Wulfstan vs. Katharina von Bora

Today in Lent Madness it's Wulfstan vs. Katharina von Bora. Anglican bishop of the Middle Ages facing off against an important figure of the Protestant Reformation.

Yesterday, Lazarus was sent back to the grave in a drubbing at the hand of Esther 77% to 23%. Unlike Lazarus, Esther will live to fight another day as she will face the winner of Anna the Prophet vs. Michael the Archangel.

And just in case you missed yesterday's stellar edition of Monday Madness, which seems an impossibility as it's undoubtedly the highlight of your week, you can watch it here. In this week's episode, Tim and Scott answer Viewer Mail. Have a burning question about Lent Madness? Leave it on our Facebook or Twitter page and it just may get answered on the air.


Wulfstan stained glassWulfstan, bishop of Worcester in the eleventh century, was the last surviving bishop to have been consecrated before the Norman conquest of England.

He was born around 1008 in Warwickshire. Likely named after his uncle, Wulfstan II, archbishop of York, he studied at monasteries and eventually became a clerk at Worcester. He earned an honorable reputation for his dedication and chastity, and his superiors encouraged him to become a priest. Wulfstan was ordained in 1038 and joined a monastery of Benedictines at Worcester. When Pope Nicholas forced Ealdred, archbishop of York, to relinquish his secondary role as bishop of Worcester, Ealdred appointed Wulfstan in his place.

After the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, Wulfstan was one of only a handful of English-born bishops to retain their diocese because William the Conqueror deemed him especially skillful. For the next three decades, Wulfstan became known for his pastoral care, especially of the poor, and as a champion for the vanquished Saxons who labored under the harsh decrees of the Normans. Wulfstan acted as an ambassador to bridge the old and new regimes. An outspoken opponent of the slave trade, he helped end the practice in his region.

Wulfstan oversaw significant rebuilding projects, including Worcester Cathedral, Hereford Cathedral, and Tewkesbury Abbey as well as founding the Great Malvern Priory. After the Conquest, he claimed an unprecedented authority for the church over the Oswaldslow, a large tract of land he held for the diocese as free of interference by the local sheriff. Presumably, he felt the church could better guard the interests of the Saxon peasants. Wulfstan also helped compile the Domesday Book, a land survey of much of England and parts of Wales.

Wulfstan died on January 20, 1095, after a long illness, the last surviving pre-Conquest bishop. Wulfstan was canonized in 1203 by Pope Innocent III. His feast day is January 19; he is the patron of vegetarians and dieters.

Collect for Wulfstan
Almighty God, your only-begotten Son led captivity captive and gave gifts to your people: Multiply among us faithful pastors, who, like your holy bishop Wulfstan, will give courage to those who are oppressed and held in bondage; and bring us all, we pray, into the true freedom of your kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

-Amber Belldene

Katharina von Bora

Katharina van Bora“There’s a reason we remember her as Katharina von Bora and not Mrs. Martin Luther,” according to church historian James A. Nestingen. That’s because von Bora was the original girl boss and a key collaborator of Luther’s, shaping the Reformation not only by defining marriage for Protestant clergy but also by challenging the Reformer in theological discussions.

Born into a Saxon family in Germany that had nobility but little money, von Bora entered a Benedictine cloister school as a young child. Her family later arranged her transfer to a Cistercian convent, where—just two years before Martin Luther reportedly nailed his 95 Theses to the Castle Church door on Oct. 31, 1517—she professed vows to become a nun. Somehow the ideas expressed in those theses, which sparked the Protestant Reformation, found their way beyond the cloister walls. And on Good Friday in 1523, twelve nuns left religious life, smuggled out of the convent in herring barrels. Among them was Katharina von Bora.

The women eventually made their way to Wittenberg, where Luther helped them find homes or husbands—all except for von Bora. Finally in control of her own life, Katharina told Luther’s friend Nikolaus von Amsdorf she would marry only him or Luther.

Luther and von Bora were married—a somewhat scandalous action for a former monk and nun—on June 13, 1525. With von Bora’s determination and hard work, she transformed the town’s abandoned monastery not just into a home but “a boarding house the size of a Holiday Inn,” according to biographer Ruth A. Tucker. She brewed beer and cooked meals for the students and friends Luther hosted in their home. She managed the Luther household and its finances, investing in other properties—and she raised six children.

