Katharina Luther: Wikis


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Katharina von Bora

Portrait of Katharina von Bora by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1526 Oil on panel, Warburg-Stiftung, Eisenach, Germany
Born January 29, 1499(1499-01-29)
Died December 20, 1552 (aged 53)
Spouse(s) Martin Luther (m. 1525–1546) «start: (1525)–end+1: (1547)»"Marriage: Martin Luther to Katharina Luther" Location: (linkback:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katharina_Luther)

Katharina (Katherine) Luther born Katharina von Bora (January 29, 1499 – December 20, 1552) was a German Catholic nun who became the wife of Martin Luther, the leader of the Protestant Reformation, who often fondly called her "my lord Katie." Beyond what is found in the writings of Luther and some of his contemporaries, little is known about her. Despite this, Katharina is often considered one of the most important participants of the Reformation because of her role in helping to define Protestant family life and setting the tone for clergy marriages. She is commemorated in the Calendar of Saints of the Lutheran Church on December 20.




Childhood and life as a nun

Katharina von Bora was born to Anna von Bora, née von Haugwitz, and Hans der Jüngere von Bora on January 29, 1499 in Lippendorf (Kieritzsch), near Pegau, Germany. Katharina grew up in a family of impoverished Saxon nobles, probably with three brothers and a sister.

Her mother died when she was five and her father quickly remarried, after which he sent Katharina to the Benedictine cloister in Brehna (near Halle) in 1504 at the age of five. In 1508, her father transferred her to Marienthron (Mary's Throne), the Cistercian convent of Nimbschen, near Grimma. A paternal aunt, Magadalene ("Lena") von Bora, was a nun at the convent and a maternal aunt, Margarete von Haugwitz, was the Mother Superior. On October 8, 1515, at the age of sixteen, she took her vows as a nun. While at the convent, she learned reading, writing, and some Latin.

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After several years of religious life, Katharina became interested in the growing reform movement and grew dissatisfied with her life at the convent. Conspiring with several other nuns to flee in secrecy, she contacted Luther and begged for his assistance.

On Easter eve 1523, Luther sent Leonhard Köppe, a city councilman of Torgau and merchant who regularly delivered herring to the convent. The nuns successfully escaped by hiding in Köppe's covered wagon among the fish barrels, and fled to Wittenberg. A local student wrote to a friend: 'A wagon load of vestal virgins has just come to town, all more eager for marriage than for life. God grant them husbands lest worse befall."[1] Within two years, Luther was able to arrange homes, marriages, or employment for all of the escaped nuns—except for Katharina. She first was housed with the family of Philipp Reichenbach, the city clerk of Wittenberg, and later went to the home of Lucas Cranach the Elder and his wife, Barbara. Katharina had a number of suitors, including Wittenberg University alumnus Jerome (Hieronymus) Baumgärtner (1498–1565) of Nuremberg and a pastor, Dr. Kaspar Glatz of Orlamünde, but none of the proposed matches resulted in marriage. Finally, she told Luther’s friend and fellow reformer, Nikolaus von Amsdorf, that she would be willing to marry only Dr. Luther or him.

Marriage to Luther

Luther eventually married Katharina on June 13, 1525 before witnesses including Justus Jonas, Johannes Bugenhagen, and Barbara and Lucas Cranach. On June 27 of the same year, they held a public ceremony which was presided over by Bugenhagen. Katharina was 26 years old, Luther 42. The couple took up residence in "The Black Cloister", the former Augustinian monastery in Wittenberg, given as a wedding gift by the reform-minded John Frederick, Elector of Saxony, who was the son and nephew of Luther's protectors, John, Elector of Saxony and Frederick III, Elector of Saxony.

Katharina immediately took on the task of administering and managing the vast holdings of the monastery, breeding and selling cattle, and running a brewery in order to provide for their family and the steady stream of students who boarded with them and visitors seeking audiences with Luther. In times of widespread illness, Katharina operated a hospital on site, ministering to the sick alongside other nurses. Luther called her the "boss of Zulsdorf," after the name of the farm they owned, and the "morning star of Wittenberg" for her habit of rising at 4 a.m. to take care of her various responsibilities.

