A SHORT BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH OF ST. GERTRUDE
ABBESS AT HELPEDE IN SAXONY.
ST. GERTRUDE was born in the year 1232, at Eisleben, a city of the Diocese of Halberstadt, in the County of Mansfeld. Her father was a Count of Hackenborn, distinguished alike for nobility and wealth. In her fifth year she was placed by her parents in the Benedictine Cloister of Rodard, that she might receive a Christian education: after this convent had been established twenty-four years and Gertrude had been its Abbess for seven years, it was removed to Helpede [Helfta], a mile and a half from Eisleben. In this cloister the children of many distinguished and noble families were educated, and the life led by its inmates was so holy that Christ appeared to many of them and conversed familiarly with them. This holy life lasted for ninety years, until in the year 1342 it was burnt down, after the death of St. Gertrude of Brunswick.
The life of St. Gertrude was so holy that it excelled in lustre the lives of the other nuns even as the light of the moon dims that of the stars. She appeared to possess every virtue in the highest degree, so that it was difficult to affirm that anyone predominated --- she was so humble that it seemed impossible to her that any one should be a greater sinner than herself, and she was of opinion that each one of her companions acquired more merit by cherishing good thoughts, than she herself did by her severe penitential life. She was so compassionate towards the poor and oppressed that she could not listen to a recital of their sufferings without tears. She loved purity to that degree that she resembled an Angel rather than a human being: she blushed at the mere mention of an immodest word. In her intercourse with others she was so friendly that she was beloved by everyone, yet kept her heart free from sensitive love. She was a living mirror of patience, never during the serious attacks of sickness which constantly beset her uttering a sign of impatience by word or gesture. On account of these and many other virtues, which for brevity's sake are omitted, she was in her nineteenth year elected Abbess, the duties of which office she performed so perfectly for forty years that nearly all her nuns, who numbered more than a hundred, attained to a life of sanctity.
After she had reached her twenty-sixth year, Christ appeared to her for the first time, and at a later period nearly every day, and conversed with her in the most pleasing manner: she was also visited and consoled by the Blessed Virgin and other Saints, particularly on their festivals. Often was she rapt in spirit to Heaven itself, where she learnt many heavenly secrets, and heard the hymns of praise sung by the Angels. Once, on Christmas Day, the Mother of God gave her the Christ-Child, which she kept by her to her great delight till the Feast of the Purification, and tended Him as other children are tended. Once as she lay sick on the third Sunday in Advent and could not go to Mass, Christ Himself, served by many Angels and Saints, celebrated Mass in her apartment. Were I to mention all the favors of similar nature received by her, this book could not contain them: therefore I refer the reader to the charming book of her revelations, [Life and Revelations of St. Gertrude: newly edited by M. Sintzel.] in which innumerable and astonishing facts are related.
Her love to Christ, and on the other hand, His to her, is beyond the power of expression. Sometimes He presented her with His heart, many times exchanged hearts with her. At times He refreshed her with heavenly sweetness from the wounds of His side. He once said to another Virgin: "I belong entirely to her: yield Myself her captive: for love has united Me to her in the same degree as when gold and silver are melted together;" and another time He said:
"There is not another human being who comes nearer to Me than she does in upright intention and good-will: therefore to no soul yet living in the flesh am I so graciously inclined as to her;" to which He added, "In no more desirable place, in no pleasanter place canst thou find Me, than in the most holy Sacrament of the Altar, or in the heart of my chosen bride Gertrude; for to her have I miraculously directed all the love of My heart." Christ also grants many privileges and graces to those who love and honor her, more especially that no one who honors her shall die a sudden death; and as she once asked Him how should she know that he promised her this great favor, He replied: "Stretch out thy hand!" And when she had stretched out her right hand, He took it, laid it in the wound of His side and said: "See, by this I promise thee, that I will keep for thee the promised graces without fail. And should it happen in the wisdom of My foresight that I withhold their action for a period, I hereby engage to compensate for this in a threefold measure in the Power, Wisdom, and Goodness of the most Holy Trinity, in Whose midst I live and reign, true God, from everlasting to everlasting. Amen." As the Saint drew her hand forth from the wound, she bad a golden ring on every finger and three on the fourth, and Christ spoke: "These seven rings shall be to thee a certain proof that the seven modes of grace which I have promised thee for the salvation of the world, shall be ratified according to thy wish."
At length, at the age of sixty years, she was during a long and wearisome sickness struck with paralysis of the right side, and for twenty-two weeks deprived of the power of speech so that she could only utter: "My soul!" Yet she sometimes caused herself to be led in to Holy Mass, although lame on one side, and that treading on the foot of the other side caused her very great pain. At length; on the 17th of November, the agony came on; it lasted till evening, when she died; meantime a holy virgin saw Angels coming by turns from Heaven to see how she was, and they sang with lovely voices: "Come, come, come, thou chosen one! The joys of Heaven await thee."
When the time of her death approached, Christ appeared, accompanied by His Mother, St. John, and an innumerable crowd of Saints, principally virgins. He embraced her, and she gave up her spirit. Christ took her soul in His heart, and carried it in triumphal procession to Heaven. At the same time, He freed through her merits an innumerable throng of Souls out of Purgatory, who accompanied her to Heaven for the increase of her glory also. Many sinners were converted, and many prayers granted throughout the world. The next day, as she was buried, a saintly virgin saw that, as often as earth was thrown on her grave, Christ made the Sign of the Cross over her, and when the grave was covered, the Mother of God closed it in.
She died in the year 1291, nearly sixty years old, on the 17th of November, on which day her feast is kept. May God give us grace through her merits!
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