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Introduction

The printing press was one of the most significant inventions of the Middle Ages. It was invented in the mid-15th century (during the Renaissance period) by a German goldsmith named Johannes Gutenberg. As it enabled the fast flow of information and encouraged the spread of new ideas, it was also a huge driving force behind the spread of Protestantism across Europe. Only half a century after the first Christian Bible was published in 1452, the printing press acted as a catalyst for the decline of the Catholic Church in north-western Europe.

Before the printing press

During ancient times, and for most of the Middle Ages, books were hand-written by scribes or monks and many people did not learn how to read. Most books were written in Latin, a language which only the most educated people could understand. This was before the printing press revolutionised the world of literature.

A ground-breaking invention

Johannes Gutenberg was the German goldsmith who invented the printing press in the mid-15th century. As he was not famous during his lifetime, Gutenberg's exact date of birth is not known; it is thought to be around 1400. It is also believed that he first commenced work on his printing press in the late 1430s and had finished it by 1440.

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The printing press is considered one of the most significant inventions of the Middle Ages because, like nothing before, it enabled the fast flow of information and lead to the spread of new ideas. Once it became possible to reproduce text very quickly, books could be read by many more people. This meant that people who were previously illiterate now had motivation to learn how to read, which lead to a more educated and inquisitive population.

Impact of the printing press on the Catholic Church

Now that books were being translated from Latin into different languages, people began to question why Mass was still being delivered in Latin. People such as Martin Luther started asking why Church services were not conducted in a language that all members of society, regardless of their level of wealth and education, could actually understand.

The first book to be printed in several volumes and multiple copies was the Bible. It was published by Gutenberg and his associate, Johann Fust in 1452. This was some 65 years before Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany (refer to Topic three, Chapter two). If it had not been for Gutenberg's invention, news of Luther's revolutionary ideas would not have been able to spread as quickly as they did.

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Luther's 95 theses and the Protestant pamphlets

Within weeks of Luther writing his 95 theses in 1517, pamphlets were copied, printed and distributed across Germany. Between 1518 and 1520, copies of these pamphlets reached people in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Spain, Italy, France and England. See Animation one

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