The daughter of an impoverished nobleman, Katharina was sent to a convent at the age of five. She took her nun’s vows at sixteen but later grew dissatisfied with the cloistered life after hearing about the reformation movement led by the monk Martin Luther. Along with 11 other nuns, she escaped from the convent by hiding in the wagon of a fish merchant.
Katharina came to Wittenberg, where she met the notorious monk who was causing such a ruckus. The two were married when she was 26 and Martin was 42 (by then he, too, had renounced his vows as a monk). By all accounts they had a warm and loving marriage. While Martin lived the life of a scholar, Katharina was a whirlwind of industry. She kept the family afloat while the impractical Martin devoted himself to his books. She ran a farm and brewery, bred and raised cattle, fed the 20 or so students who lived with the family, gave birth to six children, and during times of sickness ran a hospital. “She is the Morning Star of Wittenberg,” Martin said, referring to her habit of rising at 4:00 a.m.—no doubt in order to get everything done on her long list for the day.
In Wittenberg there stands a statue of Katharina von Bora. On her hand is a wedding ring that is burnished by the touch of many hands, for it is said that rubbing it will bring one a happy marriage. (Of course I rubbed it while I was there.) It made me quite happy to see her there, caught in mid-stride. She looks like a woman who would be very good at running a household, a state, or a country. In another age, perhaps she would have. And one wonders: would Martin Luther have accomplished what he did, if Katharina von Bora hadn’t been at his side?