Tour of Luther’s Germany: July 23
Saturday, July 23, 2022: Neuschwanstein Castle, Oberammergau
Today is all about the Romantic Road, Bavaria and the Alps, encountering lovely vistas, idyllic small towns, going through the Franconian wine country and into the Alps. A trip to Bavaria would not be complete without visiting Neuschwanstein Castle. We end our day at our hotel for 2 nights in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. (Our hotel is at the foot of the Zugspitze – the highest point in Germany!)
A bit of history
Set among the mountains high above the Pöllat River gorge, Neuschwanstein Castle is one of the most photographed castles in all of Europe. The palace was commissioned and paid for by eccentric “Mad” King Ludwig II of Bavaria as a retreat in honor of world-renowned composer Richard Wagner. Inspired by a visit to Wartburg Castle in 1868, Ludwig wrote to Wagner: “I intend to rebuild the old castle ruins….in the genuine style of the old German Knightly fortresses.” Set with towers and spires, it was built in imitation of a medieval castle, the embodiment of 19th century Romanticism. By the end of 1882 it was completed and fully furnished, allowing Ludwig to take lodging there and observe the ongoing construction work.
As Bavaria struggled economically, however, Ludwig spent lavishly. He withdrew with visions of excessive grandeur and glory, becoming reclusive and an annoyance to the people of his reign. By 1885, he’d spent so much that foreign banks threatened to seize his property. The king’s refusal to react rationally led the government to declare him insane and depose him in 1886. The very next day, he died in mysterious circumstances in Lake Starnberg, together with the psychiatrist who had certified him as insane.
Marriage and family – Luther style
Since we are travelling the Romantic Road today, it seems fitting to celebrate Luther’s family life, which proved to be a source of great comfort and joy for him. As early as 1519, Luther preached sermons extolling the virtues of marriage, formally advocating an end to celibacy requirements for priests, monks and nuns. As the Reformation took hold, nuns and monks were leaving convents and monasteries, either returning to their homes, entering into service or getting married. Luther himself was released from his monastic vows by his confessor Staupitz in 1518, allowing Luther the freedom to argue theologically without jeopardizing the Augustinian Order. So when Luther returned to Wittenberg from Wartburg Castle, he found the Augustinian cloister (known today as Luther Haus), fairly empty. So Frederick placed the cloister in Luther’s charge, and he lived there until his death in 1546.
Katharina von Bora was placed in a convent at the age of 5, presumably for educational purposes, but some records indicate that her father had remarried, and Katie was unwanted. By the time Luther was gaining prominence, 19-year old Katie was in a convent in Nimbschen, which was in the portion of Saxony that was loyal to the pope. Having read Luther’s writings, Katie and 10 other nuns wished to leave the convent, but to do so would be illegal, as Luther and his followers were still “enemies of the empire.” Katie wrote to Luther requesting assistance.
Whether fact or fiction, the story of Katie’s escape is a good one. Luther sent to Nimbschen a city councilman of Torgau named Leonhard Köppe. He was also a merchant who regularly delivered herring to the convent. The nuns escaped by hiding in Köppe’s covered wagon among the fish barrels and fled to Wittenberg. A local student wrote to a friend: “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.”
Some of the 11 returned to their homes, others into service, and the rest settled in Wittenberg, where Luther played matchmaker. After 2 years, Katie was the only one remaining, after a long courtship with another man that did not result in a proposal. Living with the family of Lucas Cranach at this time, she finally admitted that she would marry Doctor Luther. Even though Luther was a strong proponent of marriage, he himself was reluctant to do so, primarily because he expected to be executed at any time. But in 1525, he decided that ‘his marriage would please his father, rile the pope, cause the angels to laugh, and the devils to weep.” So they were married on June 13, 1525.
As a theologian, Luther was brilliant. As a husband, Luther had much to learn. His personal hygiene and the general cleanliness of his home were significantly lacking. He once wrote: “Before I was married the bed was not made for a whole year and became foul with sweat. But I worked so hard and was so weary I tumbled in without noticing it.” He also suffered from a number of illnesses including skin sores, significant gas, and regular bouts of constipation or diarrhea (about which he wrote extensively.) Katie cleaned Luther up – literally, taking charge of the household and his medical care.
