There have been Reformation sisters as well as Reformation wives. Margarethe Blaurer’s brother was Ambrose Blaurer, the Reformer of Konstanz and Württemberg. She stands as an example of service in singleness.1 In 1415, Jan Hus had been burned at the stake in Konstanz, prophesying that the Reformation would rise from his ashes. Over a century later, the city threw off Roman Catholicism. More than twenty ministers preached the gospel; Roman Catholic priests and bishops fled the city.
In this Reformed place, the Blaurer family became very prominent. Ambrose had been a monk, but he left the monastery disgusted with the religious community’s sins. His brother Thomas became burgomaster and Margarethe became the Swiss Reformation’s helpmeet. During the Reformation, Konstanz struggled through many trials: drought, plague, and earthquake came one after the other. During all of these, Margarethe was a great help to Ambrose.
Her Relationship with Other Reformers
Like so many other Protestant women, Margarethe was well educated, despite her common birth. Isaac Good points out that Erasmus and Heinrich Bullinger honored her as a poet, but it seems that her Latin was lacking—surviving letters to her are in her own tongue.2 She corresponded with many Reformation scholars. Bucer, on his way home from a conference in 1528, returned with Ambrose to Germany by way of Konstanz. There, he met Margarethe and afterwards wrote several letters to her. 3 He addressed her as “sister” and even “mother” out of respect, despite the fact that he was three years older. Bucer was a guest more than once in the Blaurer home. He once visited while Margarethe was away; Ambrose later wrote to Bucer that Margarethe was disappointed that she was not able to host him herself and asked him to come again when she would be able to serve.4
The relationship between Margarethe and Bucer is fairly typical of the kind of friendship that male Reformers had with female correspondents. Bucer’s primary relationship was with Margarethe’s brother, and often when Bucer wrote to Ambrose, he would include greetings to Margarethe in the conclusion of his letter. But because of her involvement in reform work, Bucer sometimes encouraged and advised her directly. They knew each other well enough for Bucer to tease Margarethe to end her singleness with a good marriage. (Even back then, pastors were tempted to match up godly young people.) He also asked for Margarethe’s help in arranging a match between a young man he thought highly of and a young woman whom Margarethe knew.5
Theology was also a topic of discussion. The Anabaptists were making waves in the Protestant community. Margarethe had friends among them. Bucer explained the danger of their spiritual trajectory, calling the teaching heresy. Whether Margarethe considered their views as scriptural or whether Bucer feared she might is unclear. He did send her “our confession”—a scriptural explanation of the errors.6 So, like many of her Protestant peers, Margarethe also read theological works in the spare time she carved out.
In their discussions of mutual friends, relationships, and larger issues of reform, it is clear that the Reformer and the Reformer’s sister were friends in a very biblical way, encouraging each other as they did the work of reform and offering practical help—two points in a network trying to facilitate gospel advance.
Though she was honored by prominent Reformers, Margarethe was modest and hardworking. Good says, “She had not only found the pearl of great price, but was a pearl herself through the splendor of her piety and her example of good works.”7 Her faith was a blessing to the city; she was untiring in doing good. She taught many poor children to read, showing the ubiquitous Protestant concern for literacy. Margarethe visited widows and orphans to comfort them and to help in practical ways. While Ambrose reformed the church from his pulpit and Thomas led the city from his council room, her work was a labor of love that reached everyone in town.
She organized the first woman’s society to care for the sick and so became the founder of the first Protestant woman’s society—a needed alternative in a time where female community was usually limited to convents. A young girl in town who needed care found a new mother in Margarethe, who took the girl into her own home when she could not meet her needs by other arrangements.
When plague broke out in 1541, Margarethe labored hard among the sick, risking her own life. In early November of that year, Ambrose wrote to Bullinger that the plague was sweeping the town, killing many. Near the end of the letter, he described his sister as “arch deaconess of our church,” visiting homes with the plague every day. Ambrose understood the danger in which this placed his beloved sister. He closes the letter asking Bullinger to pray that the Lord would not take away Margarethe, “who is our only comfort.”8
The Lord saw fit to refuse this request—Margarethe died of the plague on November 15, 1541, at the age of forty-seven. On November 30, Ambrose wrote to Bullinger that he and the church had lost a most faithful servant and that there was “great mourning everywhere.”9 Bullinger answered, sharing the brother’s grief that his sister had been “snatched” away, pointing him to consolation in the Lord.10 Other men joined Bullinger in comforting Ambrose, who felt the loss deeply.11 He wrote a hymn on her death, full of Christian hope. He was one of the earliest hymn-writers of the Reformed, and he used his gifts to comfort himself and the churches in the city.
It was good that Margarethe died when she did. In God’s mercy, she did not live a few years longer to see the Reformed driven out of Konstanz and forced to flee to Switzerland. When that storm burst, Margarethe was safe with her Lord in heaven. Her brother has been called the Apostle of Württemberg; Margarethe might well be called the Angel of Mercy of Konstanz.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on October 27, 2017, and is part of a series on women of the Reformation. Anna Reinhard. Anna Adlischweiler. Katharina Schutz Zell. Margarethe Blaurer. Marguerite de Navarre. Jeanne D’Albret. Catherine d’Bourbon. Elizabeth Bucer. Giulia Gonzaga.
- Isaac Good spells Margarethe’s last name “Blaarer”; Martin Bucer spelled it “Blaurer” in his correspondence. See, for example, Martin Bucer, Martin Bucer Briefwechsel/Correspondance: Band III (1527–1529) (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 1995), 107. “Blarer” is a more common modern spelling, though the family seems to have preferred “Blaurer.” ↩︎
- From surviving letters, it seems clear that she spoke an Alsatian dialect of Middle German. Many thanks to Dr. Todd Rester for translating several letters into Modern English. ↩︎
- Good claims that seventy-nine are in a Zurich archive, but he has no references, so these letters are difficult to locate. Famous Women of the Reformed Church (Birmingham, Ala.: Solid Ground Christian books, facsimile of the 1901 edition), 56. Brill’s multivolume publication of Bucer’s letters contains several to Margarethe, but not nearly the number that Good states exist. There are many more letters to Ambrose in Bucer’s correspondence. Martin Bucer Briefwechsel. ↩︎
- Ambrose Blaurer to Martin Bucer, February 13, 1531, in Martin Bucer Briefwechsel/Correspondance: Band V (September 1530–Mai 1531) (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2004), 271. ↩︎
- Martin Bucer Briefwechsel/Correspondance: Band VI (Mai–Oktober 1531) (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2006), 25. ↩︎
- Bucer to Margarethe Blaurer, August 31, 1531, in Martin Bucer Briefwechsel/Correspondance: Band VI, 93. ↩︎
- Margarethe means “pearl.” Good, 56. ↩︎
- Ambrose Blaurer to Heinrich Bullinger, November 5, 1541, in Briefwechsel der Bruder Ambrosius und Thomas Blaurer, 1509–1548, Band III (Stuttgart, Germany: Freiburg i. Br., 1910), 90–91. ↩︎
- Ambrose Blaurer to Bullinger, November 30, 1541, in Briefwechsel der Bruder Ambrosius und Thomas Blaurer, 93. Ambrose wrote about it more than once to Bullinger, with whom he seems to have been close. ↩︎
- Bullinger to Ambrose Blaurer, December 10, 1541, in Briefwechsel der Bruder Ambrosius und Thomas Blaurer, 94. ↩︎
- Bonifacius Wolfhart, Conrad Hubert, Rudolf Gualther in Briefwechsel der Bruder Ambrosius und Thomas Blaurer, 98–111. ↩︎