Updated: Jun 22, 2021
Today in 1552 Katharina von Bora was born, she became known as the ‘Lutheress’ because at the age of 26 she was to marry the reformer Martin Luther. Who was she? How did Luther help her escape from her convent? How did she support his efforts? Did she help to balance him psychologically? We look at all that in todays pod
Katharina von Bora was born, she became known as the ‘Lutheress’ because at the age of 26 she was to marry the reformer Martin Luther. Born into a family of Saxon lesser nobility. Probably in Lippendorf, although the historical records aren’t clear. At the age of five she was sent to the Benedictines for education, then when she was nine she moved to the Cistercian monastery of Marienthron (Mary's Throne) where her maternal aunt was already a member of the community. After several years of religious life herself, Katharina became interested in the growing reform movement of the 1560’s and grew dissatisfied with her life in the convent. Conspiring with several other nuns to flee in secrecy, she contacted Martin Luther and asked for his assistance. Luther sent a merchant who regularly delivered herring to the convent and the nuns escaped by hiding in his covered wagon among the fish barrels, and fled to Wittenberg.
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, afraid that they would be seen as accomplices to a crime under canon law. However, within two years, Luther was able to arrange homes, marriages, or employment for all of the escaped nuns except Katharina. Katharina had a number of suitors, but single-mindedly she told Luther’s friend and fellow reformer, Nikolaus von Amsdorf, that she would be willing to marry only Luther or von Amsdorf himself. This was a surprise and Luther was at first unsure of whether he should even be married at all, worrying that the potential scandal would hurt the Reformation. He changed his mind because as he said in a letter "His marriage would please his father, rile the pope, cause the angels to laugh, and the devils to weep”. Which also gives us an insight into his own inner struggles.
After their marriage they lived in a former dormitory and educational institution for Augustinian friars studying in Wittenberg, given as a wedding gift by the reform-minded John, Elector of Saxony, Katharina immediately took on the task of administering and managing the monastery's vast holdings, breeding and selling cattle and running a brewery to provide for their family, the steady stream of students who boarded with them, and visitors seeking audiences with her husband. She also operated a hospital on site, Luther called her 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 had six children: and the Luther’s also raised four orphan children, including Katharina's nephew, Fabian
The marriage was extremely important to the development of Protestantism. The pioneering psychologist Erik Erikson published a book in 1958 called Young Man Luther: A Study in Psychoanalysis. Fascinated by Luthers ‘identity crisis’, Erikson makes the point that his standing up to Rome can be understood in the context of his initial disobedience to his father. Luther was not, Erikson suggests, rebellious or disobedient by nature, Luther's own personal, internal issues with himself, that manifested against the church. . With the limits of a psychoanalytic understanding of historical problems, Given the pressure that Luther was under and his often intemperate language it would be interesting to investigate how anchoring Katarina was in his life. His own statement "If I can endure conflict with the devil, sin, and a bad conscience, then I can put up with the irritations of Katy von Bora." This may indicate his reluctance, but overall willingness to give her control and a voice in their lives. . He occasionally consulted her on church matters. Considering the gender roles of the time this may be more commendable than it seems.