Feast Day: November 16
Gertrude was born near Eisleben in Saxony, Germany. Nothing is known of her parents, except that they were well-to-do. Gertrude was orphaned at the age of five and placed in a Benedictine convent.
She became a student of Saint Mechtilde and 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 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. Gertrude was such a devoted student that later she repented for neglecting her prayers in order to study more. She wrote and composed in Latin. She was especially devoted to the Sacred Heart, and wrote prayers with Mechtilde.
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’s writings were approved by her superiors and Dominican and Franciscan theologians. St. Teresa of Avila chose Gertrude as her mentor and guide, and Gertrude’s works were favorably viewed and recommended by Saints John of the Cross and Frances de Sales. She was never canonized, but in 1677 her name was inscribed in the Roman Martyrology, and Pope Clement XII decreed that her feast should be observed by the entire Church. Gertrude is the only woman saint to be called “Great.”
“O Sacred Heart of Jesus, fountain of eternal life, Your Heart is a glowing furnace of love. You are my refuge and my sanctuary.” – St. Gertrude
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.
Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. “The Encyclopedia of Saints.” New York, NY: Checkmark Books, 2001.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons