In the 2003 movie Luther, Katarina von Bora (future wife of Martin Luther) says that she escaped from her convent with other nuns by hiding in herring barrels. But we see that Luther did not need to take such drastic matters to leave his monastery, and that he worked among the people anyway andseems to have been able to come and go as he pleased.

Is there some aspect of this movie that is artistic license? Why did Katarina von Bora need to escape from her convent in a barrel when Luther did not need to do anything of the sort?

  • Don't forget that Luther was essentially kidnapped for his own safety for some time.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Oct 30, 2017 at 21:41
  • @curiousdanni True, but that was after the Diet of Worms, not at his Augustinian monastery in Erfurt. Commented Oct 31, 2017 at 5:52

2 Answers 2


Martin Luther and Katarina von Bora (Frau Luther as she became) belonged to different orders. He was an Augustinian canon, and as such, although resident with other priests, in a monastery, worked in the community. In his case he was Professor of Theology at the Wittenberg University, and also preached in the town Church. In his younger days, he had been sent to Rome on business for his order.

Luther did not renounce his monastic vows until shortly before his wedding in 1525, and he continued to live in what had been the monastery, along with students from the university for the rest of his life.

Katarina, on the other hand, belonged to a Cistercian nunnery which meant she had much less freedom. Cistercians affirmed a strict application of the Rule of St Benedict, and focussed on self-sufficiency, physical work, devotion, prayer and austerity. However, Cistercian houses varied. Katarina's convent, at Nimbschen, near Grimma, had several estates and Katerina would have worked in the grain fields and gained experience of farming and brewing beer.

More importantly, her nunnery was in the territory ruled by Duke George, who was unsympathetic to the Reformation, and had already executed one Heinrich Kener for aiding a nun to escape. She was not closely confined, or guarded like a prisoner, but if she had simply left she would have been in dangerous territory for an escaped nun. Luther, some fifty miles away in Wittenberg, was in the territory of Frederick the Wise, and so the escaped nuns were safe there.

Herr and Frau Luther were married a little over two years after the escape, and Frau Luther, "die Lutherin", became a role model for vicars wives everywhere.

Ref: Martin Luther by Mensch and Peters page 154


It seems that Luther was involved in helping her and several other nuns leave the convent, however it was in a covered wagon of herring barrels, not in the barrels. We know this because Luther himself helped procure the wagon.

In terms of why such drastic measures were used, it was very scandalous to have a large group of nuns abandon their convent and their faith altogether - with the majority of people belonging to the Church and the Church having intimate relationships with political leaders and vice versa, it may not have been as simple as just leaving because they wanted to.

http://timesfool.blogspot.com/2010/03/nun-in-herring-barrel.html http://www.tudorsdynasty.com/katharina-von-bora-a-married-nun/

  • That second article explains all of this in much greater detail, so that is probably where you want to start.
    – J. Tate
    Commented Oct 31, 2017 at 12:00
  • 1
    While I appreciate your answer, I think that davidlol's more directly answers it, so I'm going to accept that one. Commented Nov 7, 2017 at 0:45

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