Feast Day: November 16
A Benedictine nun and visionary and born in Eisleben, Germany, from the age of five Gertrude was educated in the nunnery of Helfta in Saxony. She became a student of Saint Melchtilde and there she eventually made her profession of religious vows and spent the rest of her life undergoing a deep spiritual conversion.
As a nun, Gertrude had her first vision of Jesus Christ at the age of twenty-six. She had various mystical experiences throughout her remaining twenty years. The visions were based on the Liturgy and many of them actually took place during the singing of the Divine Office. This needs to be stressed because much of her writing seems emotional and individualist in tone. She was a child of her age in so far as her piety expressed contemporary insistence on devotion to Christ’s humanity: she is often regarded as a pioneer of the devotion, which later became popular to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
From the time of her conversion Gertrude lost interest in secular studies, in which she had been well grounded, and concentrated entirely on Holy Scripture, the Liturgy, and the Church Fathers. Gertrude’s conversion was not a conversion from sin to virtue, it was simply a conversion from a life lived in a monastery and following a monastic rule, and so having God for its object but permitting other interests and motivation, to a life totally centered upon and given up wholly to God. Gertrude compiled books of wisdom of the saints and wrote prayers and spiritual exercises. According to her contemporary biographer, “She labored tirelessly at collecting and writing down everything that might be of use to others, without expecting any thanks, desiring only the good of souls. She imparted her writings to those most likely to profit by them.”
Gertrude is usually regarded as one of the most important medieval mystics and much revered by Saint Teresa of Avila, Spain. She was never formally canonized but her fame was diffused through the printing of her works in Latin in 1536. Nevertheless, Pope Clement XII decreed that her feast should be extended to the whole Church.
“Ah! Wake up, O soul! How long will you sleep? Hear the word that I announce to you,” wrote Gertrude in her great work, The Herald of Divine Love. “Above the heavens there is a King who is held by desire for you. He loves you with his whole heart, and he loves beyond measure. He himself loves you so dulcetly and he himself cherishes you so faithfully that, for your sake, he humbly gave up his kingdom.”
Bunson, Matthew, Margaret Bunson, and Stephen Bunson. “Encyclopedia of Saints-Revised.” Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, 2003.
Farmer, David. “Oxford Dictionary of Saints.” New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.
Gallick, Sarah. “The Big Book of Women Saints.” New York, NY: HarperOne, 2007.