Saints Series: Katharina von Bora Luther

Katharina von Bora Luther

Katharina von Bora is best known today as Katie Luther, the wife of the reformer Martin Luther. It is commonly believed that Katharina was born January 29, 1499 into a family of lesser Saxon nobility; however, there is no contemporary evidence to back up that claim. Katharina was sent to a Benedictine cloister at the age of 5 for education. There she would have lead a life that centered around prayer and manual labor. Four years later in 1509, she would move to the Cistercian monastery where her aunt was a member. Katharina’s life here would have been very similar to her life in the Benedictine cloister. This is pretty much all we know about her until she writes to Martin Luther to ask that he assist her and other nuns, who were expressing dissatisfaction with their lives in the convent, to escape the convent in 1523. Luther agreed and once the women had escaped the monastery, he began to arrange for them to be taken care of. Their families declined to take them back into the family, possibly because that was against canon law for the nuns to leave the monastery. Within two years. Luther had arranged homes, marriages, or work for all of the nuns that had escaped with Katharina. When it came to Katharina and marriage, she would only agree to marry Luther, himself, or one of Luther’s friends and fellow reformer, Nikolaus von Amsdorf.

After Katharina married Luther, the two of them lived in a former dormitory and educational institution for Augustinian friars (of whom Luther was one) in Wittenburg. Katharina immediately took on managing the holdings of the monastery, including breeding and selling the cattle and running the monastery’s brewery in order to provide for the family and the students who would live in their home. Rumor has it that she had an excellent beer recipe. She would also work in the hospital when times of wide spread sickness occurred. Katharina and Luther would have six children together. Luther would write about her and use names like “My Lord Katie” as a term of respect for how much she took charge of her own life.

After Luther died in 1546, Katharina was forced to leave their house in Wittenburg because of the Schmalkaldic War, when the Holy Roman Emperor’s forces fought against the Schmalkald League (the Lutheran states in Germany) for control of the area. When she returned, she found the house laid waste and the animals either killed or stolen. She was only able to support herself because of the financial generosity of the Elector of Saxony and the princes of Anhalt. She would die in 1552 after she was thrown from a cart after escaping Wittenburg due to an outbreak of the Black Plague. Her feast day is celebrated by Lutherans and Episcopals on December 20th.

Katharina took a bold stance in standing up for herself and what she believed in. We can emulate her in our actions by standing firm for what we believe is right. She selflessly gave of herself and her time, which we can do in many ways whether it be tutoring someone who needs help with a subject in school or volunteering somewhere.

This is part of a monthly series of newsletter articles written by Intern Bridget.