Along the way, she so impressed her husband that he referred to her as “Doctora Lutherin” and, unusually for the time, made her his sole heir when he passed away in 1546. But the law required a guardian for widows and children, making Luther’s will unenforceable and leaving von Bora pleading for money from benefactors. Six years later, von Bora died after an accident involving her horses and wagon in Torgau while fleeing a plague in Wittenberg. Still determined as ever, her last words reportedly were, “I will stick to Christ as a burr to cloth.”

Collect for Katharina von Bora
Great Lover of Souls, you call us to companionship with you and with each other: Grant that we, like your servant Katharina von Bora, would have the deep courage, fearless love, and lively energy to embrace the vocations to which you call us and to stand as strong support for those with whom we live, work, and bear your love into the world. We pray this in the name of him who first loved us, Jesus Christ. Amen.

-Emily McFarlan Miller

Wulfstan vs. Katharina von Bora

  • Katharina von Bora (55%, 4,231 Votes)
  • Wulfstan (45%, 3,413 Votes)

Total Voters: 7,644

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Wulfstan: © Copyright Julian P Guffogg and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License
Katharina von Bora: Lucas Cranach the Elder [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


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280 comments on “Wulfstan vs. Katharina von Bora”

    1. Vote for Wulfstan, whose qualities are much needed for a bishop [or even a national leader] in today's times: an outspoken opponent of the slave trade who did something about it; politically savvy; a pastoral bishop; advocate for the poor; supported those suffering from harsh decrees of the new regime. And finally, any patron saint for dieters is my kind of saint!

      1. I've been playing for five years, and I love it. I can't imagine quitting even if I find it occasionally infuriating because I thought an unworthy competitor won, or I don't agree with another player's rationale.

      2. I agree. Who could not appreciate the patron saint of dieters! And Wulfstan was smart enough to work through the new system to protect the poor and those who suffered under the new system.

    2. The native English suffered terrible privation after the Norman Conquest, even the nobility, who had their estates confiscated and their titles stripped and given to Normans. Of course, it was much worse for the peasants who had precious little to begin with. Wulfstan put loyalty to the poor Saxons over obedience to the parvenu invaders. He deserves honor.

    1. This seems a bit harsh. Numerous people have expressed the desire for a "like" icon. One person suggested that perhaps the absence of one is like the "no crosstalk" rule in small group discussions. We are to witness in silent appreciation. Given that we do not have emojis in WordPress, it's well worth thinking about tone. We're a small group trying to help one another observe a holy Lent. Let's be charitable.

    2. I hope you will stay. Here is an online definition of "jump the shark": used of a television series or movie, it's the point at which far-fetched events are included merely for the sake of novelty, indicative of a decline in quality.

      This is certainly a series, in that we are voting on saints on a daily basis. But I do not think we are being far fetched or seeking novelty. I think what you're saying is that the project has declined in quality due to rudeness. On the whole, I find people sincere and thoughtful. Yes, some people vote for a saint because their cat has that same name. But that's to be expected. I would agree that there have been a couple of intemperate, tone-deaf remarks. But I think people are also freely expressing viewpoints, and some of them are major. It would be a shame to lose you, to lose anyone. I will point out that the issues of voting by gender, by race, by activism versus contemplation (and doubtless numerous others) are perennial. I have seen those heatedly debated over several years now. I would suspect that our discomfort is a sign that we are at least addressing some of these issues. Let us not deny our very real differences but go forward as pilgrims. I think it would be acceptable to "call people out" tactfully (even if they weren't particularly tactful in the first place) and say, Look, you're throwing a stumbling block in front of these little ones due to your words. Be aware of how you're offending people. Perhaps it's time for the group to acknowledge that we have some real differences and to allow people to verbalize them but at the same time to point out when we think someone has stepped over a civil boundary.

      Anyway, I hope you will stay.

      1. This is again to Bob. Forgive me for posting your words, because I don't mean to "expose" you, and am certainly not trying to judge you, but I want to point out something:

        February 26, 2018 - 4:27 pm
        Voted for Esther.
        Still wondering if I should give up Lent Madness for the rest of Lent.
        Going day by day.

        February 23, 2018 - 3:47 pm
        Surely a match-up between Sr. Maria from yesterday and today’s Ms. Cavell would have been a far more logical choice (two 20th c. martyrs), as would a Wesley-Kempis match-up, for that matter.

