[Katharina von Bora, 1528, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Lower Saxony State Museum]
[Source: Wikimedia Commons]
But the cloistered life did not suit Katharina. She fled the monastery for the city of Wittenberg at age 24, hiding in a wagon used for carrying fish along with 11 other nuns. They came under the care of the reformer and protestant leader, Martin Luther.* When their families would not take them back, Luther took it upon himself to arrange marriages or respectable employment for them. It did not take long for the other 11 women to be settled into their new lives. Katharina, on the other hand, took two years to reach a conclusion. In the end, she told Luther that she would marry only him or his friend Nicholas von Amsdorf, neither of whom had been actively courting her.
The wedding of Katharina von Bora to Martin Luther did two important things: it definitively answered the question of whether Lutherans should approve of clerical marriage and it put Katharina in the position of becoming the example for how Lutheran wives should behave. The couple settled down in a former monastery and set the place up as a farm. Luther devoted himself to his theology and teaching, while Katharina took up the management of their property, supporting the both of them financially. She grew much of what they ate, bred and sold cattle, ran a brewery, set up a guest house for visiting students, and eventually established a hospital on the premises.** Her husband admired her intellect and she apparently enjoyed debating theology, but showed no interest in scholarship. She reportedly told him that she had had enough of studying Scripture as a nun; now she wanted to live it.
Martin Luther died in 1546, leaving Katharina as his heir. She survived him by six years, dying of injuries from a cart accident while fleeing the plague. So died the woman who through her own actions and interests created the model for the ideal Lutheran wife.
*Yes, that Martin Luther, the founder of Lutheranism.
**All skills it’s possible she may have learned in the monastery.