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“I Am Wholly Your Own”: Liturgical Piety and Community among the Nuns of Helfta1


When William James long ago characterized the God of the thirteenth-century Cistercian cloister of Helfta, in Saxony, as “full of partiality for his individual favorites,” he might have illustrated his claim with any number of passages from three of the surviving works composed by the nuns of Helfta, the Book of Special Grace, associated with Mechtild of Hackeborn (1241–ca. 1298/99), the Herald of Divine Love, associated with Gertrude of Helfta (1256–ca. 1301/02), and the Spiritual Exercises, written by Gertrude. James drew his readers' attention to the following account from the Herald:

Suffering from a headache, she [Gertrude] sought, for the glory of God, to relieve herself by holding certain odoriferous substances in her mouth, when the Lord appeared to her to lean over towards her lovingly, and to find comfort himself in these odors. After having gently breathed them in, He arose, and said with a gratified air to the Saints, as if contented with what he had done: “See the new present which my betrothed has given Me!”

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2 James William, Varieties of Religious Experience ([1902] New York: Random House, 1929), 339.

3 Le Héraut, ed. and trans. Pierre Doyère et al., 4 vols., Gertrude d'Helfta: Oeuvres spirituelles, Sources chrétiennes 139, 143, 255, 331, Série des texts monastiques d'occident 25, 27, 48 (Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1968–1986); Sanctae Mechtildis, virginis ordinis sancti Benedicti, Liber specialis gratiae accedit sororis Mechtildis ejusdem ordinis Lux divinitatis, vol. 2 of Revelationes Gertrudianae ac Mechtildianae, ed. the monks of Solesmes [Louis Paquelin] (Paris: H. Oudin, 1877). For the process of the composition of the Herald and the Book of Special Grace and for their audience, see Margarete Hubrath, Schreiben und Erinnern: Zur “memoria” im Liber specialis gratiae Mechtilds von Hakeborn (Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh, 1996); Hubrath Margarete, “The Liber specialis gratiae as a Collective Work of Several Nuns,” Jahrbuch der Oswald von Wolkenstein-Gesellshaft 11 (1999): 233244; Grimes Laura Marie, “Writing as Birth: The Composition of Gertrud of Helfta's Herald of God's Loving Kindness,” Cistercian Studies Quarterly 42:3 (August 2007): 329348; Harrison Anna, “‘Oh! What Treasure Is in This Book?’: Writing, Reading, and Community at the Monastery of Helfta,” Viator 39:1 (Spring 2008): 75106. Les Exercices, ed. and trans. Jacques Hourlier and Albert Schmitt, Gertrude d'Helfta: Oeuvres spirituelles, Sources chrétiennes 127, Série des texts monastiques d'occident 19 (Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1967). For the composition and audience of the Spiritual Exercises, see Hart Columba, “Introduction,” in The Exercises of Saint Gertrude, trans. a Benedictine nun of Regina Laudis [Columba Hart] (Westminster, Md.: Newman, 1956), and Lewis Gertrud Jaron and Lewis Jack, “Introduction,” in Gertrud the Great of Helfta: Spiritual Exercises, trans. Lewis Gertrud Jaron and Lewis Jack (Kalamazoo, Mich.: Cistercian Publications, 1989). There is a fourth work associated with the convent. Mechtild of Magdeburg (ca. 1208–1282/97) likely composed the final portion of the Flowing Light of the Divinity at Helfta, perhaps with the assistance of some of the nuns; Mechtild of Magdeburg, Lux divinitatis, in Sanctae Mechtildis. For the composition and audience of the Flowing Light, see Poor Sarah S., Mechtild of Magdeburg and Her Book: Gender and the Making of Textual Authority (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004).

4 James, Varieties, 338, 1.

5 Ibid., 338.

6 Ibid., 336 and 335–336. James, furthermore, described the Herald as the product of “inferior intellectual sympathies” (339). The modern reader who encounters the passage James quotes out of its original context may be tempted to dismiss it as mawkish and to agree with James. A contextualized reading lays bare the theological assumptions that inform the passage. As the Herald tells it, Christ, by his death, has freely paid a “debt of grace” for Gertrude (as for all human beings); he continues ceaselessly to make up for her ever-renewed deficiencies and offers Gertrude, in addition, a multitude of gifts (or spiritual gains), including his friendship. Although Christ has made the perfect satisfaction and although his mercy is a gift no human being can ever repay, he does demand something in return. Gertrude was confident that she met her obligations to make restitution to Christ through a wide variety of activities in which she participated. Christ informed her he would accept in union with and in memory of his mercy the least thing she did: lifting up a pebble or a straw; uttering a single word; showing kindness to anyone; reciting the Requieum aeternum for the dead; praying for the sinners or the just (Le Héraut, SC 255, 4:7:2, 100). In this context, the passage immediately preceding that which James quotes is instructive. It relates that Gertrude saw herself in Christ and him in her according to the biblical teaching: “If you do it to the least of these my brethren, you do it to me” (Matt. 25:40). The Herald states plainly that Gertrude, regarding herself in her unworthiness as the least of all creatures was, by seeking to soothe her headache, tending to Christ (Le Héraut, SC 139, 1:11:10, 180). In doing so, she understood herself to return to him some of what she owed Christ.

