Katharina von Bora Luther (1499-1552)
Katharina (Katie) is one of the more significant women in Church history. She became Martin Luther's wife after escaping from a convent with 11 other nuns. She was a devoted wife to Luther, who referred to her as "my lord Katie." Together they had six children, four of whom lived to be adults and adopted four other children. She was a wonderful manager of the household, despite limited funds and a large number of guests. She grew vegetables, bought a farm to raise cattle and chickens, and brewed beer.
Katie was only 18 at the time Martin Luther issued his now famous 95 theses from Wittenberg, Germany. She had lived in Benedictine convents since 1504 when her father took her there after her mother's death when she was only five years old. Transferred to another convent, in 1515, at the age of 16, she took her vows as a nun.
After several years of religious life, Katie became interested in the growing reform movement and in Luther's biblical teachings, and grew dissatisfied with her life at the convent. Conspiring with several other nuns to flee in secrecy, she contacted Luther and begged for his assistance. Luther agreed and encouraged a friend, Merchant Kopp, to help them escape. Because Kopp often delivered herring to the convent, he had free access. One evening in 1523, he bundled 12 nuns into his wagon in the empty fish barrels. Several of the nuns returned to their families. Luther helped find homes, husbands or employment for the rest. Within two years after their escape, all the nuns had been provided for except one—Katie.
In time, with the persuasion of friends and his father, Luther proposed to marry Katie. She was 26 years old and he was 42. Luther had been given the building of the Augustinian monastery at Wittenberg by the Elector, so he and Katie moved into the monastery after their marriage in 1525. She cleaned up the monastery and brought some order to Luther's daily life. Luther wrote a friend, "There is a lot to get used to in the first year of marriage. One wakes up in the morning and finds a pair of pigtails on the pillow which were not there before."
After their first year of marriage, Luther wrote another friend,
"My Katie is in all things so obliging and pleasing to me that I would not exchange my poverty for the riches of Croesus."
Luther, a former celibate monk, began to exalt marriage, exclaiming,
"There is no bond on earth so sweet, nor any separation so bitter, as that which occurs in a good marriage."
Katie managed the finances of the family and helped free Luther's mind for his work of writing, teaching and ministering. Because Katie rose at 4 a.m. to care for her many responsibilities, Luther called her the "morning star of Wittenberg." She took care of the vegetable garden, orchard, fishpond, and barnyard animals, even to the butchering of them herself. She was known for her ministry of hospitality and often there were as many as 30 students, guests or boarders staying in the monastery, all of whom came under Katie's care.
In times of widespread illness, Katie 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. Luther was often ill, and Katie was able to minister to him in his illnesses because of her medical skills.
In addition to her many home and farm responsibilities, Martin encouraged Katie in her Bible study and suggested particular passages for her to memorize.
In time, the Luthers had six children and also raised four orphan children. The family became a model for German families for several centuries. Luther viewed marriage as a school for character, teaching that family life helped train Christians in the virtues of fortitude, patience, charity, and humility.
After Martin's death in 1546, Katie lived six years to see her children, except Magdalena who had died young, achieve positions of influence. One of her many achievements was to help establish a godly pattern for a Christian family and family life. She is 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.
Katie died in 1552 at the age of 53. She is reported to have said on her deathbed,
"I will stick to Christ as a burr to cloth."