April 24th 2005: Pope Benedict XVI inaugurated
On this day in 2005, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was inaugurated as the 265th Bishop of Rome, thus becoming Pope Benedict XVI. Benedict was elected on 19th April in a papal conclave (voting by the College of Cardinals), following the death of Pope John Paul II on the 2nd April. He served as Pope until the 28th February 2013 when he retired from the papacy, the first to do so voluntarily since Pope Celestine V in 1294. He was succeeded by Pope Francis, the first Pope from the Americas, on 13th March 2013.
January 3rd 1521: Martin Luther excommunicated
On this day 1521, Pope Leo X issued the papal bull ‘Decet Romanum Pontificem’ which excommunicated Martin Luther. Luther was a German monk who became disillusioned from the Catholic Church due to its corruption, such as taking money from people as a guarantee into heaven. Luther protested this corruption by famously writing his ‘95 Theses’ in 1517, an event which symbolically began the Protestant Reformation. The Pope did not accept Luther’s anti-Catholic writings and eventually expelled him from the church in 1521.
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.
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 he 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
(map of the religious sites of Mecca from 1787)
On this day in 630 AD the prophet Muhammad (pbuh), founder of Islam, led an army of 10,000 men to conquer Mecca, Saudi Arabia. At the time of Muhammad’s birth in Mecca in 570, the city was ruled by the pagan Quraysh tribe. In 610, Muhammad is said to have begun recieving divine revelations from God through the Archangel Gabriel. He then began to preach this new religion which focussed on one god: Allah. This posed a challenge to the paganism of the Quraysh tribe, who persecuted Muhammad and his followers. This conflict lasted for years, with the two frequently clashing in battle, until 628 when they negotiated the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah in which the Quraysh promised to cease fighting and to allow the Muslims into Mecca for pilgrimage.
However the Quraysh did not hold to this Treaty and in 630 slaughtered a group of Muslims. Therefore, Muhammad gathered his army of 10,000 and marched to Mecca; the city swiftly surrendered. Muhammad then declared amnesty for the people of Mecca, but destroyed the pagan imagery and ‘Islamized’ the area to devote it to the worship of the one God. He also decreed that no non-Muslim was to be allowed into the city.
Muhammad declared Mecca the holiest site in Islam, and made it the centre of Muslim pilgrimage. A pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj) is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. Muhammad died in 632, but the faith he had begun spread rapidly, and soon became one of the leading world religions.
February 18th 1546: Luther dies
On this day in 1546 the German monk and leader of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther, died aged 62 in Eisleben. Luther broke with the Catholic Church after he became disillusioned with Church corruption like the sale of indulgences and concubinage. Luther believed that the only way to salvation was through God’s grace and faith. His writings against the Church led to his excommunication by Pope Leo X in 1520.
November 27th 1095: First Crusade launched
On this day in 1095 Pope Urban II launched the First Crusade at the Council of Clermont. The Council was gathered to discuss the issue of Muslims in the Holy City of Jerusalem and its surrounding lands. At the end of the council, on November 27th, the Pope gave a speech calling for the taking back of the Holy Land through force. Many then volunteered to travel towards Jerusalem and they captured the city in 1099, massacring its inhabitants.
“Christians, hasten to help your brothers in the East, for they are being attacked. Arm for the rescue of Jerusalem under your captain Christ. Wear his cross as your badge. If you are killed your sins will be pardoned.”
- Pope Urban II
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
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.