Luther, the Fish Merchant & the Escaping Nuns

Posted on 08th September 2020 under The Rectory Bulletin | Church History

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! (Romans 11:33)

As the Reformation swept Germany, the convents began to empty as their nuns decided that life would be better outside their secluded walls. So it was that on the day before Easter, 1523 Leonard Kopp hurried twelve nuns onto his wagon before covering them over. He had delivered herring to the convent, and hoped that the shapes under the cover would be mistaken for fish barrels as they bounced off down the track to Wittenberg.

Three of the fleeing nuns were delivered to their families on route, and when they arrived in the university town a student was heard to say “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”.

As the nine nuns were unloaded, Martin Luther sought to find them husbands and managed to find eight eligible men. But the ninth nun, Katherine von Bora was fussier than the rest and held out for a better option. Perhaps Luther himself?

As a man of forty-two, in the midst of the tumult of Reformation and with the threat of martyrdom hanging over his head, Luther joked about the hopes of this ex-nun to his parents. They, though, thought it an excellent idea - not least his father who wished the family name to continue. Marriage it was, and the fish merchant was invited: "I am going to get married. God likes to work miracles and to make a fool of the world. You must come to the wedding”!

This was torrid love affair, as we can see from Luther’s rather faint praise of her: “I would not exchange Katie for France or for Venice, because God has given her to me and other women have worse faults“! No initial love match, but a marriage which did grow and deepen as the years went by.

We shall return to the Luthers again next week, but for now we can simply marvel and the mysterious ways in which God works his providence.

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