16/11: Feast of St Gertrude the Great…

The following account of the life of St Gertrude the Great, is taken from website of Catholic Tradition

January 6, 1232 – November 17, 1291

Saint Gertrude, Virgin, Mystic, and Benedictine Abbess, was called by Our Lord Himself, “My chosen Lily”, and the Church has given her the title of “Great” although she is not counted among the Doctors of the Church, at least as of yet. She is the only woman Saint to have been accorded this honor. There [is]  more than one Saint named Gertrude, one of whom was the Abbott of the monastery when Gertrude entered there at five, so it is an added blessing that she is distinguished by the term Great, for our sakes, because there is one less opportunity for confusion. It ought to come as no surprise that she was born in that great age of Saints, the 13th century, among which are numbered St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, and in the later years of which, both St. Francis of Assisi and St. Dominic, the latter two being born in the 12th century. Not only was this century the “Century of Saints”, but the age of the most wondrous of Saints.

Our Gertrude the Great was born at Eisleben, Germany, the same town as that of the unfortunate heretic, Martin Luther. But when she was born there were no Lutherans or any kind of Protestants because all of Christendom was Catholic. The revolt and upheaval would begin a scarce two centuries later. Note that she was born on the Feast of the Epiphany, destined as she was by God’s providence to be one of the Stars in the Communion of Saints. Her parentage is unknown for certain, although it is thought that she was born a countess, but we do know that when she was five years old, she was placed in the care of the Benedictine nuns at Helfta in Saxony, where she became the pupil and close friend of St. Mechtilde. The nuns there were known for their thoroughness in training and study, which only served to augment the intellectual gifts that God had bestowed on Gertrude. Very early on she was versed in Latin, the Bible, and the works of the Fathers of the Church. Yet, compared to her capacity for loving God, they pale. While still a child she began to speak to the Heart of Our Lord, her chosen One. She already had the capacity and the readiness to withdraw as much as possible from worldly pursuits in order to spend time with Him. And Jesus did come to her; the Benedictine sisters were not slow to learn that she was favored by Heaven. One nun, who suffered the torment of terrible temptations, had a dream in which she was told to ask Gertrude for help, to ask for her prayers. And as soon as Gertrude began to pray for her, the temptations ceased. Another religious had a similar urgent need of help. She took a cloth which had been used by the Saint, applied it to her heart and she was instantly healed of her spiritual malady. [2]

Our Lord Himself conveyed to another favored soul that Gertrude “contains and perfects in her soul those five virtues which please Me above all others, and which I have placed therein by a singular liberality; she possesses purity, by a continual influence of My grace; she possesses humility, amidst the great diversity of gifts which I have bestowed on her — for the more I effect in her, the more she abases herself; she possesses a true benignity, which makes her desire the salvation of the whole world for My greater glory; she possesses a true fidelity, spreading abroad, without reserve, all her treasures for the same end. Finally, she possesses a consummate charity; for she loves Me with her whole heart, with her whole soul, and with her whole strength; and for love of Me, she loves her neighbor as herself.” [3]

St. Gertrude was elected Abbess of her monastery in 1294 when she was but thirty. And for forty more years she continued to guide her spiritual children, many of whom attained a high degree of sanctity. As superior she was known for her zeal, and for her charity. Whenever anyone was suffering, whether in body or in spirit, she could not rest. If repentance was required she prayed and wept until the person had repented. She preferred this approach to severe upbraiding. So fervent were her nuns because this approach that not only did they attain sanctity but a number of them received singular favors from Heaven.

By this time Gertrude’s mystical union with her Spouse, Our Lord, Jesus, was so ardent and intimate that even the thought of sudden death could not disturb her. In fact she expressed her desire to join her Spouse. But she surrendered her will to His in this matter, saying that she preferred His will and providence even to the Sacraments.

Her confidence, which we shall speak about later, was so pre-eminent that it is impossible to think that his Sacred Heart could refuse her anything. It was not always thus. Once she had been praying fervently for a favor, which He had not yet granted. When asked Him why the delay, He replied that it was because she was lacking in confidence of the effects of His Mercy.

Later, He told St. Mechtilde, “I have united My Heart so closely to her soul by the ties of My Mercy that she has become one spirit with Me. It is on this account that she obeys so promptly all the desires of My will . . .” [4]

One year, before the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord, St. Gertrude, addressing Our Lord’s Five Wounds, repeated the following salutation five thousand four hundred and sixty-six times: “Glory be to Thee, most sweet, most gentle, most benign, most noble, most excellent, effulgent, and ever-peaceful Trinity, for the roseate wounds of my only Love!” As she repeated this salutation, our Lord Jesus appeared to her, more beautiful than the Angels, bearing golden flowers on each Wound, and saluted her thus, with a serene countenance and the tenderest charity: “Behold in what glory I now appear to you. I will appear in the same manner to you at your death, and will cover all the stains of your sins, and of those also who salute My Wounds with the same devotion.” [5]

Gertrude’s life became daily more supernatural and often she experienced ecstasies in which she not only enjoyed the company of Our Lord, but His Holy Mother as well. Even her favorite Saints came to visit her.

