|Katie, as painted by Lucas Cranach the Elder|
Katie's dad sent her to a convent school when she was five. Her mom had died and her dad no doubt was reluctant to raise a daughter by himself. She spent four years among the Benedictines before transferring to a Cistercian abbey where her aunt lived. She was still there when word of Doctor Martin Luther's rebellion against the Roman Catholic Church got around. With several of the sisters, Katie conspired to escape. They solicited the help of Dr. Luther, whose friend and supporter Leonhard Köppe effected a daring escape. The sisters were smuggled out among the fish barrels in which provisions had been delivered to the convent.
Their liberation was described this way: 'A wagon load of vestal virgins has just come to town, all more eager for marriage than for life. God grant them husbands lest worse befall." That's probably a fairly vulgar description for its time -- it conjures a giddy scene in the mind, doesn't it?
Dr. Luther worked to place the sisters into good homes, if not their own homes. Strongly Catholic families, or those who feared crossing the Church, declined to take their daughters back, but ardent Protestant families stepped up to house them. Many of the ex-nuns married quickly, but Katie seemed to be inoculated against a wedding. She had some offers, or at least action toward offers, but none of the deals got sealed. After a while, she narrowed her choices to two men -- Nikolas von Amsdorf and Martin Luther. She announced this choice to von Amsdorf and wound up with Luther, which must have been rough on someone. They married when he was forty-one and she twenty-six.
Luther's enthusiasm for marriage is reflected in his writing as well as the number of children they had. Of their six children, four were still alive when she died. It might be comic to picture this Augustinian priest discovering the joy of sex in his middle age, but the following quotes suggest simple and mature love as much as sexual exuberance.
"My Katie is in all things so obliging and pleasing to me that I would not exchange my poverty for the riches of Croesus."
"There is no bond on earth so sweet, nor any separation so bitter, as that which occurs in a good marriage."
Having taken over the Black Cloister, as the Augustinian monastery at Wittenberg was known, the Luthers set about their work. They often had students and guests to feed and care for as well as their own growing family. They adopted four orphan children, and took in patients during epidemics. Katie was up at four in the morning to care for the livestock, prompting Luther to call her his Morning Star. Her care for Luther in his life and for his legacy after his death is said to have been a model for German families.