Erwin Weber's 1999 Christmas Letter

Katherine von Bora
Luther's Wife

Katherine's Honor Gates
Court Yard, Lutherhalle 1999

Window Seat for Two
Luther Room, Lutherhalle

The year 1999 marked the 500th anniversary of the birth of Katharine von Bora, Luther's wife and companion for twenty-one years. According to Dr. Stefan Rhein, Director of the Lutherhalle in Wittenberg, "Katharine von Bora was Luther's companion and equal partner, she was the picture of a self-assured, self-confident, liberated woman at the side of her husband. And yet, this most important woman of the Reformation period of the 16th century, is relatively unknown; for she lived in the shadow of her powerful husband. Much of her life has been fictionalized and idealized. For this reason, a special exhibit at the Lutherhalle, which was formerly Luther's home, displayed factual details of Katherine's life from March 25 until November 14, 1999.

In the spring of the year, I had an opportunity to visit the exhibit in the Lutherhalle, titled Lieber Herr Käthe translated My dear Lord Katie, as Luther affectionately called his wife. More than 9,000 square feet of floor space was devoted to the exhibit for the the display of paintings, sculptures, drawings, manuscript, and publications. There were thirty contributors on loan from museum throughout Germany, the Netherlands, and Denmark. In celebration of the 500th anniversary of Katharine's birth, one enters the exhibit not only through the original Renaissance portal named in Katherine's honor, but also through several temporary portals decorated with painted flowers.

Katharine was not merely a preacher's wife concerned with Küche, Kirche, und Kinder, namely, Kitchen, Church, and Children. Her home was more similar to a hotel. Up to forty people lived with the Luthers from time to time. In order to provide for so many guests, Katharine took care of the large property, planted an enormous garden to grow flowers, herbs and vegetables. She brewed beer in her own brewery, and cared for the animals. Aside from raising her children and taking care of her husband, Katie took part in religious discussions with her husband at the famous Table Talks. That is not too bad for a woman who spent most of her life in a convent. After Luther published his religious tracts dealing with the Monastic Life, Luther said that most priest and nuns could not and did not want to live alone. According to Luther, Sexuality is something good. It is something that God wished. For this reason he created Man and Woman. Whoever wants something else is against God. Thus Katharine broke her monastic vows, became a run-away nun, and married the monk, Martin Luther.

My stay in Wittenberg was part of a three-week trip to Switzerland and Germany, during which I gathered additional material for slide presentations dealing with Ulrich Zwingli, the 16th century Swiss Reformer and father of the Reformed Tradition, and Philip Melanchthon, Luther's closest friend and collaborator. The Zwingli slide show is now completed and will be shown on January 20, 2000 in the beautiful auditorium of the Olin Center, Augustana's new computer building. The structure was a prestigious gift to the college, and one of two in the country to receive such a grant by the Franklin W. Olin Foundation. The slide presentation has been recorded on a CD and projected via a computer. It is the latest computer innovation of its kind and easily portable and adaptable to any small or large audience.

And now I wish you and your friends Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year. Don't forget to keep in touch.

Erwin Weber

December 1999

1. Katharine von Bora, Cranach the Elder Workshop, Oil on Wood, 1528; Photo Courtesy Lutherhalle, Wittenberg
2. Katharine von Bora Honor Gates, Courtyard, Lutherhalle, Wittenberg; Photo by Erwin Weber
3. Window Seat, Pine Constr., after 1535, Luther Room, Lutherhalle, Wittenberg; Photo Courtesy Lutherhalle, Wittenberg