Katharina von Bora (1499-1552)

Luther's Wife

“When I became personally acquainted with Martin, he was already a famous man. He had posted his theses and his time in protective custody in Wartburg Castle, during which he translated the Bible into German, was behind him. At that time, no one suspected what the Reformation would mean for the world.”

From novice to nun to the wife of probably the most famous of the Reformers – Katharina von Bora, the strong woman at Luther’s side. It was whilst she was a nun that Katharina read Martin Luther’s early writings, which were also critical of monastic life. She had had enough of it herself. With Luther’s help, she fled from Nimbschen Abbey, near Grimma, with eleven other nuns, in 1523 and lived for some time in Wittenberg with the Cranach family – good friends of Luther.

“A marriage between us was inconceivable at that point. He even wanted to matchmake for me. So I confessed that I would either marry him or no one, and finally became his “Käthe” in 1525. Sometimes, he also called me “Mr Käthe”, when he thought it necessary to comment on my assertiveness. It was not only as a preacher that Martin spoke clearly.”

And there is no doubt that she was assertive – she was an enterprising woman who managed a farm in addition to the large household, operated a brewery and leased a tributary of the Elbe for a fish farm. She also ran a hospice, where she and other women looked after the sick – and she did all of that as a mother of six children. After Luther’s death in 1546, she fled to Dessau and Magdeburg with her children to escape from the Schmalkaldic War. When she returned to Wittenberg, her land and buildings had been laid waste, putting her in a state of financial hardship. Together with her daughter Margarete, Katharina von Bora fled from Wittenberg again in the summer of 1552, this time from the plague. She was injured in an accident with her cart on the way to Torgau and died of the consequences of this on 29 December. She was buried at St. Mary’s Church in Torgau.