7 See, for example, Dieker Alberta, “Mechtild of Hackeborn: Song of Love,” in Medieval Women Mystics: Wisdom's Wellsprings, ed. Schmitt Miriam and Kulzer Linda (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1996), 231242; Merton Thomas, “Saint Gertrude, Nun of Helfta, Germany,” Cistercian Studies Quarterly 38:4 (2003): 451458.

8 Finnegan Mary Jeremy devoted a chapter to “Gertrude in Her Community” in The Women of Helfta: Scholars and Mystics ([1962] with additions, Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1991), 98112. Caroline Walker Bynum has observed the varieties of ways in which Gertrude's and Mechtild's sense of self was permeated by their relationships with others; “Women Mystics in the Thirteenth Century: The Case of the Nuns of Helfta,” in Jesus as Mother: Studies in the Spirituality of the High Middle Ages (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982), 170–262. Questions that focus squarely on community have come to occupy pride of place in important studies of the past decade, such as Rosalynn [Jean] Voaden, “All Girls Together: Community, Gender, and Vision at Helfta,” in Medieval Women in Their Communities, ed. Diane Watt (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997); Hubrath, Schreiben; Hubrath, “Collective Work”; Grimes, “Writing as Birth.”

9 Studies that have commented extensively on the liturgical content of the Helfta spirituality are too numerous to cite. The most comprehensive introduction is Vagaggini's CyprianTheological Dimensions of the Liturgy: A General Treatise on the Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Doyle Leonard J. and Jurgens W. A. from the fourth Italian edition, revised and augmented by the author (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1976), 741802, which focuses on the relation between Gertrude's mysticism and her liturgical piety. Especially insightful is Leclercq's JeanLiturgy and Mental Prayer in the Life of St. Gertrude,” Sponsa Regis 31 (1960): 15, which is, however, too brief to offer satisfying demonstrations of his many provocative claims. Holsinger Bruce W. has examined the creative ways in which the Helfta nuns played with the liturgy in Music, Body, and Desire in Medieval Culture: Hildegard of Bingen to Chaucer (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2001), 240253.

10 For both Mechtild and Gertrude, as for thirteenth-century women more generally, receiving the Eucharist and viewing the elevated host often precipitated union with Christ. For the close connection for thirteenth-century women between Mass and ecstasy, see Bynum Caroline Walker, “Women Mystics and Eucharistic Devotion in the Thirteenth Century,” in Fragmentation and Redemption: Essays on Gender and the Human Body in Medieval Religion (New York: Zone, 1991), esp. 125129. A great deal of attention has focused on the Mass and, more specifically, on the place of eucharistic devotion in the Helfta spirituality. See, for example, Dolan Gilbert, St. Gertrude the Great (London: Sands, 1913), esp. 2627; Graef Hilda, “Gertrude the Great: Mystical Flowering of the Liturgy,” in Orate Fratres 20 (1945/46), esp. 171172; Vagaggini, Theological Dimensions, 774–775; Bynum, “Nuns of Helfta”; Cheryl Clemons, “The Relationship between Devotion to the Eucharist and Devotion to the Humanity of Jesus in the Writings of St. Gertrude of Helfta” (Ph.D. diss., The Catholic University of America, 1995); Olivier Quenardel, La communion eucharistique dans le Héraut de l'amour divin de Sainte Gertrude d'Helfta: situation, acteurs et mise en scène de la divina pietas (Turnhout: Brepols, 1997). For the relationship of chant to visions in the Helfta literature, see Leclercq, “Mental Prayer,” and Margot Schmidt (“Mechtilde de Hackeborn,” in vol. 10 of Dictionnaire de spiritualité ascétique et mystique, doctrine et histoire, ed. M. Viller, F. Cavallera, J. de Guibert, A. Rayez, A. Derville, and A. Solignac [Paris: G. Beauchesne et ses fils, 1980], col. 875). Holsinger points out that the nuns provided even the melodies they sang with visionary significance (Music, Body, and Desire, 245–246). For more general discussions of the relationship of chant to visionary experience, see Hilpisch Stephanus, “Chorgebet und Frömmigkeit im Spätmittelalter,” in Heilige Überlieferung: Ausschnitte aus der Geschichte des Mönchtums und des heiligen Kultes, ed. Casel Odo (Münster: Aschendorff, 1938), 263284; Dinzelbacher Peter, “Die Offenbarungen der hl. Elisabeth von Schönau: Bildwelt, Erlebnisweise und Zeittypisches,” Studien und Mittelungen zur Geschichte des Benediktiner-Orderns 97 (1985): 462482; Hamburger Jeffrey F., “Art, Enclosure, and the Pastoral Care of Nuns,” in The Visual and the Visionary: Art and Female Spirituality in Late Medieval Germany (New York: Zone, 1992), 8081.

