Katharina von Bora was born in January, 1499. The daughter of a poor nobleman, she attended the convent school of the Benedict order of Brehna and entered the convent of Nimbschen. She took her vows as a nun in 1515.
In 1525, Katharina met Martin Luther. After a brief engagement, they were married on June 27, 1525. Philipp Melanchthon is quoted as saying, “Unexpectedly Luther married Bora, without even mentioning his plans to his friends…”.
Katharina quickly put her new household in order. She used the monastery’s right to brew beer, leased land for gardening and bred cattle.
Martin and Katharina’s family grew quickly. Their first son, Johannes, was born in 1526. Daughter Elisabeth was born in 1527, but died when she was 8 months old. A second daughter, Magdalena, was born in 1529 but died at the age of 13. Sons Martin and Paul were born in 1531 and 1533, and daughter Margarethe was born in 1534. All living descendants of Martin Luther come from Margarethe’s line.
Katharina fled to Dessau and then to Magdeburg in 1546 to escape the Smalkaldian War. She died on December 20, 1552 in Torgau.
Katie Luther Celebrates 500 th Birthday
What a great person that Katie Luther must have been! One gets exhausted just reading about her accomplishments. After her mother died, she was sent to a convent as a young child. She took her vows at age sixteen but later bought into Luther’s reforming ideas, and with eight other nuns, decided to leave the convent. It was an extremely brave thing to do, especially considering her sheltered upbringing. They had to be smuggled out of Catholic territory into Wittenberg in the back of the fishmonger’s cart, pretending to be smoked herring!
Their lives were now dependent on others. A girl couldn’t just get herself a job and rent an apartment in those days. Options were really limited. Luther took on the responsibility of placing defecting nuns into household service, or finding them husbands. Apparently the thought hadn’t occurred to him to be one of those husbands himself until Katie refused to marry the gentleman he had in mind for her. It was she who proposed to him! But at first it was a marriage of conviction rather than love.
Luther could not have been an easy husband to live with. He sometimes disappeared into his study for days at a time. He traveled and was always in trouble with the authorities, and he was moody and often ill. He gave away much of the little money he earned, and often brought home anyone who needed bed and board. With her good sense of humor, she is reported to have once appeared to her husband in mourning clothing. When Luther asked her who had died, she replied that she assumed God had judging from Luther’s dark mood!
The former Augustinian Cloister in Wittenberg was given to Luther. On the first floor alone there were 40 rooms with cells above. These were soon filled with boarding students, friends in need, refugees, foreign visitors, tutors for the children, servants, nieces and nephews, and other assorted relatives, including the Luther’s own six children. How Katie ran this dormitory, raised the food herself, including brewing the beer while dealing with multiple pregnancies, we do not know. Just feeding all these people involved Katie in herding, milking, slaughtering, making butter and cheese, brewing, planting, and reaping. Did she have to cope with the tiredness, nausea and cumbersome weight gain often associated with pregnancy while carrying on all these necessities? There was also the grieving. One child died in infancy and another in her teens. Not only Katie’s physical stamina but her organizational skills must have been phenomenal. She had the cloister remodeled to suit the needs, planted an orchard and a garden, and bought a second which contained a stream with fish she caught.
Luther was sixteen years older than his wife. She realized that when his professor’s salary stopped, she would still need to provide for herself and who knows how many other folks. She obtained a farm two days journey from Wittenberg, and later a second one closer to home. Her good brain was not only occupied with organizing this large business. Apparently she also had discourses with her learned husband concerning the issues of the Reformation. She was a woman of character and courage. She was unsentimental, sensible, determined and hardheaded when needed, yet tender, devoted and affectionate. She is indeed to be admired.