At nine years old, Katharina Von Bora was in the way. A tomboy, and not prepared to flatter her new stepmother, she is sent away to the school attached to the Marienthron Convent at Nimbschen. From that point onwards, she was being shoehorned into joining the order as a nun and, accordingly, she becomes a novice at the age of fifteen. What a convenient way to get rid of a troublesome child.
However, by 1523, when she is in her early twenties, Katharina, and several other younger nuns, are restless. They’ve heard about Martin Luther’s revolutionary preaching in Wittenberg and they’re fascinated by their – illegal – copy of the Bible in German. More than anything else, though, they want out. They can’t bear the thought of being stuck in the convent for the rest of their lives. So, they write to Luther himself and he replies, concocting a plan for them to be smuggled from the Marienthron Convent in empty herring barrels. They arrive in his house in Wittenberg and then they have to reconnect with the real world. Luther doesn’t know what to do with them. He expects the girls to return to their families, but for Katharina, and her friend, Ave, there’s no chance of that. Eventually, Luther and Katharina marry.. and I’m not giving away a spoiler as the book starts with Katharina married and pregnant.
The book is written as Katharina’s diary during the last weeks of her pregnancy. It’s not just ‘based on a true story’. It’s a biography, faultlessly researched . Anne truly got into the hearts and minds of the people living in that part of Germany during the first part of the sixteenth century, their fears of disorder and chaos, that sometimes only Latin prayers would do and the very real social disorder caused by Luther’s preaching.
Katharina herself was an interesting main character, plucky, resourceful, resilient, yet consistent with her time. Luther himself is also well-drawn, earthy, a man who makes jokes about farts and bowel movements, yet whose thunderous voice can fill a church and the hearts of those waiting outside.
Anne Boileau lives in Essex. I know her under her real name, although I haven’t met her recently and she has no idea that I’m reviewing her book. The last time I saw her she was delivering staff development on lesson planning. A month ago, however, Anne came to talk to the St Andrew’s Church Book Club about Katharina Luther, although unfortunately I was too snowed under with work to attend. Really sorry to have missed her. An unputdownable book, about one of my favourite periods in history.
Buy Katharine Luther: Nun. Rebel. Wife. here.