Facts and Photos
Walter von Loewenich provides a fairly complete biographical sketch of Katherine von Bora's life (280-283). Additional information provided below comes from the biography of von Bora by Haase.
Katherine von Bora, born on January 29, 1499, was the child of an aristocratic family in the region south of Leipzig. Her mother died when she was four and her father soon remarried. As child of 10 she was placed in the Cistercian Convent of Nimbschen (photos B, right; and C, below) near Grimma. It was not uncommon for young girls of noble families to be placed in convents, which generally included a gift to the convent (similar to a wedding dowry). Apparently her family could not afford the gift, but she was received there without it because two relatives lived there. The abbess was related to her father; her mother's sister, who later lived in the Luther household, was also a nun in the cloister. Katherine was consecrated as a nun on October 8, 1515.
Luther's teaching reached the isolated cloister via the nearby town of Grimma; much of the population of the town, including men in the Augustinian monastery in Grimma, were followers of Luther. Two relatives of the Augustinian prior lived in the Nimbschen convent; it is likely that Luther's writings and teachings were introduces via this connection. A group of nine nuns, including a sister of John von Staupitz, head of the Augustinian monastery in Wittenberg when Luther arrived there, decided to leave the cloister. After failed appeals for help to their families, they turned to Luther, who enlisted the aid of a respected citizen of Torgau, Leonhard Koppe, with business interests in Nimbschen. The nine women escaped on the eve of Easter 1523 by hiding in Koppe's covered wagon normally used for hauling herring barrels. A few days later they arrived in Wittenberg, and Luther felt personally responsible for getting all of them permanently settled. Return to their families was not possible, since all came from Duke George's territory. Duke George shared the rule of Saxony with his brother Elector Frederick. The brothers held opposite views of Luther, and George was the swore enemy of Luther and his followers.
Katherine's prospects looked good at first, when the son of a Nuremberg patrician, visiting Melanchthon, fell in love with her and promised to return. Luther wrote to the man in October 1524, urging him to hurry or someone else might claim her. Apparently his family opposed his choice of a penniless ex-nun, and so nothing more came of their relationship. The other suitor mentioned in Luther's letter was a theologian at the university, Kaspar Glatz. Katherine did not want to marry Glatz, and in desperation turned to another of Luther's colleagues, Nicolas von Amsdorf. She asked him to convince Luther not force her to marry Glatz against her will; she would consider others, including von Amsdorf or Luther himself, but never Glatz. This may have been the turning point in Martin and Katherine's relationship, for he originally disliked her and found her arrogant.
Scholars agree that theirs was not a love match, and that Luther's decision to marry was based primarily on his conviction that he himself practice what he had preached. He also once stated that he married "to please my father and spite the pope." His choice of Katherine also solved the problem of what do to about the runaway nun with a mind of her own.