Untold Stories of Women and the Church: Katharina von Bora - Finds.Life.Church

Untold Stories of Women and the Church: Katharina von Bora

by Laura Ketchum

In celebration of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, Life.Church has published the YouVersion Bible plan The Untold Stories of Women and the Church. Below, you’ll find an excerpt from the plan, focused on one particularly important woman in church history, Katharina von Bora. We hope her story encourages you to consider how you can use the freedoms He’s given you.

Daring escapes and imprudent marriages are typically seen as the territory of action movies and romantic comedies.

Unless you’re Katharina von Bora.

Although little is known about Katharina von Bora’s family or earliest years, we do know that her father sent her to a convent at the age of five. But after several years of religious life, she realized the convent wasn’t for her. The Protestant Reformation had captured her interest, and she wanted to play a part.

So, what do you do if you’re a nun looking to escape your convent and join a reform movement?

You write to the movement’s leader, naturally.

Katharina wrote to Martin Luther, asking him to assist her and several of the other nuns in her convent in their attempt to escape. Luther didn’t let them down. On April 4, 1523, he sent a merchant who regularly delivered fish to the convent to help the women. They escaped by hiding among the barrels of fish on his covered wagon and successfully made the journey to Wittenberg, Germany. 

Their arrival in town raised a few eyebrows, as one local student wrote to his friend: “A wagon load of vestal virgins has just come to town, all more eager for marriage than for life. God grant them husbands lest worse befall.”

The nuns’ families were hesitant to bring them back into their homes (doing so would have been a crime in the eyes of the Catholic church), which meant it fell to Luther to arrange homes, marriages, or employment for all the nuns. Which he was able to do for every nun except Katharina.

It wasn’t that Katharina didn’t have suitors. More than one man approached her about marriage. But by that point, Katharina knew who she wanted to marry—Martin Luther himself.

This presented a problem. It wasn’t that Luther was unwilling, but the Reformation was still in its early days, and many feared that Luther’s marriage could cause a scandal. Luther himself gave the matter a lot of thought before eventually coming to the conclusion that his marriage would, “please his father, rile the pope, cause the angels to laugh, and the devils to weep,” and that was enough for him. The couple married on June 13, 1525.

Katharina and Martin moved into a former dormitory in Wittenberg. While Martin was at work with the reform movement, Katharina took on the task of managing the monastery, breeding and selling cattle, and running a brewery to provide for their family, students, and frequent visitors.

The marriage of Katharina von Bora to Martin Luther played a huge role in the Protestant Reformation’s stance on marriage. Luther respected and admired his wife, and Katharina had the freedom to oversee and guide her family and their possessions.

God has given each of us freedoms and influence. Whether Katharina was asking a reform leader for help, insisting on a marriage she knew was right, or overseeing her family and household, she knew how to make good use of the freedoms she had been afforded. Think about what freedoms you’ve been given and take stock of how you use those freedoms. How can you use them for the good of others and the glory of God?