Martin Luther: Shaping and Defining the Reformation, 1521-1532

By Martin Brecht; James L. Schaaf | Go to book overview
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IV

Marriage, Home, and Family
(1525–30)

1. PRELIMINARY HISTORY

Luther's marriage to Katherine von Bora in June 1525 surprised both his friends and his enemies and attracted a great deal of attention; nevertheless, there was a history behind it. One of the nine nuns who had escaped from the Nimbschen Cistercian monastery was Katherine von Bora, who had come to Wittenberg in April 1523.1 She was the daughter of Hans von Bora, a nobleman with limited landholdings, and she had been born on 29 January on the Lippendorf estate south of Leipzig. After the early death of her mother, who came from the von Haubitz family, she was placed in the Benedictine cloister at Brehna near Bitterfeld in 1504 to be educated. Five years later she was transferred to the Nimbschen cloister near Grimma, there to live as a nun along with many daughters of the nearby nobles, among them her aunt, Magdalena von Bora. In 1515 she took her vows. Katherine had received some schooling in the cloister, including an elementary acquaintance with Latin.

Luther attempted to marry off the runaway nuns who could not return to their families, or otherwise to find places for them to live, which took time to accomplish. The unmarried and impoverished Katherine first made herself useful in Lucas Cranach's large household. Very soon it appeared that an opportunity for marriage had presented itself. In May and June 1523, the Nuremberg patrician's son, Jerome Paumgartner, who had studied in Wittenberg from 1518 until 1521, was again in the city. He and Katherine developed a mutual liking, from which we may conclude that Katherine had a certain attractiveness: Luther later referred to her frequently as Paumgartners former "flame" (ignis). However, after Paumgartner returned home, nothing more came of it. His family probably wanted nothing to do with the runaway nun. In October 1524, Luther, who had rejoiced over the relationship and knew about Katy's continuing love, encouraged the young man for Katy's sake to hurry or she would give herself to another, but to no avail.2 Another prospective marriage partner was Dr. Caspar Glatz, who shortly before had replaced Karlstadt as the pastor of Orlamünde. But Katy had "neither desire nor love" for him. She thus appealed for aid, probably in

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