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Welcome along to another post to celebrate Clink Street Publishing’s Second Annual Blogival!  The event is running from 1st August right through to 31st August across a wealth of wonderful blogs and features some amazing reviews, guest posts and other bookish goodness for you lucky readers!

Today I am delighted to share a guest piece written by Anne Boileau about Katharina Luther.

Katharina Luther: Nun, Rebel, Wife

KatharinaLuther_FrontCover

On 31st October 1517, Martin Luther pinned ninety-five theses on the Castle Church door, Wittenberg, criticizing the Church of Rome; they were printed and published by Lucas Cranach and caused a storm. Nine young nuns, intoxicated by Luther’s subversive writings, became restless and longed to leave their convent. On Good Friday 1523 a haulier smuggled them out hidden in empty herring barrels. Five of them settled in Wittenberg, the very eye of the storm, and one of them – Katharina von Bora – scandalised the world by marrying the revolutionary former monk. Following a near miscarriage, she is confined to her bed to await the birth of their first child; during this time, she sets down her own story. Against a backdrop of 16th Century Europe this vivid account of Katharina von Bora’s early life brings to the spotlight this spirited and courageous woman.

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Guest Post:

Would you say that Katharina von Bora was one of the first feminists who shaped history?

We cannot claim that Katharina von Bora was a feminist because such a concept did not exist in the 16th Century. She was, however, a strong, well-educated woman living in a patriarchal and authoritarian society.  When she first experienced the secular world she would have been taken aback at the hostility men showed against her sex. This hostility was, if anything, even worse if that woman happened to be a former nun. Former monks were mocked and reviled as well. Ironically, though, the very fact that she had attended a convent school and been raised with the rigorous discipline and training required for a monastic life, gave her spiritual, mental and physical strength. She needed these qualities to adapt to the change in her circumstances on leaving the security of the convent walls.

Common men were lewd, aggressive, mocking. Other women were suspicious because they found the ex nuns rather threatening. As convent pupils, novices and nuns they had received an excellent education. They were literate in Latin and German. Latin was the language of the powerful, the ruling class and of men. And few women at that time, even of good family, could write well, even though they might be able to read. As nuns they had acquired many other skills: illumination of texts; stitching tapestries; sowing, weaving, spinning; gardening and a knowledge of herbal remedies; music, and singing. And of course, the discipline of regular worship throughout each day.

Moreover, living in a silent order of women required the ability to communicate without words. They used sign language, of course, but much more can be conveyed than we, in a very verbal society, can ever imagine, by the eyes, or subtle body language. A nod of assent, a wink, a slight shrug of the shoulder, a turning away, the shadow of a frown or smile, can speak volumes in the absence of speech. And with such daily silent communication they would have developed a high degree of empathy; an ability to avert, where possible, flash points of irritation or strife. More than anything, there was a need to maintain, where possible, peace and harmony among the women. It can’t have been easy!

So if you ask me, was she one of the first feminists? I would say this: she came out of that convent well equipped to weather a world in turmoil. Where the peasants were breaking out of their bondage, the ruling classes were at odds with each other and mustering armies, and the Church was about to split into several factions because they could not agree on fundamental matters of doctrine. Society was divided. So it was, that maids were forbidden to discuss religion while filling their pails at the Wittenberg wells.

Katharina had a strong faith, which was mediated through the Virgin Mary. But she was adaptable, able to bend like a reed in the wind and accept  Martin Luther’s fresh, more direct path to God, believing in justification through faith. From the monastic discipline she was also schooled in hygiene and herbal remedies, so knew how best to take precautions against the plague, which came sweeping across the land every fifteen or so years.

When she married Martin Luther and took over the running of his large and busy household she brought all these qualities to bear on her work and also on her irascible husband. She kept him healthy, curbing his excessive appetite; she kept him calm, mitigating his bad temper and disturbed sleep; she made sure he respected her and other women. And as he was a man filled with doubts and fears, she gave him courage and confidence, and calmed his feelings of guilt and remorse for the unrest he had unleashed on the world. She also gave him children, who would have kept his feet on the ground, because children tell the truth. He was a devoted father.

Dr. Martin Luther played a hugely significant role in the shaping of modern Germany, one might say Europe. Katharina, as his wife, helped shape him, making him more humane and down to earth than he would have been had he remained a lonely, celibate, childless monk.  Therefore, though we can’t really call her a feminist, we can say that she did shape history, simply by being at his side, his helpmeet, companion and wife.

 

About the Author:

Anne Boileau (also known as Polly Clarke) lives in Essex. She studied German in Munich and worked as interpreter and translator before turning to language-teaching in England. She also holds a degree in Conservation and Land Management from Anglia University and has written and given talks on various aspects of conservation. Now she shares, writes and enjoys poetry; her work has appeared in a number of anthologies and magazines; she has also won some awards, including First Prize with Grey Hen Press, 2016. She translates modern German poetry into English with Camden Mews Translators and was Chair of Suffolk Poetry Society from 2011 to 2014.

 

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