She also wrote with St. Mechtilde a series of prayers that became very popular, and because of this and her writing, devotion to the Sacred Heart began to spread. After numerous sufferings and an almost lifelong set of infirmities, she now neared her death. The Sisters were reading the Passion of Christ at her bedside where Jesus appeared to her with Our Lady at His right hand. The nuns pronounced the words, “And bowing His Head, He gave up the ghost,” Jesus leaned toward the Saint, opening wide His adorable Heart, pouring forth all His love while the Angels surrounded her bed; she beheld them inviting her to Paradise and heard then singing, “Come, come, O mistress! . . . Alleluia, alleluia!” [6] She died at Helfta on November 17 and although never formally canonized, Pope Clement XII in 1677 directed that her Feast [Originally November 17, but in this past century, the 16th] be a universal Feast in the Church. She is listed in the Roman Martyrology, which lists all the Saints and Martyrs.

She is the patron of the West Indies because of a petition to the Holy See made by the King of Spain.  To learn more about this great saint, click here

Comment: 

My beloved mother (RIP) was named Elizabeth Gertrude, but, unfortunately, she hated her middle name. While she disliked the name,  though, she loved the saint and would boast that her middle name patron was “St Gertrude the Great“…

Clearly, St Gertrude the Great was highly favoured, although cynics would question the visits from Our Lord and other mystical experiences.   Such experiences appear to have been not uncommon in those days.  It seems unlikely that they are as common today.   Feel free to share your thoughts on that, but also consider what – if anything – we might learn from a saint like St Gertrude the Great that would help us to become more pleasing (to God) Catholics. 

20 responses

  1. The inspiration of such great saints is needed by us all, especially in this Godless era. St. Gertrude is a marvelous role model and I’ve told my little ones about her. We never hear much about her nor indeed about most saints. It’s like they are redundant in this modern age when we have Medjugorje!

    I remember hearing that the editor’s mother bore this illustrious saint’s name, may God rest her soul.

    • Helen,

      Thank you for your prayers for the repose of my mother’s soul (she died in 2015) – very much appreciated.

      I reproduced the extract from St Gertrude’s life about her boundless confidence in God, to publish on my mother’s memorial cards, because that confidence in God was a feature of my mother’s spirituality.She never failed to assert her confidence that God would answer her prayers. Reminding her that she had prayed for this relative or that relative who had been lapsed for years now, she would reply: “But he/she’s not dead yet…” She utterly trusted in God and, since reading a bit about St Gertrude, I understand better how such confidence really does keep the soul at peace in all circumstances.
      http://www.catholictradition.org/Gertrude/saint-gertrude3.htm

      I agree about how little we hear of the lives of such great saints these days. It’s very sad.

      • I am delighted that at my grandsons Catholic primary school they talk a lot about the Saints and produce a weekly email for parents highlighting the feasts of the week as well as other school news.

        One of my grandmothers was Gertrude and the other Elizabeth, my blog name and middle name being Elizabeth too! We have always taken St Elizabeth of Hungary as our saint as I was born on that feast day. Nov 17th.

        However you are right to say that devotion to the Saints is rarely mentioned in the wider church, despite the modern rush to canonise the recent popes….

        • Elizabeth,

          It is always heartening to hear about schools like your grandson’s. That’s great.

          Also, it’s nice to hear of the coincidence of your two grandmothers have my own mother’s names – Elizabeth Gertrude!

          And now we know it’s your birthday tomorrow! I won’t ask your age, but wish you a very happy day tomorrow, with many happy returns.

  2. I love reading about the saints. St Gertrude the Great is a lovely saint.

    I went to the Catholic Tradition site to read more about her and she is just a beautiful soul. This bit about silence, struck me:-

    “In her work, REVELATIONS, Saint Gertrude the Great has a section titled, “Of refraining from useless words”. She begins with citing from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, chapter 58, verse 13:

    “Thou dost not thine own ways, and thine own will is not found to speak a word.” God gave her the grace to learn from this passage that he who regulates his words and actions with deliberate care, and abstains even from those that are licit when they are not necessary, will obtain a three-fold grace:

    1. Greater pleasure in God — “thou shalt be delighted in the Lord.”
    2. Bad thoughts will be less powerful an enemy — “I will lift thee above the high places of the earth.”
    3. In Heaven Jesus Christ will communicate the merits of His most holy life more abundantly to such a Saint than He will to others, because by it the Saint has been victorious over every temptation, gaining glory — “I will feed thee with the inheritance of Jacob thy father.”