11 For a classic treatment of late medieval spirituality as careening toward an ever greater reliance on subjectivity, streaked with high emotion and fueled by a feverish intensity, see Huizinga Johan, The Autumn of the Middle Ages, trans. Payton Rodney J. and Mammitzsch Ulrich (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 173243. For a now standard discussion of the dissolution of a sense of community during liturgy, see Jungmann Joseph A., The Mass of the Roman Rite: Its Origins and Development (Missarum Sollemnia), trans. Brunner Francis A. (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1988), esp. 103127. On this matter, see, in addition, Klauser Theodor, A Short History of the Western Liturgy (London: Oxford University Press, 1969), 97; Harper John, The Forms and Orders of Western Liturgy from the Tenth to the Eighteenth Century: A Historical Introduction and Guide for Students and Musicians ([1991] Oxford: Clarendon, 1995), 113114; Haggh Barbara, “Foundations or Institutions? On Bringing the Middle Ages into the History of Medieval Music,” Acta musicologica 68 (1996): 87128, esp. 89; Senn Frank C., Christian Liturgy: Catholic and Evangelical (Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress, 1997), 122138. Lawrence Clifford Hugh, Medieval Monasticism: Forms of Religious Life in Western Europe in the Middle Ages (London: Longman, 1984), 221233, identifies the thirst for introspective reflection as contributing to a waning commitment to monastic community. For signs of the splintering of community within the common life and speculation on its origins, see, for example, ibid.; Power Eileen, Medieval English Nunneries, c. 1275 to 1535 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1922), 315340; Johnson Penelope D., Equal in Monastic Profession: Religious Women in Medieval France (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), esp. 193206.

12 See, for example, Jungmann, Roman Rite, 117; Klauser, Western Liturgy, esp. 98; Gillerman Dorothy, The Clôture of Notre-Dame and Its Role in the Fourteenth Century Choir Program (New York: Garland, 1977), 154155 and 194–197; Senn, Christian Liturgy, 212; Lamberts Jef, “Liturgie et spiritualité de l'eucharistie au xiiie siècle,” in Actes du Colloque Fête Dieu, 1246–1996 (Louvain-la-Neuve: Institut d'études médiévales de l'Université catholique de Louvain, 1999), 8195.

13 See, for example, Bossy John, “The Mass as a Social Institution, 1200–1700,” Past and Present 100 (August 1983), esp. 33, 59–60, and 92; Duffy Eamon, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400–1580 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1992), esp. 92154; Caspers Charles, “Augenkommunion or Popular Mysticism,” in Bread of Heaven: Customs and Practices Surrounding Holy Communion, ed. Caspers Charles, Lukken Gerard, and Rouwhorst Gerard (Kampen: Kok Pharos, 1995), 90; Macy Gary, “Commentaries on the Mass During the Early Scholastic Period,” in Treasures from the Storeroom: Medieval Religion and the Eucharist (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1999), esp. 158; Jung Jacqueline, “Beyond the Barrier: The Unifying Role of the Choir Screen in Gothic Churches,” Art Bulletin 82:4 (December 2000): 622657.

14 Vagaggini, Theological Dimensions; Leclercq, “Mental Prayer”; Bynum Caroline Walker, Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987); Hamburger, The Visual and the Visionary; Holsinger, Music, Body, and Desire; Anne Yardley Bagnall, Performing Piety: Musical Culture in Medieval English Nunneries (New York: Palgrave, 2006).

15 Hamburger, “Art, Enclosure,” 88–89.

16 See, for example, Hubrath, Schreiben; Hubrath, “Collective Work”; Grimes, “Writing as Birth”; Harrison, “What Treasure Is in This Book?”

