The First Lady of the Reformation by Gaylin Schmeling. This originally appeared in Lutheran Synod Quarterly published by Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary, however, the link to the archive was broken, so I no longer know which issue of LSQ .
Katherine von Bora is the best known woman of the Reformation because she was Luther’s wife. While Katherine has been eclipsed in history by the great fame of her husband, she was far from a wallflower. She was a rock of support at her husband’s side throughout their married life.Katherine was born in January of 1499, and at the age of ten she was placed in the nunnery at Nimschen near Grimma when her father remarried.
In the 1520s the writings of Luther began to infiltrate the nunnery. The message of salvation through faith alone in Christ brought comfort and peace to the sisters’ hearts. A number of them turned to Luther for advice and he counseled escape, which was shortly accomplished. On April 7, 1523, Katherine and the other sisters reached Wittenberg. Luther felt responsible for finding suitable mates for the former nuns and managed for the most part, but this was not the case in Katherine’s situation. This may be due to the fact that she had her eye on Luther. In any event Luther and Katie were married in June of 1525. Their relationship probably was not the most romantic at the start, yet years later Luther would declare, “I would not exchange Katie for France or Venice, because God has given her to me, and other women have worse faults.”
With this marriage the Black Cloister of Wittenberg became the first Lutheran parsonage. With marriage came also an entirely different lifestyle for Luther. Katherine brought order out of chaos at the Black Cloister. Not only did she provide a clean house and a made bed, which were an unknown luxury for the unmarried Luther, but she also brought about financial responsibility. She kept Luther from giving away everything they had and she put the household on a budget. Katherine helped support the household by managing a farm and a brewery. It was not long before Martin and Katherine had still more responsibility. Within eight years they became the parents of six children. Three sons and three daughters were born to this union. They also raised a number of orphaned relatives.
Katherine was a faithful wife to Luther. In times of sickness she was his compassionate nurse. In Lutherís dark periods burdened down by the struggles of life, Katie was able to comfort him with that same long hidden Gospel treasure that God through Luther had restored to the world. Katie was indeed Luther’s faithful rib. Katherine saw the death of her beloved husband in 1546 and outlived him by six years. In the summer of 1552 the plague broke out in Wittenberg. By fall Katie decided they had to leave. On the way the horses became frightened and bolted. Katie jumped from the wagon and was seriously injured. For months she lay suffering and finally died in the Lord on December 20, 1552.
One of the greatest legacies the church has received from the marriage of Martin and Katherine Luther is the Lutheran parsonage. The Luther home became the example for future Lutheran parsonages and Lutheran homes in general. The Luther house was given to hospitality. It was filled with children, students, and relatives. There was always a place for those in need. It was a place of culture and music and of joy and happiness.
This heritage continued even in the Lutheran Church in America. The early Lutheran parsonages were shelters for the needy, inns for travelers, and centers of culture. Frontier parsonages such as the home of Elisabeth and Ulrik Koren were a great blessing to the Lutheran Church. May the Lutheran home and parsonage always be a place of hospitality. This is the legacy of Katie Luther, the first lady of the Reformation.