        February 22, 2018 - 4:42 pm
        There were many common themes in today’s saints. Both had vital spiritualities and lively intellects. Both put their minds into the service of their faith.
        The choice was difficult, and made harder by the fact that Thomas was a major influence both on John Wesley and Ignatius Loyola.
        I voted for Sr. Maria, on the grounds of her determination to put the faith into practice in the wider world, rather than being merely cloistered away from the wider world; and on the grounds of her martyrdom at the hands of the Nazis.

        February 21, 2018 - 5:13 pm
        I voted for Richard Hooker because of his emphasis on reason and inclusion.
        I’m looking forward to John Wesley’s match-up later in this round, as he takes Hooker’s “scripture-tradition-reason” trifecta and makes it a “scripture-tradition-reason-experience” quadrella.
        By the way, do you realise there’s another Richard Hooker. He wrote the series of humorous novels on which the film and TV series M*A*S*H were based. So, I also voted in honour of the women and men of the 4077th, including one of my favourite 20th century American theologians, Father Mulcahy.

        February 20, 2018 - 5:24 pm
        Can I make a suggestion, in the interests of some fairer match-ups in future LMs.
        First-rounds match-ups should be between:
        — saints of the same gender as each other,
        — saints of a similar “profile” as each other, and
        — saints from a similar era as each other.
        As well, saints with serious PR issues in today’s church should have those issues addressed in their first-round biographies.

        Here's what I want to say: first, I think you make substantive, interesting commentaries. You have a logical mind and are very interested in procedural issues. You are an asset to this group. Second, you clearly are beginning to have some hesitations before today. Is it possible that you could articulate some of those hesitations as part of the analysis of the saints under discussion, to indicate how you think one of them might deal with such hesitations (you are undoubtedly not the only one to have them) more effectively than the other? I personally think that would be fascinating. You would be modeling a thinking process for us that a lot of us would find useful! Anyway, you're an important part of the group, and I hope you will stay. Have a blessed Lent. Peace.

    3. Yes, the patron saint of dieters must be honored during Lent when so many of us are trying to give things up. Go Wulfstan!

    1. She had me here, "She brewed beer and cooked meals for the students and friends Luther hosted in their home." Her final words also underline her pluckiness, “I will stick to Christ as a burr to cloth,” nailed it for me 🙂

      1. For every woman who has kept the prophet and his disciples fed, warm and healthy. The unsung saints of God.

  1. Wulfstan seems like a good guy, but finally a Protestant version of "Katie." The Catholic versions are always so catty, attacking her for being uppity rather than strong.

    1. Katie and I go way back — I grew up in Lutheran churches and schools and just traveled across Germany's Luther Country last year to write about the 500th anniversary of the Reformation for RNS. I had to make sure she got her due! There are a couple new biographies out that portray her as a strong woman that you might be interested in — I haven't finished "Katie Luther: First Lady of the Reformation" yet (maybe I will for Round 2!), but "Katharina and Martin Luther: The Radical Marriage of a Runaway Nun and a Renegade Monk" was an interesting read.

  2. I admire Katharina, but my heart follows its Anglophile ways true this morning, as well as loving his pastoral care for the poor--another vote for Wulstan,

  3. Even though I am impressed with Katharina's strength of character, I need help with my diet. So with my vote, I ask St. Wulfstan to help me resist temptations and to make vegetables taste like chocolate so I will chose them over fatty options.

    1. Hi, Debbie. Do you know why he's the patron saint of vegetarians. I don't notice any reason in his bio. I should vote for Katharina (I've got a bobble head of her!), but I was impressed by Wulfstan's accomplishments and by his name. Maybe I'll name my next cat Wulfstan.

      1. Wulstan was distracted from his devotions one day by the smell of a goose being roasted for his dinner. He vowed to give up meat from that day forward. There is a lovely carving of him in Worcester Cathedral with a goose at his side.

  4. I will stick to Christ as a burr to cloth. WOw, could there be a simpler, clearer affirmation of faith. Katherine gets my vote

  5. Hard choice! Both fine examples but anyone who could bear to spend married life with Martin Luther has got to be the saintliest!

  6. Tough choice today but I ended up with Katharina. First, because her name is a variant of an ancestor for whom I have special respect. Secondly, because Martin Luther sounds like he was a challenging spouse, and she handled her roles as wife, mother, administrator, and OG of the Reformation admirably.

