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Katharina von Bora

From Academic Kids

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Portrait of Katharina von Bora, wife of Martin Luther, by Lucas Cranach the Elder. 1526. Oil on panel. Warburg-Stiftung, Eisenach, Germany.

Katharina (Katherine) von Bora (January 29, 1499 - December 20, 1552) was a German Catholic nun who was an early convert to Protestantism. She later became the wife of Martin Luther, the leader of the Protestant Reformation, who often fondly called her "my Lord Katie." Very little information is available on her outside of the writings of Luther himself and some of his contemporaries. Despite this, Katharina is often considered one of the most important women of the Reformation because of her role in helping to define Protestant family life and setting the tone for clergy marriages.

Contents

Childhood and life as a nun

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

Her mother died when she was quite young and her father quickly remarried, sending 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 Haubitz, was the mother superior. On October 8, 1515, at the age of 16, she took her vows as a nun. While at the convent, she learned reading, writing, and some Latin.

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 from it. However, this was difficult, as leaving--or assisting others in leaving--religious life was an offense punishable by death. The women secretly contacted Luther, begging for his assistance.

On Easter eve 1523, Luther sent Leonhard Köppe, a city councilman of Torgau and a merchant who regularly delivered herring to the convent. The nuns successfully escaped by hiding in Köppe's covered wagon amongst 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." [Bainton, Here I Stand, p. 223] Within two years, Luther was able to arrange homes, marriages or employment for all of the escaped nuns--except Katharina. Katharina was first housed with family of Philipp Reichenbach, the city clerk of Wittenberg, and later went to the home of Lucas Cranach the Elder and his wife, Barbara. She had a number of suitors, including Wittenberg University alumnus Jerome (Hieronymus) Baumgärtner (1498-1565) of Nuremberg and Dr. (Pastor) Kaspar Glatz of Orlamünde, but none of the proposed matches worked out. Finally she told Luther’s friend and fellow reformer, Nikolaus von Amsdorf, that she would only be willing to marry either him or Dr. Luther.

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Martin Luther and Catherina von Bora

Marriage to Luther

Luther finally relented and became engaged to Katharina on June 13, 1525 before witnesses including Justus Jonas, Johannes Bugenhagen and the Cranachs. On June 27 of the same year, they were married by Bugenhagen. Katharina was twenty-six years old, Luther forty-two. The couple took up residence in "The Black Cloister," the former Augustinian monastery in Wittenberg, which the reform-minded John Frederick, Elector of Saxony (son of Luther's protector, Frederick III, Elector of Saxony) gave to the Luthers as a wedding gift.

Katherine 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 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, Katherine bore Martin six children: Johannes (Hans) (1526-?), Elizabeth (1527-1528) who died at eight months, Magdalena (1529-1542) who died at 13 years, Martin Jr. (1531-?), Paul (1533-?)and Margarete (1534-1570). The Luthers also raised four orphan children, including Katharina's nephew, Fabian.

Through Luther's writings, one can get 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." [Luther, Table Talk, no. 1461]

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. She was asked to move out of the old abbey and into much more modest quarters with the children who remained at home, but 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, Elector of Saxony and the princes of Anhalt. She remained in Wittenberg in comfort until 1552, when an outbreak of the Black Plague and a harvest failure forced her to leave the city once more. 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, 1555, at the age of 53 and was buried at Torgau's Pfarrkirche, 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."

The surviving Luther children were now 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, ending in 1759. Margarete married into a noble, wealthy Prussian family, but died in 1570 at the age of 36. Her descendants have continued to the present time.

Bibliography

Books

  1. Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, New York: Penguin, 1995, c1950. 336 p. ISBN 0452011469.
  2. Roland H. Bainton, Women of the Reformation in Germany and Italy, Augsburg Fortress Publishers (Hardcover), 1971. ISBN 0806611162. Academic Renewal Press (Paperback), 2001. 279 p. ISBN 0788099094.
  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 0570031133.
  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.

Filmography

  1. 1953: Martin Luther, theatrical film, with Niall MacGinnis as Luther; directed by Irving Pichel. Academy Award nominations for black & white cinematography and art/set direction. Rereleased in 2002 on DVD in 4 languages.
  2. 1973: Luther, theatrical film (MPAA rating: PG), with Stacy Keach as Luther.
  3. 1992: Where Luther Walked, documentary directed by Ray Christensen.
  4. 2001: Opening the Door to Luther, travelogue hosted by Rick Steves. Sponsored by the ELCA.
  5. 2002: Martin Luther, a historical film from the Lion TV/PBS Empires series, with Timothy West as Luther, narrated by Liam Neeson and directed by Cassian Harrison.
  6. 2003: Luther, theatrical release (MPAA rating: PG-13), with Joseph Fiennes as Luther and directed by Eric Till. Partially funded by American and German Lutheran groups.

External links



This article is partially based on the article Katharina von Bora from the German Wikipedia (http://de.wikipedia.org).da:Katharina von Bora

de:Katharina von Bora en:Katherine von Bora no:Katharina von Bora pt:Catarina von Bora sv:Katharina von Bora

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