Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Katharina von Bora Luther

Commemoration of Katharina von Bora Luther
December 20, 2011

The Lord be with you

Katharina von Bora Luther (1499-1552) is another new addition to the LCMS liturgical calendar. In this we are following the German Evangelical Calendar of Names (1962), which I think was the first time she was included on any such calendar.

Katharina was born to an impoverished noble family, January 29, in a village near Leipzig. Her mother died and her father remarried in 1505. In 1508 or 1509 she was sent to the Cistercian convent in Nimbschen. Most of the novitiates at this convent were from noble families. Katharina’s maternal aunt, Margarete von Haubitz, was the abbess. Katharina’s paternal aunt, Magdelena von Bora, was a nun there as well. On October 8, 1505, the sixteen-year-old Katharina made her final vows to live according to the precepts of Bernard of Clairvaux.

Katharina’s convent was situated close to the boarder of Saxony and so it was perhaps inevitable that the message of the Reformation would penetrate its walls. On Easter Day, 1523, several of the nuns (some sources say 8, others say 12) from the convent escaped, hiding in empty pickled-herring barrels and made their way to Wittenberg. Katharina was among them.

Martin Luther assisted the ladies in finding homes. Some returned to their families. Some found shelter with good families where they served as governess and the like. Husbands were found for others. However none of these solutions suited Katharina. It wasn’t that she didn’t have offers of employment or suitors, it just that Katharina didn’t find any of them suitable. (She was a woman who “knew her own mind.”) Once she said the only men she knew that would do for her was either Nicholas von Amsdorf (1483-1565) or Luther. Many think what she meant was only Luther would do as Amsdorf was clear that he would not marry.

Luther also was not inclined to marry. However, he was convinced that it would be good for the Reformation if he married so he and Katharina were engaged and married on June 13, 1525. Though Luther did not marry Katharina for love, she did win his heart and the marriage was a happy one. They were blessed with six children, four of whom were living when Katharina died.

Katharina skillfully managed the Luther household, which always seemed to grow because of the reformer’s generous hospitality. She ran not only the kitchen but also the brewery and the stables of the Black Cloister, where in 1542 there were five cows, nine calves, four goats, thirteen pigs, and several horses. There was a fish pond with pike, perch, carp, and trout. There were gardens in the town and fields outside the gates and also the farm at Zulsdorf. She was also skilled in medicine, using what we might call today “home remedies.”

Following Luther’s death in 1546 the Smalkaldic War broke out. Katharina fled Wittenberg. When she returned she found her properties ruined and hard times befell her. Then Plague broke out in Wittenberg in 1552. As she traveled to Torgau she had an accident, falling from her wagon and suffering serious injuries that eventually took her life on December 20, 1552. Because of the unsettled conditions in Wittenberg, she was buried in Torgau.

Quotes from Luther:

“I would not trade my Kate for France and Venice for three reasons: (1) Because God has given her to me and me to her. (2) I have seen, time and again, that other women have more faults than my Kate. (3) She is a faithful marriage partner; she is loyal and has integrity.”

“The Letter to the Galatians is my beloved epistle; I trust it. It is my Kate von Bora. …”

“To have grace and peace in marriage is a gift second only to the knowledge of the Gospel. … Kate, you have a god-fearing man who loves you. You are an empress; realize it and thank God for it.”

Appropriate prayers for this day include prayers for wives and husbands, for the strengthening of Christian homes, for all whose duties are many and burdensome, for faithfulness to Christ to the end, for the wife and children of all married ministers.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert


  1. Oops. Katherina's mother died and her father remarried in 1505. She was sent to the convent in 1508 or 1509. It was 1515 that she took her vows.