17 See especially Ruh Kurt, “Gertrud von Helfta: Ein neues Gertrud-Bild,” Zeitschrift für deutsches Altertum und deutsche Literatur 12:1 (1992): 120, and Clark Anne L., “An Uneasy Triangle: Jesus, Mary, and Gertrude of Helfta,” Maria: A Journal of Marian Studies 1 (August 2000): 3756.

18 For the celebration of Mass twice each day, see, for example, Le Héraut, SC 331, Missa, 1:1–5, 284. And see, on this point, Dolan, St. Gertrude, 26. It is unclear how often the nuns received communion. They may have done so more frequently than once a week at Sunday Mass; ibid., 39, and Hontoir M. Camille, “La dévotion au saint sacrement chez les premiers Cisterciens (XIIe–XIIe siècles),” in Studia eucharistica, DCC anni a condito festo sanctissimi Corpus Christi 1246–1946 (Antwerp: De Nederlandsche Boekhandle, 1946), 146147. On the office of the dead at Helfta, see Vagaggini, Theological Dimensions, 797, and for its recitation by Cistercian nuns, see Luddy Ailbe J., The Cistercian Nuns: A Brief Sketch of the History of the Order from Its Foundations to the Present Day (Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1931), 15.

19 Le Héraut, SC 255, 4:55:2, 454–456.

20 See, for example, Liber, 1:12, 39–40, 1:27, 96.

21 Ibid., 1:27, 95: “‘Hodie videbis mirabilia.’”

22 As Holsinger has observed, the word fistula is ambiguous (Music, Body, and Desire, 398 n. 161). It may refer to the straws sometimes used to receive consecrated wine at communion (Margaret Winkworth, Gertrude of Helfta: The Herald of Divine Love, trans. and ed. Margaret Winkworth [New York: Paulist Press, 193], 248 n. 50; Clemons, Devotion, 544). The nuns of Helfta may have used the word fistula to mean a musical instrument, a “celestial pipe” (Music, Body, and Desire, 247 and 398 n. 161). For the presence of three principal ministers in the celebration of Mass—in addition to the celebrant, a deacon and subdeacon—see Harper, Western Liturgy, 121.

23 For a fine discussion of the late medieval expression of the communion of saints, see McGuire Brian Patrick, “Purgatory, the Communion of Saints, and Medieval Change,” Viator 20 (1989).

24 On the purgatorial piety of the nuns, see, for example, Dolan, St. Gertrude, 168–185, and Newman Barbara, “On the Threshold of the Dead: Purgatory, Hell, and Religious Women,” in From Virile Woman to WomanChrist: Studies in Medieval Religion and Literature (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995). For intercessory prayer during Mass among the nuns of Helfta, see Clemons, “Devotion,” 548–550. The nuns incorporated heaven's inhabitants more than any other group into their sense of their liturgical community. Dolan (St. Gertrude, 144–153) and Vagaggini (Theological Dimensions) remark on the nuns' intense interest in the communion of saints, as does Schmidt (“Mechtilde de Hackeborn,” col. 875). I am aware of little discussion of the nuns' attribution to themselves of the power to affect the experience of the saints in heaven, including the ability to increase their joy and their merit. See, for example, Liber, 1:11, 34–35, 1:31, 106, 1:32, 111, 5:2, 319; Le Héraut, SC 331, 5:1:1:28, 52, SC 331, Missa, 9:22–24, 298. On this matter, see Anna Harrison, “The Joy of the Dead and the Helfta Nuns” (working paper presented at Death: Mortality and Immortality in Early Cultures, annual meeting of the Group for the Study of Early Cultures, University of California, Irvine, November 2008), 1–17.

25 Le Héraut, SC 143, 3:18:6:20–25, 86: “coeperunt singula in quorum specie apparuit arboris fructus efficacissimum liquorem desudare; cujus pars defluens in superios, ipsis gaudium cumulavit; pars vero defluens in Purgatorium, poenas eorum mitigavit; pars autem defluens in terras, justis dulcedinem gratiae, et peccatoribus amaritudinem poenitentiae augmentavit.”

26 There are limitations to the nuns' notion of community, nonetheless. Thus, for example, they acknowledged explicitly the household's stewards as members of their congregation (congregatio), but indications that the nuns were curious and concerned about the religious experience of these individuals are rare and are noteworthy in large part because they are exceptional. See, for example, ibid., SC 143, 3:17:3, 76–78, and SC 143, 3:68:1:1–11, 274. Moreover, the nuns during Mass gave scant consideration to the laity who sometimes joined them in the chapel; on the few occasions the Helfta literature refers to lay parishioners, it does so incidentally. See, for example, ibid., SC 143, 3:16:3, 70. The nuns were, furthermore, for the most part indifferent to the experience of the priest celebrating Mass. For the relative silence in the Herald and Book of Special Grace with regard to clergy, see Voaden, “All Girls Together,” 82. For a perspective that insinuates the “inclusivity” of the nuns' sense of community, see Pedersen Else Marie Wiberg, “Divine Communication: Mechtild of Hackeborn's Imagery of the Trinitarian God,” Magistra 14:2 (Winter 2008): 53.

