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The strong woman at Luther's side

Katharina von Bora was born into an impoverished Saxon noble family in Lippendorf on January 29, 1499. She entered the Benedictine convent school in Brehna at the young age of six. She was taught reading, writing, arithmetic, and Latin there. In 1509, she went on to Marienthron, the Cistercian convent of Nimbschen, and took her vows there in 1515.

The writings of the Protestant reformers drove her to join twelve nuns who left the convent on Good Friday in 1523. According to tradition, Leonard Koppe, a merchant from Torgau, hid the Cistercian nuns in fish barrels in order to smuggle them out of the convent. Their journey led them to Torgau and then to Wittenberg, where they were taken in by the families of respectable citizens and later married. Katharina lived and worked in the painter Lucas Cranach’s house at this time. She revealed her self-confidence by refusing to marry Caspar Glatz, a Wittenberg professor who had proposed to her, and married Martin Luther on June 13, 1525.

A good businesswoman, wife and mother

The couple moved into the former 'Black Monastery' of Wittenberg after their wedding. They lived there together with their children, other relatives, students, guests, and servants. Katharina was a savvy businesswoman and played an important role in securing the family’s prosperity. In addition to running a large household, she managed a large estate and a brewery; she also leased a branch of the Elbe in order to breed fish. She gave birth to six children in her twenty-year marriage: Johannes, Elisabeth, Magdalena, Martin, Paul, and Margarete. Katharina possessed a strong character and was not just Luther’s wife, but also one of his most important collaborators. He referred to her not only as ‘my darling’ or ‘my morning star of Wittenberg’, but also as ‘Lord Kathy’.

After Luther's death – flight from Wittenberg

In his will, Luther named Katharina as his sole beneficiary and as guardian of their children. These unusual stipulations contradicted the laws of the time, which required a guardian to be appointed for the widow. The will was contested and the family lost important sources of income. Katharina and her daughter Margarete fled Wittenberg in the summer of 1552, because of an outbreak of the Plague. Katharina was injured in an accident on the way to Torgau. She died on December 20 as a result of her injuries and was buried in Torgau’s St. Mary’s Church.