In addition to her busy life tending to the lands and grounds of the monastery, Katharina bore six children: Johannes (Hans) (1526–1575), Elizabeth (1527–28) who died at eight months, Magdalena (1529–42) who died at thirteen years, Martin Jr. (1531–1565), Paul (1533–1593), and Margarete (1534–70); in addition she suffered a miscarriage in 1539. The Luthers also raised four orphan children, including Katharina's nephew, Fabian.[2]

Throughout Luther's writings, one can obtain a sense of Katharina's wit and personality, as seen in this exchange:

Martin Luther said, "The time will come when a man will take more than one wife." [Katharina] responded, "Let the devil believe that!" The doctor said, "The reason, Katie, is that a woman can bear a child only once a year while her husband can beget many." Katie responded, "Paul said that each man should have his own wife." To this the doctor replied, "Yes, 'his own wife' and not 'only one wife,' for the latter isn't what Paul wrote." The doctor kidded for a long time and finally the doctor's wife said, "Before I put up with this, I'd rather go back to the convent and leave you and all our children."[3]

After Luther's death

Katharina von Bora, 1546

When Martin Luther died in 1546, Katharina was left in difficult financial straits without Luther's salary as professor and pastor. She was asked to move out of the old abbey and into much more modest quarters with the children who remained at home, but she initially refused. Almost immediately thereafter, Katharina had to leave the Black Cloister on her own at the outbreak of the Schmalkaldic War, from which she fled to Magdeburg. After her return the approach of the war forced another flight in 1547, this time to Braunschweig. In July of that year, at the close of the war, she was at last able to return to Wittenberg. The buildings and lands of the monastery had been torn apart and laid waste. Economically, they could not remain there. Katharina was able to support herself thanks to the generosity of John Frederick I, Elector of Saxony and the princes of Anhalt.

She remained in Wittenberg in poverty until 1552, when an outbreak of the Black Plague and a harvest failure forced her to leave the city once again. She fled to Torgau where her cart was involved in a bad accident near the city gates, seriously injuring Katharina. She died in Torgau about three months later on December 20, 1552 at the age of fifty-three and was buried at Torgau's Saint Mary's Church, far from her husband's grave in Wittenberg. She is reported to have said on her deathbed, "I will stick to Christ as a burr [sticks] to cloth."

By the time of Katharina's death, the surviving Luther children were adults. Hans studied law and became a court advisor. Martin studied theology, but never had a regular pastoral call. Paul became a physician. He fathered six children and the male line of the Luther family continued through him to John Ernest Luther, ending in 1759. Margareta Luther, born in Wittenberg on December 17, 1534, married into a noble, wealthy Prussian family, to Georg von Kunheim (Wehlau, July 1, 1523 – Mühlhausen, October 18, 1611, the son of Georg von Kunheim (1480 – 1543) and wife Margarethe, Truchsessin von Wetzhausen (1490 – 1527)) but died in Mühlhausen in 1570 at the age of thirty-six. However, her descendants have continued to the present time, including German President Paul von Hindenburg and the Counts zu Eulenburg and Princes zu Eulenburg und Hertefeld.



  1. Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, New York: Penguin, 1995, c1950. 336 p. ISBN 0-452-01146-9.
  2. Roland H. Bainton, Women of the Reformation in Germany and Italy, Augsburg Fortress Publishers (Hardcover), 1971. ISBN 0-8066-1116-2. Academic Renewal Press (Paperback), 2001. 279 p. ISBN 0-7880-9909-4.
  3. Hans J. Hillerbrand, ed. The Reformation: A Narrative History Related by Contemporary Observers and Participants, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1979.
  4. E. Jane Mall, Kitty, My Rib, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959. ISBN 0-570-03113-3.
  5. Luther's Works, 55 volumes of lectures, commentaries and sermons, translated into English and published by Concordia Publishing House and Fortress Press, 1957; released on CD-ROM, 2001.
  6. Heiko A. Oberman, Luther: Man Between God and the Devil, trans. Eileen Walliser-Schwarzbart (New York: Image, 1992).
  7. Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: Shaping and Defining the Reformation, 1521-1532, trans. James L. Schaaf (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990); esp. chapter 4, "Marriage, Home, and Family (1525-30)."


  1. ^ Bainton, Here I Stand, p. 223.
  2. ^ Luther's Later Years (1538 - 1546)
  3. ^ Luther, Table Talk, no. 1461.

External links

This article is partially based on the article Katharina von Bora from the German Wikipedia.


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