountain.

The Friedrichsplatz in Marburg. Note the soccer ball in midair.
The Friedrichsplatz in Marburg. Note the soccer ball in midair.

Its holdings include roughly 131,000 linear feet of files from the 15th to the 20th century, 120,000 certificates from the 8th to the 19th century, over 220,000 maps and much more. Its current home was built from 1935-8 while Hessen was under Prussian administration. It was designed in the typical style of the period: neo-classical elements with a large dose of Nazi idolatry. Most of the latter has been removed over the years (with Minerva replacing a bust of Hitler in the main hall, for example), but some evidence of the building’s origins remains.

For example, this suspicious tiled mosaic on the ceiling of the main hall.
For example, this suspicious tiled mosaic on the ceiling of the main hall.

Shortly before I left last Fall, I attended the unveiling of a new exhibit in the main hall, a combination of original manuscript material held by the archives and large, informative printed screens. The subject is the upcoming 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, during which the Landgraviate of Hessen played a critical role. The Landgrave of Hessen, Philipp I “the Magnanimous” (also the founder and namesake of the University of Marburg), was an early supporter of Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli. He invited both to Marburg in an ultimately failed attempt to resolve their theological differences. He also caused them a great deal of trouble and embarrassment when he decided to marry his 17-year-old mistress while remaining married to his wife of 16 years (at a time when bigamy was punishable by death).

Some of the original manuscripts on display, including a letter of complaint against Martin Luther authored by Ulrich Zwingli.
Some of the original manuscripts on display, including a letter of complaint against Martin Luther authored by Ulrich Zwingli.

As the anniversary date of the Reformation approaches, the exhibition in Marburg, including the many manuscript sources from the Hessian State Archives, will travel across Germany.

Some more manuscripts on display.
Some more manuscripts on display.

As a side note, the archives and most stores are closed today because it is Fronleichnam. So rather than digging through old letters today, I will be attending my first German barbecue in years.

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