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.
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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.
Katharina von 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.
Wulfstan vs. Katharina von Bora
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