Kate von Bora, Example for Lutheran Wives
Martin Luther’s most famous single act arguably was nailing his 95 theses on the door of Wittenburg Church in Germany on October 31, 1517. The five hundreth anniversary of this event that launched the Protestant Reformation is being celebrated worldwide this year, leading up to October 31. Many people realize the importance of that single act by this very brave man. Few, however, know the story of how Luther got his wife, “My Kate,” as he called her. That story is told in this article. Kate has been a model for Protestant women over these five centuries; her legacy lives on and inspires women around the world. – Pastor Frank
By: Dan Graves, MSL
Katherine von Bora viewed herself as a prisoner in the cloister of Marienthron. Luther’s Reformation preaching had found its way behind the convent walls and she wanted out.
It wasn’t as if she had chosen this secluded life for herself. Far from it. Her dad had brought her here when she was just a wee mite of three when her mother died. She had been there all her eighteen years.
Born on January 29, 1499, Katherine was destined to set the tone for Lutheran families. But first she had to escape from her cloister. Luther had a hand in that. When he learned that Katherine and others wanted out, he conferred with a friend of his. Merchant Kopp often delivered herring to the convent. One evening in 1523, he bundled twelve nuns into his wagon and packed them in the empty fish barrels! Several of the nuns returned to their families; Luther helped find homes, husbands, or positions for the rest.
Within two years after their fishy ride, all of the nuns had been provided for except one–Katherine. Gradually, through the persuasion of friends and his father–and Katie’s own impish suggestion–Luther married her himself. She was 26, he was 42.
Luther was living in the building that had been the Augustinian monastery at Wittenberg. Katie took over its operation in 1525, the year of her marriage. She cleaned the place up and brought order to Luther’s daily life. Soon Luther wrote, “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 a year of marriage he 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.”
Katie managed the family finances and freed Luther for writing, teaching, and preaching. Luther called her the “morning star of Wittenberg” since she rose at 4 a.m. to care for her many responsibilities. She took care of the vegetable garden, orchard, fishpond, and barnyard animals, even butchering the stock herself.
Had she not been a hard-working woman of pure character, the reformation might have suffered. For centuries, the Reformer’s family served as a model for German families. Luther viewed marriage as a school for character: Family life helps train Christians in the virtues of fortitude, patience, charity, and humility. This is because all families have their problems, and his was no exception. But in addition to their own six children and the four orphans they raised, there were as many as 30 students, guests, or boarders staying in the monastery, all of whom came under Katie’s care. Katie also nursed Luther’s many illnesses with herbs, poultices and massages.
Katie survived her husband by six years, dying in 1552. She lived long enough to see all her children (except Magdalena, who had died at the age of fourteen) achieve positions of influence. One of the last things she said was “I will cling to Christ like a burr on a topcoat.”
- Glimpses # 76. Worcester, Pennsylvania: Christian History Institute.
- Bainton, Roland H. Here I Stand; a life of Martin Luther. New York: Mentor, 1950.
- Petersen, William J. Martin Luther Had a Wife; Harriet Beecher Stowe Had a Husband. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House, 1983.
- Various segments in books on Christian women and various internet articles.