The Account of Die Lutherin
Katherine von Bora was born to an unidentified family of Saxon landed gentry. Some believe that she was born on January 29, 1499, in Lippendorf, though no evidence of this exists in contemporary documents. Some say she was born in Hirschfield to Hans von Bora zu Hirschfield and Anna von Haugwitz. Others tell a story that she was the daughter of Jan von Bora auf Lippendorf and his wife Margarete.
Regardless of where she was born and who conceived her, Katherine's father sent her to the Benedictine cloister in Brehna 1504 for education when she was five years old. After four years of learning, she moved to the Cistercian monastery Marienthron (Mary's Throne) in Nimbschen, near Grimma, where her maternal aunt was a member of the community.
After some years of simple religious life, Katherine learned of and became interested in the growing reform movement, moved greatly by Martin Luther's fierce opposition to the indulgences and other corrupt practices of the Catholic church of that time, and grew dissatisfied with her life in the monastery. She conspired with several other nuns to flee in secrecy, contacted Martin Luther and begged for his assistance. On April 4, 1523, Easter Eve, Leonhard Köppe was sent by Luther to help smuggle out the nuns. They escaped by hiding in Köppe's herring barrels in his wagon, 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 grand them husbands lest worse befall."
The parents and relations of these refugee nuns declined to receive back their daughters when Luther asked them to admit them back into their houses. Within two years, Luther managed to arrange marriages, homes, and/or employment for all the nuns – except for Katherine von Bora. She was housed for a while with the house of Philipp Reichenbach, the city clerk at Wittenberg, and later on by Lucas Cranach the Elder and his wife, Barbara. Katherine still desired to have a relationship with God and to continue worshiping Him, but she was also just as interested in marrying and having children as the other former nuns were. During this time, Katherine had plenty of suitors from many parts of Germany, but none of the proposals resulted in marriage, perhaps because Katherine didn't love any of them enough to wed them. Finally, she told Luther's friend and fellow reformer, Nikolaus von Amsdorf, that she would be willing to marry only Luther or him.
Martin Luther was reluctant to get married at first, considering his duties to God to be of greater importance, and that a wife would be a distraction. He also mistook Katherine's dignity for pride initially, but later he came to know her better and admire her character. But over time, he reconsidered, and thought it would be a good way to bring the sanctity of marriage into the church's clergy. So, finally, on June 13, 1525, Martin Luther and Katherine von Bora were married, and Katherine von Bora became Katherine Luther, or "my dear Katie," as Luther often called her affectionately. There was a wedding breakfast the next morning with a small company, and two weeks later, a more formal public ceremony. Katherine was 26 years old, and Martin was 41.
The couple lived in the "Black Cloister," the former dormitory and educational institution for Augustinian friars studying in Wittenberg. It was a wedding gift from 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. It was also part of the very same Augustine monastery Luther had entered as a young man.
Katherine spent much of her married life tending to the lands and grounds of the monastery, and learned the art of housekeeping. She became an excellent housewife though her purse was limited and she had to take care to be frugal while being hospitable at the same time.
Katherine bore Martin six children: Johannes (Hans), Elizabeth, who died as a small child, Magdalena, who died as a small child, too, Martin Jr., Paul, and Margarete. She also suffered a miscarriage in 1539. The Luthers even raised four orphan children, including Katherine's nephew, Fabian.
One time, when Luther's friend Spalatin was getting married himself, Katherine, who always worried when her husband went abroad, begged him not to go. Martin is quoted as saying, "The tears of my Katie prevent me from coming. She thinks it would be perilous." And later, he was grateful for her concern, for Luther would have been waylaid and killed by four angry men along the way if he had gone.
One time, when Martin was dangerously ill, two years after their marriage, he was afraid he would die, even with Katherine's care and nursing. He blessed his baby son and apologized to Katie for having nothing to leave her but the silver cups. She, hoping for his recovery, read passages from the Scriptures, and as to herself she said, "My dearest doctor, if it is God's will then I would rather that you should be with our beloved Lord God than with me. But it is not so much I and my child that need you as many pious Christians. Afflict not yourself about me. I commend you to His divine will but I trust in God that He will mercifully preserve you." Her hope of his recovery was not disappointed. On that very evening he began to feel better.
At the time of their daughter Magdalene's unfortunate death, Katherine tried to be resigned to her fate, but she couldn't and wept bitterly. But Martin said to her, "Dear Katherine, think where she has gone. She has certainly made a happy journey. With children everything is simple. They die without anguish, without disputes, without the temptations of death and without bodily grief, more as if they were falling asleep."
But her greatest grief came in 1546, when her beloved Martin Luther died. She was consoled, however, by his deathbed words. He praised God, declared how he had worked hard for Him all his life, and was confident that God would accept his presence in Heaven. Katherine was in deep financial straits without Luther's salary as professor and pastor. Eventually, she had to leave the Black Cloister after the outbreak of the Schmalkaldic War, and flee to Magdeburg. Later, she had to flee the war again, this time to Braunschweig. Finally, in July 1547, after the war ended, she was able to return to Wittenburg. She still couldn't support herself, but due to the generosity of John Frederick I, Elector of Saxony, and the princes of Anhalt, she was able to survive.
Towards the end of her life, the Black Plague broke out in Wittenberg, and she decide to flee to Torgau because of a harvest failure. However, near the city gates, her cart was involved in a bad accident that threw her body onto the edge of a lake, severely bruising her. She did not recover from this accident, but died three months later, very strong, but not strong enough. She was 53 years old when she died, not quite old enough to be considered a crone, and on her deathbed, her last known words were:
"I will cleave to the Lord Christ as the burr to the cloth."
All of her and Martin's surviving children were adults by then. After Katherine's death, the Black Cloister was sold back to the university by the heirs. Katherine von Bora Luther, wife of Protestant Reformer Martin Luther, is commemorated in the Calendar of Saints of some Lutheran Churches in the United States of America. Dear Katie had passed on to the Lord in Heaven, but her example as the loving spouse to a clergyman and theologian, not to mention a brave radical, will live as long as her husband's teachings.