The Printing Press and the Protestant Reformation

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A resident historian at the International Printing Museum showcasing a model of the Gutenberg Printing Press.

In 1450, Johannes Gutenberg created a machine that would revolutionize how information and ideas were spread throughout Europe. Within a relatively short time his machine spread throughout Europe enabling ideas started in any point in Europe to spread quickly. The machine that Gutenberg invented was dubbed the “Gutenberg Press”, and was the first printing press to be produced.

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For a clearer map click here: Map of Printing towns

For clarification, an incunabula is a piece of written material produced before 1501.

As you can see above the printing press spread rather rapidly throughout Europe. Along with the printing press went various written material, for instance, the first book that was printed was the Gutenberg bible. This 42 line bible was widely printed although the bible was not central to the Church during that time, which made it an interesting choice to be printed. Following the printing of the Gutenberg bible, Gutenberg himself ended up in a series of lawsuits with his financier for the press. Shortly following the lawsuits, Gutenberg passed away in 1468.

If you want to view a copy of the Gutenberg bible it can be found here: The Gutenberg Bible.

As the printing press spread, various improvements were added to the printing press, by the time the Protestant Reformation occurred the Printing press had reached a point in where lots of material could be produced at a much higher rate then previously before. Now the printing press had a large impact on the Protestant Reformation because of the production of pamphlets. After Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany the theses were printed any spread quickly throughout Germany and shortly after Europe. Since printing presses produced the same material regardless of where it was the messages and ideas that were in the theses were shared to everyone that read them regardless of location. This is a huge reason behind why the Protestant Reformation gained so much traction. With the help of pamphlets, Martin Luther’s message was spread and he was able to reply to critics rather quickly and have those responses also spread across Europe. This helped garner even more support for the movement and gave it a wider audience that was paying attention to what was going on.

The printing press had a large influence on the Protestant Reformation and continued to have influence on large social movements to this day. There are many examples to go on however, the Protestant Reformation was the first major test on reach the printing press had. Though Gutenberg never saw it, the effects of his innovation were felt throughout Europe and was more influential then he probably thought it would be.

 

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