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"There is no more lovely, friendly, and charming relationship, communion, or company than a good marriage."
If ever there were a power behind the throne, none was stronger than Katharina von Bora, or "Dear Kate," as Luther described his beloved wife. Her story is full of drama: Born of a noble but poor family, Katharina was only three when she was sent away to school and eventually took vows to become a nun. In April 1523, with the Reformation well under way, Katharina and 11 of her fellow nuns hid in a wagon and escaped from their Cistercian convent. Once the wagon arrived in Lutherstadt Wittenberg, she was taken in by the family of none other than Lucas Cranach the Elder.
Although Katharina was courted by two men, she married neither. In the end, she said that she would only marry Martin Luther or his friend, Nicholas von Amsdorf.
Philipp Melanchthon, one of Luther's closest friends, was shocked at the idea of Luther marrying; he believed a wedding would cause a scandal that could severely damage the Reformation and its cause. On the other hand, Luther's father supported his son, as did Cranach. After pondering the matter for some time, Luther decided that "his marriage would please his father, rile the pope, cause the angels to laugh, and the devils to weep." The result was the joining of a 42-year-old former monk and a 26-year-old former nun in holy matrimony on June 13, 1525.
By all accounts, it was a happy and affectionate marriage. Luther wrote that he loved waking up to see pigtails on the pillow next to him. He also admired Katharina's intellect, calling her "Doctora Lutherin." She bore six children, ran the household, and organized the family finances. Their home was in Lutherstadt Wittenberg's Black Monastery, the former Augustinian monastery where Luther had lived before the Reformation began.
Katharina grew much of what they ate in her own private garden, raised livestock, cooked, and – perhaps most famously – brewed her own beer. To boost their income, she made good use of the extra rooms in the former monastery, opening a medieval guest house and offering room and board to as many as 30 paying students and visitors at a time. Katharina was trusted in ways unheard of for women in those days. Luther allowed her to deal with his publishers and made her his sole heir. Although we know little of Katharina's own views about her unusual life, we do know that she loved her husband deeply. After his death in 1546, she wrote: "He gave so much of himself in service not only to one town or to one country, but to the whole world. Yes, my sorrow is so deep that no words can express my heartbreak, and it is humanly impossible to understand what state of mind and spirit I am in . . . I can neither eat nor drink, not even sleep . . . God knows that when I think of having lost him, I can neither talk nor write in all my suffering."
While fleeing the plague in Lutherstadt Wittenberg in 1552, Katharina died in Torgau after a terrible accident with her wagon and horses. She was 53 years old.
Would you like to follow in the footsteps of Katharina von Bora? Then take a look at our recommended tour.