    I can’t help thinking if people applied that to everything to do with words, not just speech, but trivial things like Twitter and Facebook, that would be really good. I know someone who isn’t on Facebook but friends of hers told her that a neighbour was badmouthing her on Facebook and it caused all sorts of trouble.

    St Gertrude the Great has much to teach us, and I’m going to read more about her now, on the Catholic Tradition site – they’ve set out her life in a really good reader-friendly way. I didn’t know that her feast day is tomorrow, so this is well timed.

  3. Happy Feast day everyone!

    Lily, you’ve highlighted a key part of anyone’s spiritual life – the importance of silence.

    No shortage of it on our devotional threads and this one looks like being no exception!

    Happy Feast day again to one and all!

    • Editor,

      It does always surprise me that so few people comment on the devotional threads, which I love. They obviously don’t read them, because anyone reading about this great saint would be sure to find something to comment on – she’s a wonderful saint, and a Doctor of the Church. I’m learning loads about her and from her.

  4. A very happy Feast of St Gertrude the Great to all CT bloggers.

    I haven’t known much about this saint so I am looking forward to moving around the Catholic Tradition site to learn more about her. What I have learnt so far, is that she is a beautiful saint.

    BTW, I don’t think “Gertrude” is such an awful name and anyway it can be cut short to “Trudy” which I like a lot!

  5. A very happy Feast of St Gertrude the Great to one and all!

    I was really interested to learn about the saint’s connection to the Sacred Heart devotion. That was news to me, as I’ve only ever associated that devotion with St Margaret Mary.

  6. Today is also the feast of St. Margaret, patroness of the country. There is a Mass tonight at 6.30pm at the Edinburgh chapel.

    • Vianney,

      We’ve had this conversation before.

      I was at Mass tonight in Glasgow, and sure enough, the Mass was the Mass of St Margaret of Scotland.

      However, in the missal, as it always has been throughout my (short!) lifetime, St Margaret’s Feast is 10 June.

      It’s St Gertrude listed for 16th November.

      Now, in the past, I’ve given in gracefully and posted a thread to mark St Margaret’s Feast but I just wish someone would explain to me how it comes to pass that I had to turn back to June 10th for the Mass of St Margaret today, 16th November, instead of the priest offering the Mass of St Gertrude, listed in the missal for today’s date. And why doesn’t he offer Mass for St Margaret on… er… 10th June?

      In summary, when you say that today is “also” the feast of St Margaret – how do you know that? Where does it say that? It doesn’t say it in my (1965) missal NOR on my traditional Catholic calendar, both of which list St Gertrude.

      Spill !

      Signed, Confused Catholic,
      Glasgow… 😀

      • Editor,

        I found this, which only adds to the confusion:

        “In 1693 Pope Innocent XII moved her feast day to 10 June in recognition of the birthdate of the son of James VII of Scotland and II of England. In the revision of the General Roman Calendar in 1969, 16 November became free and the Church transferred her feast day to 16 November, the date of her death, on which it always had been observed in Scotland. However, some traditionalist Catholics continue to celebrate her feast day on 10 June.”

  7. Here’s what my Martyrology (4th Edition, 1956) says about the Feasts in question:

    “St. Gertrude, Virgin of the Order of St. Benedict, whose birthday is recorded on the following day. At Edinburgh in Scotland, the birthday of St. Margaret, widow, Queen of the Scots; she was remarkable for her love of the poor and her voluntary poverty. Her festival is kept on June 10.”

  8. The feast has always been celebrated in Scotland on November 16th, the date of her death. In 1693 Pope Innocent XII changed the feast from the day of her death to the 10th of June but Scotland continued to keep the feast on November 16th. During the liturgical reforms the feast was moved from June 10th to November 16th in the universal Church but Traditional Catholics outwith Scotland continue to keep June 10th.

    A history of St. Margaret’s memorial Church in Dunfermline says:
    ” The laying of the marble foundation stone (paid for by Lord Bute) took place on St Margaret’s Day, 16th November 1894. The stone was laid by Lady Margaret, wife of the Marquess of Bute.”

    The Mass celebrated on November 16th is actually different from that celebrated on June 10th and I assume will be found in missals with a Scottish supplement. There are often different saints celebrated on the same day which is what I meant by “also.” In England the feast of St Edmund of Canterbury was kept today except in three diocese which presumably celebrated local saints.

  9. I suppose, folks, we can’t complain as long as they leave Christmas day on 25 December! I don’t want Santa getting confused!

    I’ll close this Feast Day thread now, having paid tribute to both St Gertrude the Great AND St Margaret of Scotland…

    Thank you to all who contributed.

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