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Saint Gertrude the Great, celebrated mystic and theologian

Saint Gertrude the Great, celebrated mystic and theologian

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series Saints

Saint Gertrude the Great, 13th century mystic and theologianWho is Saint Gertrude the Great?

If you are drawn to devout prayer and contemplation, then Saint Gertrude the Great is definitely someone you want to get to know. If you love Christ and the Eucharist, again, Saint Gertrude the Great is someone to not just learn about but to entertain and engage. She is a ready heavenly friend.

Like many of our famous saints, Saint Gertrude was no stranger to ecstacies and even raptures of divine love. In every way you can imagine she was, and is, a close friend of Jesus. She embraced the type of spirituality known as “nuptial mysticism,” where she came into a deep and personal union with Jesus and his Sacred Heart and became a true bride of Christ.

What you may not know about Saint Gertrude the great

How fitting for this saint-to-be to be born in Germany on January 6th, 1256, the feast of the Epiphany. She became a great gift for our Lord, and her feast day is celebrated every November 16th. She came from a wealthy family and entered into formal instruction at the age of four at the monastery of St. Mary at Helftia. It should be no surprise to learn that she became a well-known theologian, as well as a celebrated mystic. Well-read, Gertrude was clearly schooled not only in the secular knowledge of the day, but in scripture. She knew the writings of the Patristic fathers and even of her contemporaries such as Bernard of Clairvaux. She not only read and knew Latin, she had great skill as a writer. She did a lot of writing over the years and some of her work survives to this day. Her spiritual exercises are still used today by those who seek a deeper life of meditation and prayer. Saint Theresa of Avila’s confessor suggested that Theresa look to Saint Gertrude the Great as guide and “spiritual mistress.”

Saint Gertrude the Great, a friend of the Holy Souls in Purgatory

For many Catholics, Saint Gertrude is the saint most linked to the Holy Souls in Purgatory. Every November, many recite her famous prayer for the Holy Souls. She is celebrated for her “tender sympathy towards the souls in purgatory.” I met Saint Gertrude the Great almost immediately after the death of my mother a year ago. I kept seeing references to her. I developed a devotion to the Holy Souls in Purgatory. I read a bit here, heard a bit there.

Saint Gertrude the Great Steps Forward

As it often occurs with saints who have something to say to you, things happen. Over the last year, I’ve had an increasing curiosity about the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It began soon after I started having a feeling of my heart being encased in the heart of Jesus at the moment of taking communion. I would gaze on statue of Christ with the Sacred Heart that rests high above the altar in church. I read about the Sacred Heart, but it was only in the last few weeks that I learned of Saint Gertrude the Great’s deep devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Once again, Saint Gertrude the Great came forward during All Saints Day and All Soul’s Day. I recited her prayer for the Holy Souls in Purgatory and visited local cemeteries. It wasn’t long before I was searching for more information about this great saint.

The Life and Revelations of Saint Gertrude the Great

Today I’m in the midst of Saint Gertrude the Great and her revelations. I am reading The Life and Revelations of Saint Gertrude the Great and getting to know her. I think about this little five-year-old daughter of a count born on Epiphany Day, offered up to God, and schooled in a monastery in the 13th century. Today we often think that people of that era, especially women, were uneducated and had few, if any, major aspirations but it clearly wasn’t so. Gertrude was a bright, intelligent child who gobbled up theology, scriptures, and the secular knowledge of the day and went on to become a writer, a sought-after theologian and mystic of her day, and a great saint. I confess, I am eager to discover what she she has in store for me and what I will learn from her—and now I wonder what she revealed to Saint Theresa of Avila.  

Read more
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on Saint Gertrude the Great (2010)
The Holy Souls in Purgatory
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