Report on Study Visit: Katharina von Bora 1499-1999
By Jeanette Smith
Fall 1995/Spring 1996 I visited several cities in the
Like her husband, Katharina was satirized, vilified, sentimentalized, and idealized. Through five centuries, she has been portrayed very differently according to the values of each time period, and in this century feminists have claimed her for their own. Katharina is a good example of how women's sense of themselves changed during the Renaissance, even if little changed in their social condition.
I accumulated items for the bibliography through searches in electronic databases, notably the OCLC WorldCat, an international online catalog of books owned by libraries throughout the world, and then in electronic and card catalogs at a variety of seminary, university, special, and other types of libraries. I traveled to seminaries in Chicago, St. Paul, and St. Louis, the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, the Deutsche Bucherei in Leipzig, and Lutherhalle and the Evangelisches Predigerseminar in Lutherstadt Wittenberg to track down rare primary sources of information.
I also carried on an extensive correspondence with archives
As the bibliography grew, the differing attitudes of each
century toward Katharina became apparent, and I began to write a historiographical essay as well as continuing to collect
the items for the bibliography. When I
The bibliography, which covers sources from the sixteenth century to December 1998, was published (with Petra Wittig, the librarian at Lutherhalle) as a part of the catalog of an exhibition at Lutherhalle Wittenberg celebrating the 500th anniversary of Katharina's birth, and also as part of a larger book containing essays commemorating Katharina. Both the catalog and the book are entitled Katharina von Bora: die Lutherin (Stiftung Luthergedenkstätten in Sachsen-Anhalt, 1999). Only the scholarly citations are included in this catalog. A part of my historiographical essay will be published as an article entitled "Katharina von Bora Through Five Centuries" in the October 1999 Sixteenth Century Journal.
Because 1999 was the 500th anniversary of Katharina's birth,
a spate of publication has occurred this year, and Dr. Martin Treu, the director of Lutherhalle,
agreed that I should continue collecting items for my comprehensive
bibliography through at least December 1999.
I also wanted to enlarge and enhance my essay with the latest in
Katharina scholarship. Of course, I also
wanted to attend the 1999 Katharina exhibition at
Lutherhalle, which contained artifacts and documents gathered from many museums
and archives internationally, which will never be available in one place
again. I applied for and was fortunate
enough to receive a study award (DM 2.004) from the Deutscher
which enabled me to make my second trip to
After a visit to the
The exhibit contained manuscript letters from Katharina to Hans von Taubenheim
I visited several times with the director of Lutherhalle and the Lutherhalle librarian, and added many new items to my bibliography from their new online catalog (the last time I was there they still had a card catalog). When the librarian asked me how I had found so many sources for the first version of the bibliography, I told her about the OCLC WorldCat, and I helped her find some information about it on the Internet. From the director of Lutherhalle I also learned about some new or resuscitated controversies in Katharina studies, such as a disagreement about exactly in which rural area she was born (Lippendorf or Hirschfeld), exactly which house she died in in Torgau, and whether her nickname among the university students of the time was "Catherine of Alexandria" or "Catherine of Siena."
Since locating recent scholarly works is fairly easy with
OCLC and article indexes, I felt that to use my time wisely, a high priority
was to locate the local history publications about Katharina that may never
make it on to OCLC or even into libraries, and the new publications in honor of
the 500th birthday celebration.
I visited many bookstores and found many items that way. I also collected citations for ephemeral
publications for various Katharina exhibitions and events, and was fortunate to
find that the wife of the director of the seminary had kept a huge Katharina scrapbook with many brochures and newspaper
clippings. I interviewed several people
concerning the many Katharina festivities of this
year in Lutherstadt Wittenberg and the surrounding
area. In addition to the exhibit at Lutherhalle, there were also Katharina
exhibits in Torgau and Grimma,
and other various events throughout
During my sabbatical trip, my colleagues and I traced Katharina's footsteps in a circuit of many small towns and
rural areas around
On this trip several colleagues and I went on a second Katharina-journey, and we explored two of the same towns in
more detail. We saw the Luther monument
and the new Katharina von Bora
Kirche (1998) in Neukieritzch
and the Luther medallions in the church in Kieritzch. This was near the area of Lippendorf
where most sources say she was born and near Zölsdorf
where the Luthers owned a farm. Another day I went to Torgau,
the town where Katharina died several months after fleeing
As with my previous work, it will take some to time to
organize the additions to my bibliography and essay. A copy of the pre-print of the first Katharina bibliography is enclosed. I will send a copy of my article in Sixteenth Century Journal and a copy of
my final results when they are completed.
My colleagues and friends in Lutherstadt
Wittenberg, other German friends, and other people in the
I regularly correspond with several people from Lutherhalle and the seminary, and I am in email contact
with other German friends and colleagues.
Before I left