About the Swan

The swan is a popular symbol for Martin Luther and is frequently found in Lutheran art. The history (or perhaps legend) behind the references to Luther as a swan are quite interesting. Here is a brief summary of the history behind the swan references.  


The Goose

Jan Hus (1370-1415), whose name literally means “Goose” in the Bohemian language, was an important religious figure whose teachings strongly influenced Martin Luther and the Reformation. He was excommunicated and burned at the stake on July 6, 1415. So what does this have to do with Luther and a swan? The following is recorded by a priest observing the execution of Hus.  Just prior to being burned at the stake, Hus was asked to recant his teachings. His response…

 “You are now going to burn a goose, but in a century 
  you will have a swan which you can neither roast nor boil.” 


The Dream

The evening before October 31, 1517, the Elector Frederick of Saxony had a dream which was recorded by his brother, Duke John.  The dream, in short, is about a monk who wrote on the church door of Wittenberg with a pen so large that it reached to Rome.  The more those in authority tried to break the pen, the stronger it became.  When asked how the pen got so strong, the monk replied “The pen belonged to an old goose of Bohemia, a hundred years old.”  The Elector was unsure exactly what the dream meant, but believed he had an interpretation which he thought may be accurate.  The very morning he shared his dream, Martin Luther was posting his theses. Almost exactly 100 years later, on October 31, 1517 Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg.


The Swan

Martin Luther himself, who clearly would be familiar with the history of Jan Hus, referred to himself as the swan of which Hus prophesied. In fact, Luther’s fulfilling of Hus’ prophesy is even mentioned in the sermon at Luther’s funeral in 1546. After the death of Luther, the great Reformer was frequently portrayed with a swan in Lutheran art. And this is why Lutheran Press bears the swan logo and proudly continues to “Trumpet the Swan!”