A major exhibition marking the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation has officially opened at the Museum of Orange Heritage in Belfast.

‘Staunch and True’ examines the impact and legacy of the momentous event, and its enduring relevance in terms of theology, politics and wider society.

In October 1517, Martin Luther nailed his ‘95 Theses’ on the castle door in Wittenberg in Germany – an act widely seen as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, which spread throughout Europe.

Focusing on Luther’s principle role in what was a watershed moment for Christianity, the exhibition also explores the impact of pre-1517 reformers and how figures within the Loyal Orange Institution have played their part in fanning the ‘spreading flame’.

The contribution of pre-Reformation champions such as Jan Huss and John Wycliffe are considered, as well as Orangemen in its aftermath who proclaimed the reformed faith, including Dr Thomas Barnardo, and clergymen Rev Dr Thomas Drew and the former Bishop of Connor, Cyril Elliot.

The display includes a reproduction of a 16th Century printing press, which portrays the Reformation’s importance in accessibility to the printed word.

Another notable artefact on public display is an Erasmus Greek New Testament, dated 1527.

The Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, Edward Stevenson, formally opened the exhibition.

He said: “As an organisation wedded to the reformed faith and based on Biblical principles, it is only natural that we should pause in this 500th anniversary year of the Reformation and celebrate, not merely the events of 1517 and the 16th Century, but the impact and legacy these events have bequeathed to the modern word.

“Our latest major exhibition provides an informative insight into the historical context of the Reformation and how its powerful legacy impacted and inspired future generations.”

Museum curator, Dr Jonathan Mattison, said: “Whilst there were key figures before Martin Luther – his actions ‘burst the dam’ in terms of bedding in the Protestant Reformation. Like all revolutions 1517 was not an end in itself but has had a continuing impact on all aspects of life, not least through the creation of democratic politics and freedom of the individual.

“Staunch and True is Northern Ireland’s most significant examination of the Reformation and its enduring legacy. The Museum of Orange Heritage is delighted to play its role in commemorating such an evangelical landmark, and showcase material relating to such a seminal event to a wider audience.”

The exhibition will run at the Cregagh Road museum until the end of November 2017. The Museum of Orange Heritage is open Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 5pm. Group bookings can be made by arrangement.

The exhibition opening comes ahead of a major rally to mark the Reformation anniversary in Co Armagh next month. Members of the Loyal Orders will take part in a procession through Portadown on Saturday 6 May, prior to a religious service at Shamrock Park. The latter is due to commence at 7.15pm.

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