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Local Lutherans honor founder

Despite the rain, snow and blustery wind Saturday, a crowd of more than 100 robed clergy and their congregants surrounded the 18-foot-tall bronze statue of Martin Luther that overlooks Lake Montebello and recreated the original unveiling service from 75 years ago.

"Where he lived, there was lots of snow all the time," joked Bishop Wolfgang D. Herz-Lane, leader of the Delaware-Maryland Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. "This would not have deterred him."

The crowd, which tried to stay dry underneath two tents and umbrellas, followed the program of the statue's dedication on Oct. 31, 1936, offering the same prayers and intoning the same hymns.

"We are out here to celebrate that event and celebrate our heritage and tell the city and the world that Lutherans care about Delaware and Maryland," Herz-Lane said.

The date was significant: Luther, a German priest and theologian, nailed his 95 theses on the door of Wittenberg Cathedral on Oct. 31, 1517, sparking the Protestant Reformation.

The Rev. Mark Hanson, the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, said it was fitting that Baltimore is home to such a tribute to Luther.

"Baltimore is the headquarters for so many Lutheran ministries," Hanson said. "To have the statue in such a public place where so much of the work is done for the sake of the world is appropriate."

Thousands of German immigrants came to Baltimore in the 19th and 20th centuries, making the city a center of Lutheranism. Baltimore is the home of Lutheran World Relief, Lutheran Services of America and Lutheran Refuge and Immigration Services.

Churches flourished throughout the area. One of the oldest, Zion Lutheran, faces City Hall.

Arthur Wallenhorst, a prominent city jeweler, bequeathed $50,000 for the creation of the bronze monument to Martin Luther. All he asked was the monument bear the inscription "Given by a Baltimore Jeweler."

Baltimore sculptor Hans Schuler, who for nearly 20 years served as director of the Maryland Institute College of Art, was given the commission. He created an imposing image of Luther with his right hand raised in greeting and his left clutching the Bible. He appears to be taking a strong step forward from atop a 12-foot pedestal.

"Here we have a single, flaming thought in flowing bronze, which makes of this memorial a sermon of Martin Luther," according to the 1936 program.

The nearly 5-ton statue rises from a pedestal that stands atop a 62-foot curved base of Maine granite.

"May this monument of Martin Luther endure for ages to come, inspiring each rising generation to ideals of freedom of conscience and adherence to the everlasting truth of God," the first program reads.

Members of several Baltimore area Lutheran congregations attended the rededication ceremony on Saturday. Some admitted that they only recently learned about the statue's existence.

Still, "there is no denying how influential Martin Luther was," said Shirley Santora of Severna Park.

Baltimore resident Teri Bennett said she's reminded of her faith when she drives by the statue nearly every day.

The monument was moved from the Mount Royal Avenue entrance to Druid Hill Park in the late 1950s to accommodate the construction of the Jones Falls Expressway. That's when it came to its present site near the lake, Hillen Road and a city elementary school.

Naomi Napier attended the original dedication and a smaller rededication when the statue was moved to its current location.

Napier turns 89 on Monday. A retired Baltimore County schools administrator, she had planned to attend the ceremony on Saturday.

"This statue has meant a lot to me," said Napier, a member of the Ascension Lutheran parish near her Towson home. "My German-born parents would often speak of how my ancestors fought for the Reformation."

The wintry weather kept her from the third dedication. But she recalled the first ceremony at the Fifth Regiment Armory. It was her 14th birthday.

"The Armory was packed and standing room only," she said. "We sang 'A Mighty Fortress is Our God' and the place seemed to vibrate with the sounds. It was such an emotional event and so many were crying tears of joy. After the service, we all walked to Druid Hill Park, where the statue was unveiled."

Staff writer Hanah Cho contributed to this article.

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