Katharina von Bora
|Katharina von Bora (Luther)|
January 29, 1499|
near Pegau, Electorate of Saxony, Holy Roman Empire
|Died||December 20, 1552
Torgau, Electorate of Saxony,
Holy Roman Empire
|Spouse(s)||Martin Luther (1525-1546)|
Katharina von Bora, referred to as "die Lutherin" (January 29, 1499 – December 20, 1552), was the wife of Martin Luther, German leader of the Protestant Reformation. 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.
Origin and family background
Katharina von Bora was daughter to a family of Saxon landed gentry. According to common belief, she was born on 29 January 1499; however, there is no evidence of this date from contemporary documents. Due to the various lineages within the family and the uncertainty towards Katharina's birth name, there were and are diverging theories about her place of birth.
For a long period of time, the manor of Lippendorf near Leipzig was presumed to be her birthplace. The genealogical specialist literature still argues in favour of this presumption.
Lately, however, a different view upon this matter has been proposed: that she was born in Hirschfeld and that her parents are supposed to have been a Hans von Bora zu Hirschfeld and his wife Anna von Haugwitz. Neither can be historically proven. It is also possible that Katharina was the daughter of a Jan von Bora auf Lippendorf and his wife Margarete, whose family name has not been established. Both were only specifically mentioned in the year 1505.
Life as a nun
It is certain that her father sent the five year old Katherina to the Benedictine cloister in Brehna in 1504 for education. This is documented in a letter from Laurentius Zoch to Martin Luther, written on October 30, 1531. This letter is the only evidence for Katherina von Bora's time spent within the monastery. At the age of nine she moved to the Cistercian monastery Marienthron (Mary's Throne) in Nimbschen, near Grimma, where her maternal aunt was already a member of the community. Katharina is well documented at this monastery in a provision list of 1509/10.
After several years of religious life, Katharina became interested in the growing reform movement and grew dissatisfied with her life in the monastery. Conspiring with several other nuns to flee in secrecy, she contacted Luther and begged for his assistance.
On Easter eve, 4 April 1523, Luther sent Leonhard Köppe, a city councilman of Torgau and merchant who regularly delivered herring to the monastery. 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."
Luther at first asked the parents and relations of the refugee nuns to admit them again into their houses, but they declined to receive them, possibly as this was participating in a crime under canon law. 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, 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 Luther or him.
Marriage to Luther
Martin Luther eventually married Katharina on June 13, 1525, before witnesses including Justus Jonas, Johannes Bugenhagen, and Barbara and Lucas Cranach the Elder. There was a wedding breakfast the next morning with a small company, but two weeks later, on June 27, they held a more formal public ceremony which was presided over by Bugenhagen. Von Bora was 26 years old, Luther 41. The couple took up residence in "The Black Cloister" (Augusteum), the former dormitory and educational institution for Augustinian friars studying 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 her husband. 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.
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."
After Luther's death
When Martin Luther died in 1546, Katharina was left in difficult financial straits without Luther's salary as professor and pastor, even if she owned land and proprieties, and also the Black Cloister. She was conciled by Martin Luther to move out of the old abbey and sell it, after his death, into a much more modest quarters with the children who remained at home, but she 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. After the was the buildings and lands of the monastery had been torn apart and laid waste, the cattle and other farm animals were stolen or killed. If she would have sold the land and the buildings, she could have had a good financial situation. As it was, 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 to cloth."
By the time of Katharina's death, the surviving Luther children were adults. After Katharina's death, the Black Cloister was sold back to the university in 1564 by his heirs. 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. Her descendants have continued to modern times, including German President Paul von Hindenburg (1847-1934) and the Counts zu Eulenburg and Princes zu Eulenburg und Hertefeld.
- Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, New York: Penguin, 1995, c1950. 336 p. ISBN 0-452-01146-9.
- 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.
- Hans J. Hillerbrand, ed. The Reformation: A Narrative History Related by Contemporary Observers and Participants, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1979.
- E. Jane Mall, Kitty, My Rib, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959. ISBN 0-570-03113-3.
- 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.
- Heiko A. Oberman, Luther: Man Between God and the Devil, trans. Eileen Walliser-Schwarzbart (New York: Image, 1992).
- 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)."
8. Frau Luther by Yvonne Davy
- Fischer/v.Stutterheim in: AfF (2005) p. 242ff; Wagner in: Genealogie (2005) p. 673ff, Genealogie (2006) p. 30ff; Wagner in FFM (2006), p. 342ff
- D. Albrecht Thoma, Katharina von Bora: Geschichtliches Lebensbild (1900)
- Fischer/v.Stutterheim, 'Zur Herkunft der Katharina v. Bora, Ehefrau Martin Luthers', in AfF (2005), p. 242ff; Jürgen Wagner, 'Zur mutmaßlichen Herkunft der Catherina v. Bora' in Genealogie (2005), p. 730ff, Genealogie (2006), p. 30ff; Jürgen Wagner in FFM (2006), p. 342ff
- Georg von Hirschfeld, 'Die Beziehungen Luthers und seiner Gemahlin, Katharina von Bora, zur Familie von Hirschfeld' in Beiträge zur sächssischen Kirchengeschichte (1883), p. 83ff; Wolfgang Liebehenschel, Der langsame Aufstieg des Morgensterns von Wittenberg (Oschersleben, 1999), p. 79
- Jürgen Wagner, 'Zur Geschichte der Familie v. Bora und einiger Güter in den sächsischen Ämtern Borna und Pegau: Wer waren Martin Luthers Schwiegereltern?' in Genealogie (2010), p. 300
- D. Martin Luthers Werke. Kritische Gesamtausgabe. Briefwechsel. 6. Band. Weimar 1935 Nr. 1879 s. 219
- CDS Codex Diplomaticus Saxoniae Regiae II 15 Nr. 455
- Bainton, Here I Stand, p. 223.
- Rines, George Edwin, ed. (1920). "Bora, Katharina von". Encyclopedia Americana.
- Rix, Herbert David (1983). Martin Luther: the man and the image. Ardent Media. p. 182. ISBN 978-0-8290-0554-7. Retrieved 12 June 2011.
- "Bora, Katharina von". New International Encyclopedia. 1905.
- D. Martin Luthers Werke, Kritische Gesamtausgabe. Tischreden. 6 vols. Weimar: Verlag Hermann Böhlaus Nochfolger, 1912–21
- Luther's Later Years (1538 - 1546)
- Luther, Table Talk, no. 1461.
- [Johan Theophil Bring, The wife and home of Luther. 1917, Stockholm]
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Katharina von Bora.|
|Wikisource has the text of a 1905 New International Encyclopedia article about Katharina von Bora.|
- A website devoted to Katharina von Bora (German)
- The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (USA) Concordia Historical Institute website on Katherine von Bora
- Katie Luther, by Rebecca Johnson: ,