because the woman's place is wherever the woman is...

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Katharina Zell

Historical accounts of the Protestant Reformation make it sound like a campaign made up entirely of men. Actually, there were a number of women key to its unfolding and one of the principle such figures was Katharina Zell, born in Strasbourg, Germany, in 1497.

Zell first became a public personna when, at twenty-six, she agreed to be the bride of the first priest to marry. This union, needless to say, got him thrown out of the Roman Catholic church. But the following year, it was Katharina -- not him -- that published a response to his excommunication.

From that time on, Zell's writings -- on Christian tolerance of other, newer Christian perspectives, on reaching out and caring for the poor, and on being a woman in the church -- challenged the traditional religious power structure and are still read today for their clarity of vision. But espousing ideas outside the mainstream wasn't all Zell became known for. She sheltered people who were being otherwise attacked. She visited those in prison. She conducted Bible studies attended by both men and women (unheard of at the time). And she conducted parts of her husband's funeral, a practice which would still be questioned in many churches today.

When she was accused of "disturbing the peace" with her in-your-face exhortations and behaviors, Zell wrote: "Do you call this disturbing the peace that instead of spending my time in frivolous amusements I have visited the plague-infested and carried out the dead? I have visited those in prison and under sentence of death...I have done more than any minister in visiting those in misery." And whenever it was mentioned that St. Paul said women should be silent in the church, Zell countered with: "I would remind you of the word of this same apostle that in Christ there is no male nor female." One wonders what Zell would have to say about churches today that relegate women in general to a reduced status. And in-your-face women to a non-existent one.


  1. This is Lucas Cranach's picture of Luther's wife Katharina von Bora, not a picture of Katharina Sch├╝tz Zell.

  2. Thanks, Mark. I have now posted three different graphics to illustrate this post and they have all turned out to be somebody else. I haven't had this kind of difficulty with any of the other 365 women on the site and on the rare occasions when I couldn't find any facial image at all, I used something else related to the woman in question (a picture of her helmet from a museum, a medal she once won, etc.). In Zell's case, these images keep coming up wrongly identified and there don't seem to be any others. I am flummoxed. Anyone out there who can help me would be greatly appreciated.