Luther was also notoriously bad with money. He earned a stipend for teaching at Wittenberg and his housing was provided by Prince Frederick, but he never seemed to have funds for sufficient food, necessary travel, etc. He was also notoriously generous with his gifts. In addition to the Luther family, the cloister was filled with students, travelling theologians and relatives – none of whom contributed to the coffers. Katie changed that, not only charging students and visitors for room and board but growing the food and drink for which she was charging them. She eventually purchased a farm in Zulsdorf, raising the family’s meat, brewing her own beer and keeping an orchard to produce their own wine. While Luther was formally in charge of the finances, Katie controlled the purse strings. So much so that when Luther wrote that he was sending a vase to a friend as a wedding present, he had to add a P.S., saying that Katie had hidden it from him so he wouldn’t give it away.
Martin and Katie had 6 biological children, and raised 4 orphans in the Lutherhaus. Luther held his children in great esteem. At the birth of his first son, he wrote: “My dear Katie brought into the world yesterday by God’s grace at two o’clock a little son, Hans Luther. I must stop. Sick Katie calls me.”
He was also overhead saying: “Child, what have you done that I should love you so? You have disturbed the whole household with your bawling.”
Two of their daughters would not survive childhood, one dying at 8 months and the other at the age of 13. We have the following account of her death. Luther said “O God, I love her so, but thy will be done.” And turning to her, “Magdalenchen, my little girl, you would like to stay with your father here and you would be glad to go to your Father in heaven?” And she said, “Yes, dear father, as God wills.” And Luther reproached himself because God had blessed him as no bishop had been blessed in a thousand years, and yet he could not find it in his heart to give God thanks. Katie stood off, overcome by grief; and Luther held the child in his arms as she passed on. When she was laid away, he said, “Du liebes Lenchen, you will rise and shine like the stars and the sun. How strange it is to know that she is at peace and all is well, and yet to be so sorrowful!”
It was during this period of grief, and at the death of numerous Wittenberg friends from the plague, that Luther wrote A Mighty Fortress: “Were they to take our house, good, honor, child or spouse, though life be wrenched away, they cannot win the day. The kingdom’s our forever.”
While Luther’s initial reasons for marrying were not particularly romantic, in the end, he deeply loved and appreciated Katie’s presence in his life. He often expressed his appreciation in humor, calling her Kette instead of Katie (meaning “my chain”), referring to her as “my Lord”, but also writing: “I give more credit to Katherine than to Christ, who has done so much more for me.” Luther’s final statement of trust was that he willed all of his earthly possessions to Katie, rather than to his eldest son, as was the custom at that time.
Reflection verses Proverbs 31:10-18, 23-31
A capable wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life. She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands. She is like the ships of the merchant, she brings her food from far away. She rises while it is still night and provides food for her household and tasks for her servant-girls. She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard. She girds herself with strength, and makes her arms strong
Her husband is known in the city gates, taking his seat among the elders of the land. She makes linen garments and sells them; she supplies the merchant with sashes. Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her happy; her husband too, and he praises her: “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.” Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her a share in the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the city gates.
Many people should be credited with the work of the Reformation and one cannot underestimate the contributions of Katie. Particularly the period from 1525 (his marriage) to 1546 (his death) Luther could not have been the stabilizing presence guiding the Reformation if not for Katie. His health most certainly would have deteriorated quickly, and his lifestyle and finances would have limited his effectiveness. Luther and Katie also gave Christendom the first glance into the home life of a pastor and his family, setting the model of the Christian parsonage which lasted for centuries.
How does the relationship between Martin and Katie shape your ideas of love and marriage? In what ways could modern society benefit from their example? In what ways are such models too limited in today’s pluralistic society. For those from the Roman Catholic tradition, do you find aspects of Luther’s home life challenging? Enlightening? Confusing? Do you agree with celibacy for the clergy or has that pattern outlived its usefulness?
Hymn of the day Children of the Heavenly Father
Where we’re staying ~ Hotel Rheinischer Hof, Garmisch-Partenkirchen (for 2 nights).
A look ahead
Tomorrow is the highpoint of our tour, seeing the Passion Play in Oberammergau.