Pirkheimer, Charitas

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Learned abbess of the Nuremberg convent of St. Clara; b. Nuremberg, March 21, 1466; d. there, Aug. 19, 1532. Her family was prominent in the civic government of Nuremberg, and her brother, Willibald, won renown as a humanist. She entered the monastery of the Poor Clares and, in spite of her earnest remonstrances, was elected abbess Dec. 20, 1503. For 20 years her life was peaceful and studious. Under the guidance of her brother, she read Latin classics as well as the Fathers of the Church, of whom Jerome was her favorite. Through Willibald, she met many of the outstanding scholars of the day, and was in correspondence with Conrad Celtis, Georg Spalatin, Christopher Scheurl, Sixtus Tucher, Johann Cochlaeus, Albrecht Dürer, and Desiderius Erasmus. Charitas Pirkheimer remained unaffected by the great praise of these scholars, and her convent, though considered a center of culture, maintained its religious regularity. When Lutheranism reached Nuremberg, the peace and quiet of convent life ceased. Pirkheimer had written (1522) a letter to Luther's adversary, Hieronymus emser, in which she thanked him for his courage as the "powerful defender of the Christian faith." The convent thus became a chief target of the governor of Nuremberg who from 1524 assigned to the convent Lutheran preachers to whom the nuns were obliged to listen. Until her death, despite the sufferings inflicted on her and her community, Pirkheimer defended her rights with courage and resourcefulness against the attacks of the town council, the abusive words of preachers, and the slanders of townspeople. The diary that she diligently kept during the stormy period of the Lutheran persecution came to light in 1852 in the archives of the convent of Bamberg. It adds much light to obscure points in the Reformation history of Nuremberg.

Bibliography: j. kist, Charitas Pirkheimer (Bamberg 1948). Caritas Pirkheimer: Quellensammlung (Landshut 1961). j. kist, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 195765) 8:516. g. pfeiffer, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 7 v. (3d ed. Tübingen 195765) 5:385.

[m. duffey]