February 18th 1954: Church of Scientology established
On this day in 1954, the first Church of Scientology was established in Los Angeles. Scientology is a religion (though some have labelled it a cult) which was founded by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. Its main teachings are that humans are in fact immortal beings who have lost their true nature and need help to recover it through counselling. Members have to pay for these sessions during which they recount painful memories, which is intended to be therapeutic. The higher up in the levels a member gets, the more teachings they are told. One of the most famous of these is the belief that millions of years ago the intergalactic tyrant Xenu dropped people into volcanoes on Earth. The thetans (souls) then stuck to the bodies of the living, and continue to do so today. The organisation has a considerable celebrity following, with actors such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta as famous advocates of the Church. Scientology is very controversial; those who claim it is a cult maintain it exploits its members for financial gain, whereas its defenders insist it is a valid religion.
October 31st 1517: Luther posts his 95 theses
On this day in 1517, the Augustinian monk Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the door of a Church in Wittenberg, Germany. This event is generally considered the start of the Protestant Reformation. The theses expressed Luther’s dissatisfaction with the corruption and materialism of the Catholic Church, especially the sale of indulgences (essentially selling a ticket to heaven). He instead believed that eternal salvation can only be guaranteed by God. On the same day as supposedly posting the 95 theses on the church door, he sent his writings to bishops. The writings were gradually translated and spread throughout Europe, accelerated by the use of the printing press, and his ideas transformed Europe. The Reformation led to the establishment of Protestantism.
March 26th 1830: The Book of Mormon is published
On this day in 1830, the Book of Mormon was first published at E.B Grandin’s New York bookstore. The founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith Jr, claimed that he had been visited by an angel called Moroni who told him of ancient writings on golden plates which described people who God led to the Western hemisphere before the birth of Jesus Christ. Smith said he was told by Moroni to translate the plates into English and publish them. Smith initially struggled to find someone to publish the book as many considered it risky, fraudulent and blasphemous. Smith and his friend Martin Harris began work on translating the Book of Mormon, but when Harris’s wife stole some pages, work halted. Translation recommenced in 1829 and was soon finished and ready for publication in March 1830. It had taken eight men and boys working 12 hours a day, six days a week, for almost eight months to print the 5,000 copies. Upon the book’s publication Smith said he returned the plates to Moroni. The building in New York where the Book of Mormon was first published and sold is now the Book of Mormon Historic Publication Site.
June 27th 1844: Joseph Smith murdered
On this day in 1844, the founder of Mormonism Joseph Smith Jr and his brother Hyrum were killed by an anti-Mormon mob in Carthage, Illinois. They were attacked at the prison where they was held on charges of conspiracy and treason. Smith claimed to have had visions telling of Golden Plates which contained the true gospel, which he translated and published as the Book of Mormon in 1830. Many feared his power and criticised his practice of polygamy. Tensions came to a head when, in 1844, a mob repeatedly shot Smith at the prison, and he died when he fell from his window. The Church of the Latter Day Saints consequently saw the brothers as martyrs.
"Oh Lord, my God!"
- Joseph Smith’s last words
September 10th 1946: Mother Teresa’s vision
On this day in 1946 the nun Sister Teresa Bojaxhiu, whilst on a train from Calcutta to Darjeeling, claimed to have heard God telling her to leave her convent and help the poor. She followed the command and lived among the poor in India, later becoming known as Mother Teresa. She established the Catholic group Missionaries of Charity. Her efforts were noticed, and she rose to prominence and fame for her work with the poor, ill and starving. Mother Teresa died on 5th September 1997, aged 87.
"I was to leave the convent and help the poor while living among them. It was an order. To fail would have been to break the faith."
- Mother Teresa on her message from God