St Gertrude

Our monastic calendar is out of step with much of the rest of the world, for we keep the feast of St Gertrude today rather than on 16 November. I tremble at the thought of writing about her as a friend, for you know where that got me when I wrote about St Martin, but for those who like their sanctity a little on the dry side, she was a great mystic, with a warm devotion to the sacred humanity of Christ, especially in his Passion and in the Eucharist, and had a tender love of Our Lady. That she is a patron of the West Indies and of cats is by the bye. (I’m not sure why cats should need a patron saint: can anyone tell me?)

That dessicated Gertrude does not greatly interest me. The child of five who entered the local monastery at Helfta, received an excellent education, became a nun and ended as a saint interests me enormously. She was an amazing woman, just as her abbess, Gertrude of Hackeborn, with whom she is often confused, was an amazing woman. Unlike Bede, whose life she uncannily echoes in some respects, Gertrude’s intellectual interests were mainly literary and philosophical to begin with. Only after a profound conversion experience did she turn her talents to the study of scripture and theology. She is proof positive that the cloister can produce people of great stature.

As is the way with many nuns’ writings, most of Gertrude’s have been lost. We have only the Herald of God’s Loving Kindness, written in conjunction with other members of the community (formerly known as the Life and Revelations of St Gertrude), and the Spiritual Exercises. They are not to everyone’s taste, but through them runs a deep love of the Lord, a quiet steadfastness of purpose and a very Benedictine sense of the importance of the liturgy. She reminds us that whatever gifts we may have been given are meant for the building up of the whole Church, that nothing is wasted which is placed at God’s service.

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4 thoughts on “St Gertrude”

  1. thank you for reminding us of this great woman. Interest in Saints like her must be rekindled, for they have a lot to tell us today – about how each one of us is called in a very individual and unique way. And how talents can and should be put to use to the service of God.

  2. According to Farmer’s ‘Oxford Dictionary of Saints’, the patron saint of cats is Gertrude of Nivelles. She is not the same saint as Gertrude the Great, to whom your post refers. Since you no doubt have this book in your library, I refer you to pp. 219-220 (I refer to the pagination in the fith edition) in order to read the entry about her life.
    Being patron saint of cats is more of a full-time occupation than that of dogs. The latter have two patron saints, Hubert and Sithney, depending on whether or not they are mad (who decides?), whereas Gertrude has all cats, healthy and mad, to herself.

    • I can assure you that Gertrude of Helfta is regarded as a patron saint of cats. David Farmer, a friend of long standing who lives locally, has often discussed the variations in cultus and patronage. For example, despite your assertion that Hubert and Sithney have a monopoly of dogs, St Roch is usually regarded as a patron of the canine species. Perhaps where we COULD agree is in thinking this is all rather silly. St Gertrude wasn’t, which was rather the point I was making.

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