Feast of Mechthild of Magdeburg, St. Mechthild of Hackeborn, and St. Gertrude the Great (July 28)   2 comments

Above:  Eisleben and Helfta, Germany

Image Source = Google Earth

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MECHTHILD OF MAGDEBURG (1210?-1282/1285)

German Mystic, Beguine, and Nun

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SAINT MECHTHILD OF HACKEBORN (CIRCA 1241-NOVEMBER 19, 1298)

German Nun and Mystic

Also known as Saint Mechthild of Helfta

Her feast transferred from February 26, November 16, and November 19

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SAINT GERTRUDE THE GREAT (JANUARY 6, 1256-NOVEMBER 17, 1302)

German Mystic and Abbess

Also known as Saint Gertrude of Helfta

Her feast transferred from April 12, November 15, November 16, and November 17

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What hinders spiritual people most of all from complete perfection is that they pay so little attention to small sins.  I tell you in truth:  when I hold back a smile which would harm no one, or have a sourness in my heart which I tell to no one, or feel some impatience with my own pain, then my soul becomes so dark…and my heart so cold that I must weep greatly and lament pitiably and yearn greatly and humbly confess all my lack of virtue.

–Mechthild of Magdeburg, quoted in Robert Ellsberg, All Saints:  Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time (1997), 320-321

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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.

–St. Mechthild of Hackeborn, quoted in Ellsberg, All Saints (1997), 505

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Inscribe with your precious blood, most merciful Lord, your wounds on my heart, that I may read in them both your sufferings and your love.

–St. Gertrude the Great, quoted in Ellsberg, All Saints (1997), 488

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These three saints knew each other.

Before I write about these mystics, I seek to clarify identities.  In this post, O reader, you will read of two Mechthilds and two Gertrudes.  That some secondary sources indicate confusion does not surprise me.  However, even a small effort easily separates the identity of one Mechthild from the other and the identity of one Gertrude from the other.

One of my purposes of this, A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  An Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, is to emphasize relationships and influence.  Sometimes one can properly tell one saint’s story in the context of at least one other saint.  That is the case in this post.

Beguines were informal female monastics.  These women formed intentional communities without taking vows or receiving formal ecclesiastical approval.

Mechthild of Magdeburg, born in Saxony circa 1210, came from a devout and wealthy family.  Starting at the age of 12 years, she reported daily greetings from the Holy Spirit.  In 1230, our saint, seeking to deepen her faith, became a Beguine and embarked on a religious life of prayer and asceticism.  She also criticized ecclesiastical corruption and worldliness.  Mechthild of Magdeburg made enemies in the Church, not surprisingly.  Details of her clash with another Beguine, Hadewijch of Brabant (1200-1248), have faded from the historical record.  Mechthild of Magdeburg’s book, The Flowing Light of the Godhead, was the most important work of German Roman Catholic mysticism prior to Meister Eckhart (c. 1260-1327/1328).

Mechthild of Magdeburg was nearly blind in 1270, when she became a Cistercian nun at St. Mary’s Convent, Helfta, near Eisleben.  She spent the rest of her life (until 1282/1285) there.

One of the other nuns at Helfta was St. Mechthild of Hackeborn/Helfta (c. 1241-1298), born at the family castle, Helfta.  She was also a mystic.  St. Mechthild of Hackeborn/Helfta, educated by nuns, had become a Cistercian nun at Roderdorf, Switzerland.  Then, in 1258, she transferred to Helfta, where her older sister, Gertrude, was the abbess.  St. Mechthild had her first mystical experience at Mass; she saw Christ in the host and the wine.  She also had a reputation as a counselor within the convent.

St. Mechthild was a close friend of St. Gertrude the Great (1256-1302).  St. Gertrude, who arrived at the abbey when five years old, stayed.  St. Mechthild was chiefly responsible for raising her.  St. Gertrude, who had a devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, reported many mystical experiences.  She, who referred to Christ as her Beloved Spouse, became a capable spiritual director.  St. Gertrude compiled St. Mechthild’s teachings and visions in the Book of Grace.

St. Mechthild, about 57 years old, died on November 19, 1298.

St. Gertrude, the abbess (1292f), lived until November 17, 1302.  She was 46 years old.  Her book was The Herald of Divine Love.

Ecclesiastical authorities generally recognized Sts. Mechthild and Gertrude with feat days yet not extended that courtesy to Mechthild of Magdeburg.  Trying to sort out that matter has become somewhat complicated due to confusing one Mechthild for the other.  The Roman Catholic Church has assigned multiple feast days to Sts. Mechthild and Gertrude.  In Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2018, The Episcopal Church has assigned them one feast, November 19.  The Church of England has defined November 19 as the feast day of Mechthild of Magdeburg.  The date on this, A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  An Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, comes via proximity to July 27, the feast day of Mechthild of Magdeburg in Robert Ellsberg, All Saints (1997).

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 8, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF GERALD FORD, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA AND AGENT OF NATIONAL HEALING; AND BETTY FORD, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES AND ADVOCATE FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE

THE FEAST OF ALBERT RHETT STUART, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF GEORGIA AND ADVOCATE FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

THE FEAST OF ALICE PAUL, U.S. QUAKER WOMEN’S RIGHTS ACTIVIST

THE FEAST OF GEORG NEUMARK, GERMAN LUTHERAN POET AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF GIOVANNI BATTISTA BONONCINI AND ANTONIO MARIA BONONCINI, ITALIAN COMPOSERS

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Almighty God, who gave to your servants Mechthild, Mechthild, and Gertrude

special gifts of grace to understand and teach the truth as it is in Christ Jesus:

Grant that by their teachings we may know you, the one true God, and Jesus Christ your Son;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

1 Samuel 2:1-10

Psalm 119:41-48

Luke 10:38-42

–Adapted from Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2018, 582

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2 responses to “Feast of Mechthild of Magdeburg, St. Mechthild of Hackeborn, and St. Gertrude the Great (July 28)

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  1. Pingback: Feast of Hadewijch of Brabant (April 22) | SUNDRY THOUGHTS

  2. Pingback: Feast of Lucy Menzies (November 24) | SUNDRY THOUGHTS

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