St. Gertrude of Nivelles, Abbess

March 17

Patron of Cats, the Recently Diseased, Gardeners, Travelers, Those with Mental Illness, and Those with a Morbid Fear of Mice and Rats.

Special Note:

There are two Saints named Gertrude, one called "the Great" and the other from Nivelles. People often confuse them, especially since they were both nuns and appeared quite alike. Saint Gertrude of Nivelles has a special symbol, that of the mouse on her staff. Sometimes St. Gertrude the Great is also depicted with a mouse on her staff. Our image portrays the Saint with book and writing quill instead, another symbol of hers.


Our Saint was born at Landen, Belgium in 626 and died at Nivelles, 659; she was just thirty-three, the same age as Our Lord. Both her parents, Pepin of Landen and Itta were held to be holy by those who knew them; her sister Begga is numbered among the Saints. On her husband's death in 640, Itta founded a Benedictine monastery at Nivelles, which is near Brussels, and appointed Gertrude its abbess when she reached twenty, tending to her responsibilities well, with her mother's assistance, and following her in giving encouragement and help to monks, particularly Irish ones, to do missionary work in the locale.

Saint Gertrude's piety was evident even when she was as young as ten, when she turned down the offer of a noble marriage, declaring that she would not marry him or any other suitor: Christ alone would be her bridegroom.

She was known for her hospitality to pilgrims and her aid to missionary monks from Ireland as we indicated above: She gave land to one monk so that he could build a monastery at Fosse. By her early thirties Gertrude had become so weakened by the austerity of abstaining from food and sleep that she had to resign her office, and spent the rest of her days studying Scripture and doing penance. It is said that on the day before her death she sent a messenger to Fosse, asking the superior if he knew when she would die.

His reply indicated that death would come the next day during holy Mass----the prophecy was fulfilled. Her feast day of March 17 is observed by gardeners, who regard fine weather on that day as a sign to begin spring planting.

Devotion to St. Gertrude became widely spread in the Lowlands and neighboring countries.

Most representations in art depict her as an abbess with mice, rats, or cats. Commonly seen running up her pastoral staff or cloak are hopeful-looking mice representing Souls in Purgatory, to which she had an intense devotion, just as with St. Gertrude the Great. Even as recently as 1822, offerings of mice made of gold and silver were left at her shrine.
Another patronage is to travelers on the high seas. It is held that one sailor, suffering misfortune while under sail, prayed to the Saint and was delivered safely.

Her sister, St. Begga died in 693; her feast is December 17; she married a son of St. Arnulf of Metz and became the mother of Pepin of Herstal.