Katharina von Bora found herself virtually imprisoned as a nun at Cistercian Convent of Nimbschem, Germany, in the sixteenth century. Relatives were unable to speak to her except through a latticed window, and she was even forbidden to talk to her fellow nuns. Silence was the rule at Cistercian Convent.
Katherine managed to smuggle in reading material—the writings of a man named Martin Luther—and she began hoping for new life. In 1523 she and several other nuns hatched an escape plan, and they sneaked word to Luther. He recruited a merchant who sold smoked herring. The man made a delivery to the convent and when he left, the nuns were stowed away in the empty herring barrels.
Luther succeeded in finding husbands for all the women except for Katherine, a strong-willed, 26-year-old redhead. At length he proposed to her. The account of their wedding night by Luther’s biographer, Richard Friedenthal, leaves us … well, curious:
On the evening of 13 June 1525, according to the custom of the day, (Luther) appeared with his bride before a number of his friends as witnesses. The Pomeranian [Johann] Bugenhagen blessed the couple, who consummated the marriage in front of the witnesses, [Justus] Jonas reported the next day: “Luther has taken Katharina von Bora to wife. I was present yesterday and saw the couple on their marriage bed. As I watched this spectacle I could not hold back my tears.”*
The marriage created a storm of criticism in church circles across Europe. Erasmus called it a comedy and Henry VIII called it a crime (as if he should talk!). But Luther said, “I would not change my Katie for France and Venice, because God has given her to me.” She proved equal to her role as Protestantism’s first pastor’s wife, becoming known as “First Lady of the Reformation.”
Her words are sensible, And her advice is thoughtful. … Her husband says, “There are many good women, but you are the best!” (Proverbs 31:26,28–29)
Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). June 11.
* Richard Friedenthal, Luther: His Life and Times, trans. John Nowell (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1970), p. 438, quoted in Ruth A. Tucker and Walter Liefeld, Daughters of the Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1987), p. 180.