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Personalities & Contemporary Witnesses

Luther's wife:
Katharina von Bora

1499-1552

Katharina von Bora

Katharina von Bora is believed to have been born 29 January 1499 on the Lippendorf estate near Leipzig, the daughter of an impoverished nobleman. In 1504, her father sent her to be educated at the Benedictine convent in Brehna. Four years later, in 1508, she entered the convent in Nimbschen near Grimma and by 1515 she had taken her vows and become a nun. It was as a nun that she read the first texts written by the Reformer Martin Luther, who himself was quite critical of monastic life. Together with some of the other nuns, she decided to leave the convent. They approached Luther for assistance and on Good Friday 1523, he sent them a wagon, which Katharina von Bora as one of twelve nuns used to escape, hiding in fish barrels in order to avoid detection. Luther brought the women to Wittenberg where they were put up in the homes of burgesses and later all married off. Katharina von Bora herself lived in the home of Lucas Cranach the Elder. After turning down a marriage proposal by the Wittenberg-based theologian Kaspar Glatz, Katharina wed Martin Luther on 13 June 1525. After the wedding celebration, the couple took up residence in the former ‘Black Cloister’ in Wittenberg. They lived there with their six children, other relatives, students, visitors and employees.

Katharina von Bora was a highly capable business woman. In addition to administering their sizeable household, she managed a rural estate, operated a brewery and leased land along a branch of the River Elbe to establish a fish-farm. Likewise, Katharina ran a hospice in which she tended to patients together with a group of other women. Following Luther’s death, Katharina and her children fled from the ravages of the Schmalkaldic War, first to Dessau and then to Magdeburg. Upon returning to Wittenberg, she found that her estates and properties had been devastated, leaving her in a financially critical situation. In the summer of 1552, Katharina von Bora and her daughter Margarethe fled Wittenberg once more, this time escaping the plague. While travelling to Torgau, she was injured in a carriage accident that resulted in her death on 29 December. She was interred in St. Mary’s Church in Torgau.

 

“When I got to know Martin, he was already famous. He had posted his Theses and had put his imprisonment, during which time he translated the Bible into German, behind him. At that time, nobody could have suspected what the Reformation would come to mean for the world. I had already read his critical papers when I was a nun in the convent at Nimbschen near Grimma – I had had enough of life in the convent.

I wrote to Luther and with his help I was able to secretly leave the convent together with a couple of other nuns. Martin found me a place to live with the Cranach family in Wittenberg and marriage was definitely not on the agenda. He even wanted to marry me off. I then confessed that I would marry either him or no-one and I finally became his ‘Käthe’. He sometimes even used to call me ‘Mr. Käthe’ whenever he felt the need to pass comment on my powers of self-assertion. Not only as a preacher did Martin speak in clear terms.

I can never forget the lines of a letter he sent me from Weimar in 1540: “I eat like a Bohemian ... and drink like a German” – and I immediately knew that he was doing well. Our household in the former Augustinian monastery resembled a small company. We lived there with our six children, other relatives, students, visitors and employees. In our dining room it was often like being in a lecture hall. Luther held speeches and the students took notes. In addition to administering our sizeable household, I also managed a rural estate, operated a brewery and leased land along the branches of the River Elbe to establish a fish-farm."

 

Overview

 

Born on 29 January 1499 near Leipzig
Died on 29 December 1552 in Torgau
Called  “Die Lutherin”
Wife of Martin Luther

 

To read on

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