5/10/2008

Woman of the week - Katharina von Bora


Name: Katharina von Bora
Born: January 29, 1499, in Lippendorf, Germany
Dead: December 20, 1552, in Torgau, Germany
Married to: Martin Luther, in 1525
Children: Six, three boys and three girls
Occupation: Nun/housewife

Katharina von Bora came to be known as the ideal wife to in a Lutheran household, capable and caring, not too shy and very loving of both husband and children.

But her road in life was not supposed to take such a turn. Katharina was from a family of impoverished, but still, noble Saxons. At the remarriage of her father after the death of her mother Katharina was placed in a Benedictine convent at Brenna, just aged 5. There everything went according to plan and she was taught all a good nun was supposed to learn. She was later transferred to the Cistercian convent of Marienthron in Nimbchen where her paternal aunt Magdalene was a nun and her maternal aunt Margarete von Haugwitz was mother superior. Here she took the veil and became a real nun.

But it was not a life that suited Katharina very well. She and some other nuns heard about Martin Luther and his teachings and they obviously liked them because they contacted him and begged his help to get out of the convent. At Easter in 1523 a merchant came to the convent and he smuggled the twelve nuns out of the convent and to Wittenberg, the heart of the Lutheran Reformation. Here Luther did what he could to help the former nuns and established them in some way or other and managed to get most of them married. This did not include Katharina who instead went to live with city clerk Philipp Reichenbach and his family. Later she moved in to the household of Lucas Cranach the Elder.

This situation continued for two years, and during the time she was surrounded by suitors. She got two offers of marriage, one from Hieronymus Baumgartner, a student from the university (but who had to withdraw when his parents did not approve of the marriage) and one from the pastor Kaspar Glatz, who was turned down by Katharina. Instead she ended up marrying Luther.

On June 13 1525, Katharina von Bora was betrothed to Martin Luther in the Black Cloister at Wittenberg - the witnesses included Lucas Cranach and his wife Barbara. On the 27 the same month they went through a marriage ceremony and they took up residence at the Black Cloister which had been emptied of its earlier inhabitants due to the Reformation.

Katharina soon proved to be an excellent house-wife according to all accounts - including Luther's own. At the time of the marriage when she had been 26 he was 42, but he seemed to find little regret with his choice of a new kind of life. They had six children: Johannes (Hans), 1526-1575, Elisabeth, 1527-1528, Magdalena, 1529-1542, Martin, 1531-1565, Paul, 1533-1593, and Margarethe, 1534-1570. She also had a miscarriage in 1539. She took care of the household, including a brewery and raised and sold cattle. She also had to take care of the student they had as boarders and at times even turned the house into a hospital at times of widespread diseases.

In 1546 Luther died and left Katharina in a tight spot. He had made her his only heir - but that was against the law at the time and she was left with no means to support herself or her family. But the elector of Saxony, Johann Frederick I, helped her get at least a part of the inheritance and she could continue life at the Cloister - though she and the children had to leave it for a time due to the Smalkadian war. When they returned the property was badly damaged but she got financial aid from Johan Fredrick I and the princes of Anhalt. She remained there until 1552 when plague and famine forced her to leave Wittenberg.

She then traveled to Torgau where she got into a road accident near the city gates. She broke a pelvic bone and later contracted pneumonia - which ultimately resulted in her death. She was buried in the Saint Mary's church in Torgau and not together with her husband who was buried in Wittenberg.

The portrait above from 1526 is painted by Lucas Cranach the older - who also made a famous portrait of her husband a couple of years later.

No comments: