Author: Margaret Skea
Published: October 2017 by Sanderling Books
Category: Historical Fiction, Book Review
Following the death of her mother and her father’s remarriage, five-year-old Katharina is placed in the convent at Brehna. She will never see her father again.
Sixty-five miles away, at Erfurt in Thuringia, Martin Luder, a promising young law student, turns his back on a lucrative career in order to become a monk.
The consequences of their meeting in Wittenberg, on Easter Sunday 1523, will reverberate down the centuries and throughout the Christian world.
Margaret Skea has painted a convincing and sympathetic portrait of Katharina Von Bora, who became the wife of Martin Luther, despite the fact that little is known about her. As the author states: this is a fictionalised account of how her early life might have been. The story is a combination of fiction and the facts gleaned by the author through thorough research.
The selected quotes from Martin Luther at the beginning of each chapter give him substance before he actually appears in the story. With the first quote, heading chapter one, he condemns the heartless practice of avoiding the cost of bringing up a daughter.
It is very shameful that children, especially defenceless young girls, are pushed into the nunneries. Shame on the unmerciful parents who treat their own so cruelly ~ Martin Luther.
When Katharina’s widowed father marries again, it’s obvious from the start the former Frau Seidewitz is not well disposed towards Katharina. She has two boys of her own and, with Katherina’s brothers as well, Katherina is an encumbrance she can do without. Before long, and at just five years old, Katharina is taken from all she has known and deposited at the convent school at Brehna. Several years later, she is transferred to the Marienthron convent near Grimma, where her aunt is the abbess. Marienthron houses a Cistercian order which means Katharina has to learn the rule of silence, how to talk in sign language and the harsh regime of cloistered nuns. She doesn’t totally embrace this way of living and thoughts of life outside the convent are never completely banished.
Despite their isolation from the world, the nuns manage to secretly acquire news from the outside. Change is coming and as the months and years pass, the Reformation, initiated by Martin Luther, a doctor of theology, gains impetus. His stance on what he classes as the imprisonment of women in convents results in several of the nuns, including Katharina, escaping from Marienthron. With the help of Herr Köppe, a merchant and councillor, the nuns are taken on a dangerous journey to Wittenberg and given refuge with families who support Martin Luther, and who help the women with the adjustment in the their lifestyle.
And, as if on cue, we hear the creaking of an axle and the slap of canvas and the clip-clop of two pairs of horses on the track outside. The horses halt and an owl hoots three times. The novice-teacher lifts the latch and as we slip, one by one, through the open gate, I feel the band loosening around my chest and take in great gulps of air.