  7. I also could use a lot of help with my diet, but Katharina's strength and courage as a woman in her times took my vote today.

  8. As the patron of vegetarians and dieters alone (what is the backstory there?!) Wulfstan had my vote initially, but I was persuaded by the personal story of Katharina to go with her. Well, guess I will never lose those 10 pounds now...

    1. I found Katerina and Wofstan are great people and examples for us to emulate. Tough choice, I chose Katerina because of the beer making, her managment of the daily stuff for Martin, raising 6 kids, and running a boarding house for a lot of reformation persons of note. Escaping in a Herring cask has to be a great experience to live through - perhaps a new Lenten discipline; spend a hour in a Herring barrel and meditate on the 98 thesis.

  9. Hard choice today. I initially fully intended to vote for Wulfstan, as I’m currently studying in what in his lifetime would have been his diocese, and visiting Tewkesbury Abbey was one of the highlights of my first semester abroad. My prayer life has been greatly enriched by a book based on the Benedictine tradition I bought there. That said, Katharina’s determination and fiery spirit really stuck me today, and I had to vote for her.

  10. Well - yeah. Katherine of course. She was considered quite revolutionary because her husband not only asked her thoughts on topcs, but also Took Her Advice - in front of other people! Both of them faced derision by Luther's contemporaries - until they met Doctora Lutherin and were subjected to her intellegence, compassion, and fierce devotion to Christ. I truly believe that she is one of the main reasons that Luther did not demand that women stay silent in church. I shall stick to God - and Katherina Von Bora - like a burr to cloth.

    1. I seriously doubt this was done lightly by any of the twelve "esacapees". It had to have taken a lot of prayer, great conviction, a lot of fear, and a great desire to help reform the church. Remember - Luther never wanted a seperation from Mother Church. He wanted it to Reform and come closer to the people.

  11. Wulfstan freed slaves and interceded on behalf of the oppressed against a conquering invasion. It seems he was stuck fairly close to Christ as well.

    1. Interesting that you consider Anglican neither Protostant nor Catholic. Neither fish nor fowl. How, exactly, does the Anglican church define itself?

      1. Catholic and reformed is one formula. Richard Hooker wrote a description of this via media, or middle way. Scripture, tradition, and reason are its foundation.

        1. Hmm. This leads me to wonder if Anglican is closer to what Luther had in mind when he desired to reform certain practices of the RC. Interesting. I shall research more. In the meantime, Bora Bora Bora!

        2. Yep, Ruth. Catholic and reformed. And I don't consider myself Protestant, although other Episcopalians might see things differently.

      2. Anglican, the other white meat! Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. This reminds me of the first time my, Lutheran raised, husband said the Apostles Creed at my home Episcopal Church. He looked at me quizzically when we came upon the word catholic. I pointed out the lower case c and it’s origins later that day. He had never heard catholic used that way! We are all constantly learning!

    2. "Voted in favor of the beer server": too true. That was definitely St Brigid of a couple of years ago. One person voted for her thousands of times! Love your sly wit.

    3. Church OF England or Church IN England? Wulfstan was a Catholic in England but was never in the Church of England. So Anglicans may claim heritage back to 597 but, really, anybody before 1534 or 1558 should be called Catholic and not Anglican.

      1. The English church was using the Sarum rite well before Henry decided he didn't want the Bishop of Rome owning English property without his say-so. So for the 400 or so years between the Synod of Whitby and the use of the Sarum rite, I'll concede your point.

  12. Although I do love reading Luther, any woman who could marry such a man, is truly a saint of God.

    1. My thought exactly, Charles. Though if I had any thoughts about voting for Wulfstan, who was an amazing man, it was clinched by the "burr"

  13. Wulfstan helped end slave trade as Bishop! Few are those who took this stand in that era except for the Quakers....Huzzah Wulfstan!

  14. Wulfstan for me. He seems like a good person. Nothing against Katharina, particularly is she put up with Martin Luther. I liked her "burr on cloth" analogy. It has "sticking power."

    1. Ah, the motives we have for choosing.
      Now if Wulfstan were guaranteed a coffee mug with that stained glass window on it....

      (Still undecided.)

  15. Although Wulfstan's life was admirable, and i pray he uses his role of patron saint of dieters to free many dieters from dieting, I vote for Katharina as an example for myself of engaging both mind and body in the work of love.