“There is a lot to get used to in the first year of marriage,” wrote Martin Luther. “One wakes up in the morning and finds a pair of pigtails on the pillow that were not there before…” Those pigtails belonged to ex-nun, Katherine Von Bora.
Katherine Von Bora was born, in Lippendorf, Germany on January 29, 1499. Her mother died when she was only three so her father placed her in the convent school in Brehna where she was raised to become a nun.
When she was 19 Martin Luther’s 95 theses were expounded at Wittenberg. At that time she would have had no expectation of ever becoming his wife. But she and eleven other nuns believed in the principles which he taught. When Luther heard of this some four years later he arranged for a merchant friend to help them escape from the Nimbschen Convent, hidden in empty fish barrels, on April 4, 1522.
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Some of the nuns returned to their homes and Luther helped find homes, husbands or placements for the rest, over a two year period.
When Katherine was the only nun not successfully placed Luther was encouraged by his father and friends to marry her himself. Thus on June 13, 1525, 41 year-old Luther became engaged to 26 year-old Katherine Von Bora and married her 12 days later!
She has been called the “Patron saint of Ministers’ Wives”!
Luther’s love for “Kitty, my rib”, as he affectionately called her, continued to grow. “When he spoke of Paul’s epistle to the Galatians, he called it, ‘My Katherine Von Bora’. It was the epistle that was closest to his heart” (Martin Luther Had a Wife, by W. Peterson, page 35).
After just a year of marriage the former celibate monk said of marriage, “There is no bond on earth so sweet, nor any separation so bitter, as that which occurs in a good marriage”.
Six children were born, four of which survived to adulthood. And the couple also adopted four extra children. Katie brought order to Luther’s life, managed his finances and freed him to concentrate on his important work. She also managed the domestic operation of the former Augustinian monastery at Wittenberg, which had been given to Luther. She managed the gardens, orchard, fishery and barnyard, and she purchased a farm property to expand their animal holdings. She even butchered animals herself.
Luther referred to Katie as “the morning star of Wittenberg”, since she rose each day at 4am to start her many tasks.
What is remarkable about Katherine and the marriage which she achieved with Luther is how unqualified they both were to be the role-models they became. For several centuries this family became a model for German families, yet Katherine had not been raised in a family. She had been prepared for a life of celibacy and service to the church. Luther had been a celibate monk until he was 41. Yet this couple demonstrated the joy of marriage and the importance of family.
Luther, from his own experience, was able to recognise marriage as a school of character, where the relationships prompted the development of Christian virtues such as fortitude, patience, charity, and humility.
Katie outlived her controversial husband by six years – her dying words being, “I will stick to Christ as a burr to a top coat”.
She died on 20 December, 1552.
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This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com