Gutenberg´s childhood


Gutenberg was born around 1400 as Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden in Mainz.

Unfortunately, we do not know the exact date of Johannes Gutenberg's birth, but from the available sources we can deduce that he must have been born sometime around the turn of the century. At the end of the 19th century it was agreed upon the symbolic year of birth 1400, in order to be able to celebrate Gutenberg's 500th birthday in 1900.


A possible birthday of Gutenberg is 24 June, the name day of John the Baptist.

24 June is often mentioned as Gutenberg's birthday. St. John's Day is the feast of the birth of John the Baptist and it was not unusual in Gutenberg's day to be named after the saint of the birthday. Around this date the Mainz Johannisnacht is celebrated every year in Mainz. It was founded in 1968 in honour of Gutenberg and is one of the city's biggest celebrations, along with Fastnacht and the wine market.


Gutenberg's parents were the patrician and merchant Friedrich (Friele) Gensfleisch and Else Wirich.

The grocer's daughter Else Wirich zum steinen Krame was the second wife of Friele Gensfleisch zur Laden (around 1350-1419).  Friele Gensfleisch was possibly active in the cloth trade, belonged to the Mint House Cooperative and was the town's arithmetic master.


Gutenberg had two siblings: Friele Gensfleisch and Else Vitztum.

We do not know much about Johannes Gutenberg's siblings: Else Vitztum married the Mainz patrician Claus Vitztum and had a daughter: Else Humbracht (married to Henne Humbracht, died 1475). Friele Gensfleisch died in 1447.


The family crest of Gutenberg shows a hatchment with a pilgrim, which is framed by a helmet.

The coat of arms of the Gutenbergs family is a full coat of arms seal. There are various interpretations of the figure with staff, bowl, pouch and guild cap depicted on the shield.


Gutenberg was probably baptized in the church of St. Christoph in Mainz.

The early gothic church St. Christoph was largely destroyed in the 2nd world war. Today the ruin is a war memorial and commemorates the victims and the destruction of the city of Mainz. However, it still has the late Gothic baptismal font in which Johannes Gutenberg is said to have been baptized.


Gutenberg's birthplace, Mainz, was the seat of the archbishop and had in his time had about 6,000 inhabitants.

Thus, at the beginning of the 15th century, Mainz was one of the richest and most important cities on the Rhine. On the one hand, this was due to its political position, because the Archbishop of Mainz was both the archchancellor of the empire and a leading elector. In this position, the Archbishop of Mainz was second in the country directly after Kaiser. On the other hand, the city was geographically very favourably situated on one of the most important traffic routes of the early modern period, the Rhine.