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 Sts Mechtildis & Gertrude   

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Sts Mechtildis of Helfta & Gertrude the Great cannot really be separated and as such here, together are their life stories in précis.

St Gertrude the Great

The Monastery of Helfta in History and today

St. Mechtildis of Helfta Nun and Mystic (b. Hackeborn 1241-1298) St. Mechtildis was one of a trio of extraordinary mystics who inhabited the same Benedictine convent in Saxony in the late thirteenth century. Aside from Mechtildis of Helfta (born in Hackeborn – and also carries that title), first came to the convent of Helfta when she was seven, there was also the ex-Beguine St Mechtild of Magde­burg (70 years prior) and the younger, St Gertrude the Great. None of these women held any notable office in their community and yet they exerted spiritual au­thority far beyond the convent as a result of their visions and their wide reputation for holiness.

Mechtildis of Helfta and Gertrude were particularly close. Gertrude had been donated, to the convent at the age of five, and Mechtildis, fifteen years her senior, had been largely responsible for her upbringing. As nuns and mystics they both developed a similar spirituality, emphasizing an affective devotion to the humanity of Christ and a strong focus on the Eucharist.

In the case of Mechtildis, her first mystical vision occurred while receiving Holy Communion. our Lord appeared to her, held her hands, and left his imprint on her heart "like a seal in wax." Christ furthermore presented his own heart to her in the form of a cup and said, "By my heart you will praise me always; go, offer to all the saints the drink of life from my heart that they may be happily inebriated with it."

Mechtildis had a great devotion to the humanity of Christ, for this humanity was the "door" by which human beings and, indeed, all creation entered into union with divinity. In one extraordinary vision she perceived that "the smallest details of creation are reflected in the Holy Trinity by means of the humanity of Christ, because it is from the same earth that produced them that Christ drew his humanity."

As a result of her visions, Mechtildis wielded tremendous authority within her community and beyond. She was regarded as a prophet, teacher, and counsellor, "a tender mother of the unfortunate by her contin­ual prayers, her zealous instruction, and her consolations." The teachings and visions of St. Mechtildis were carefully recorded, by her spiritual daughter and lifelong friend, St. Gertrude, in a work entitled the Book of Special Grace. She died on November 19, 1298.

More on St Mechtildis

St. Gertrude the Great, Nun and Mystic (1253 -1302) Of the birth and background of St. Gertrude there is no record. When she was five, she, was given to the nuns of the monastery at Helfta in Saxony, and within the walls of that enclosure she remained for the rest of her life. This monastery was one of the great religious communities of its time, distinguished by women of great learning as well as a number of, famous mystics. One of them, St. Mechtildis (d. 1298), was put in charge of the girl and oversaw her education and upbringing. Their relationship remained particularly intimate for the reminder of the life of the former.

When she came of age Gertrude was professed as a nun. The religious life was all she had ever known. Nevertheless she truly owned her vocation only at the age of twenty-five. The turning point came one evening as she was preparing for bed. Suddenly she experienced a vision of Christ in the form of a young man. He spoke to her and said, "Fear not. I will save and deliver you." The figure was bathed in a dazzling light which emanated from his five wounds. He went on to say, "You have licked the dust with my enemies and sucked honey from thorns. Now come back to me, and my divine delights shall be as wine to you."

For the rest of her life Gertrude enjoyed frequent mystical revelations, often in dialogues with our Lord, her Beloved Spouse. Believing these revelations were not for her own sake alone she forced herself to record them in a book, The Herald of Divine Love, a work combining great theological sophistication with mystical ardour. Nearly all the themes of Catholic Theology are treated in her book, though the principal theme is God's love for his creatures. Gertrude had a special devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the point where human and divine love are most intimately joined.

Gertrude was often in poor health. Once when she was too sick to at­tend a sermon our Lord spoke to her: "Would you like me to preach to you, my dearest?" When she agreed that she would, "our Lord made her lean against his heart, with the heart of her soul close to his Divine Heart. When her soul had sweetly rested there awhile, she heard in the Divine Heart, ‘two pulsations’. He told her that the first pulse was for the salvation, of sinners, the second, for the salvation of the just.

Gertrude served her community as a spiritual director and was fre­quently called upon to lead the community in prayer. When another of Helfta’s mystics (quite possibly St Mechtildis) asked the Lord what he most liked about Gertrude, he answered: "Her freedom of heart." She died on November 17, 1302. Her feast day is observed on November 16.




More on St Gertrude (external hyperlink)

An excerpt of St Gertrude's writings

God’s economy and Gertrud at the stock exchange

O dear Truth, O just fairness of God, how will I appear before your face bearing my iniquity, the guilt of my wasted life, the weight of my exceedingly great thoughtlessness? I have not, alas, paid the coin of Christian faith and of spiritual life to the money dealers at the table of charity, where you might receive it as you wish together with its increasing earnings of total perfection.

Not only have I spent in idleness the talent of time entrusted to me, but I have also lost it, treated it perversely and squandered it altogether. Where will I go, where will I turn myself, and where will I flee from your face?
O Truth, you have justice and fairness as indivisible associates. You judge all things by number, weight, and measure. Whatever you seize, you lift onto an exceedingly just scale. Woe to me, a thousand times woe, if I were handed over to you without an advocate to answer for me. O Charity, may you be my deputy. Answer for me. Obtain indulgence for me. Act in my cause so that I may live by your grace. Execitia spiritualis , book 7, 80-94


Oh, if my wish were granted that, with Jesus, the best beloved, you captured and bound me and treated me as your own heir!

By consorting and discoursing with this divine hostage, from a sinner I would be made into a saint; from one useless into a true spiritual human being; from an enemy into a true friend of God; from one lukewarm into someone truly thirsting for God; from one barren and unfruitful into one sprouting the perfection of all virtues and the holiness of all religion. There, my dear Jesus, may the bosom of your divine heart be my bond in such a way that, in the violence of living love, I may become your prisoner forever, indivisibly glued to you, living entirely for you and clinging to you so that for eternity, I may never be capable of being separated from you. Amen. Excercitia spiritualia 7/55-65

The Monastery of Helfta in History and today

Kloster Helfta is being rebuild

St. Marien zu Helfta (St. Mary’s of Helfta) is the famous 13th century Cistercian convent in Helfta which was known as "The Crown of German Convents". Three women founded the fame of Helfta. All three living as Religious in the convent:

Mechtild of Magdeburg

Mechtild of Hakeborn

Gertrud (the Great) of Helfta

European mysticism was greatly influenced by their writing. And their spirituality is gaining renewed effects today. For more than 450 years no church bells sounded here, but in1999 eight Sisters from Seligenthal – a Bavarian Cistercian Abbey - have started to rebuild monastic life. Meanwhile 18 woman live, pray, and work in the convent. Women are also invited to share monastic life for shorter periods of time

The decay of the beautiful medieval buildings has been stopped, church, convent and guesthouse are newly restored, financed solely by donations mainly from German Catholics. Helfta is developing into a centre of Spirituality in the diocese of Magdeburg. We are happy to host a small number of seminars, conduct retreats, and spiritual exercises. We also welcome short-stay visitors and offer guided tours. Guests are invited to join with us in Holy Office.

Kloster St. Marien zu Helfta
Lindenstr. 36
06295 Eisleben
Tel: 03475 711 500
Fax: 03475 711 555

The History of the Convent at Helfta

Some information on the older St Mechtildis (of Magdeburg)

Cistercian Nuns - a beautiful website



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