27 Leclercq has made this observation (“Mental Prayer”), and he presents a clear and thoughtful treatment of this topic. See also Leclercq Jean, “Dévotion privée, piété populaire et liturgie au moyen âge,” in Études de pastorale liturgiques, Vanves, 26–28 janvier 1944, Lex orandi, vol. 1 (Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1944), 149173.

28 See, for example, Le Héraut, SC 139, 2:6:2:1–6, 256–258, SC 139, 2:9:1:1–6, 268, SC 139, 2:23:5:8–10, 334.

29 Leclercq, “Mental Prayer,” 4, makes this point.

30 Le Héraut, SC 331, 304 n. 14a, and 305 n. 1.

31 Ibid., SC 331, Missa, 14:3–5, 305: “‘Ecce quod concupivi jam video; quod speravi jam teneo; illi sum junctus in spiritu, quam in terris positus tota devotione dilexi.’” As Doyère notes (ibid., SC 331, 305 n. 1), the ascription of this language to Christ is noteworthy not least because it attributes to Christ a yearning for union with the soul that parallels the soul's own desire for Christ.

32 The first four of Gertrude's Spiritual Exercises draw liberally from the liturgies for baptism, clothing, consecration, and profession, and the final three exercises have the office as their “background”; Lewis and Lewis, “Introduction,” 11. See, in addition, Hart, “Introduction.”

33 Doyère Pierre, “Gertrude d'Helfta,” in vol. 6 of Dictionnaire de spiritualité ascétique et mystique, doctrine et histoire, ed. Villier M., Cavallera F., de Guibert J., Rayez André, Baumgartner Charles, and Olphe-Galliard M. (Paris: G. Beauchesne et ses fils, 1967), col. 334; Pierre Doyère, “Introduction,” in Le Héraut, SC 139, 25–30; Leclercq Jean, “Exercices spirituals,” in vol. 4, part 2 of Dictionnaire de spiritualité ascétique et mystique, doctrine et histoire, ed. Villier M., Cavallera F., de Guibert J., Rayez André, Baumgartner Charles, and Olphe-Galliard M. (Paris: G. Beauchesne et ses fils, 1961), cols. 1907–1908; McGinn Bernard, The Flowering of Mysticism: Men and Women in the New Mysticism—1200–1350, in vol. 3 of The Presence of God: A History of Western Mysticism (New York: Crossroad, 1998), 273; Lewis and Lewis, “Introduction,” esp. 11–12; Hart, “Introduction”; Hourlier and Schmitt, “Introduction,” in Les Exercices, SC 127; Vagaggini, Theological Dimensions, esp. 742 and 794–796.

34 Those responsible for the production of the Book of Special Grace and the Herald insist that each work was written at God's command, that Christ was the primary author of each, and that each revealed God's interactions with and concerns for his special friends, especially Gertrude and Mechtild, who model for the reader a relationship with Christ that underscores their receptivity to him. See Harrison, “What Treasure Is in This Book?” for the spiritual significance to its authors of the Herald and the Book of Special Grace.

35 For Latin as the probable language of the composition of the Herald and the Book of Special Grace, see ibid. For Gertrude's sense that she is speaking for all humanity, see Leclercq, “Mental Prayer,” 4, and Anna Harrison and Caroline Walker Bynum, “Gertrude, Gender, and the Composition of the Herald of Divine Love,” in Freiheit des Herzens: Mystik bei Gertrud von He[l]fta, ed. Michael Bangert, vol. 2 of Mystik und Mediävistik (Münster: Lit Verlag, 2004).

36 Leclercq, “Mental Prayer,” and Hamburger, “The Visual and the Visionary: The Image in Late Medieval Monastic Devotions,” in The Visual and the Visionary. Vagaggini (Theological Dimensions) has highlighted the intimate connection between public (liturgical) prayer and Gertrude's private prayer as described in the Herald. For a similar assessment of Mechtild's spirituality, see Dieker, “Song of Love,” 240.

37 Le Héraut, SC 139, 2:5:2, 248–250.

38 Clark emphasizes gift-giving in all directions in the Herald: “An Uneasy Triangle,” 51.

39 According to Felix Vernet, few works of mysticism “are more overtly liturgical” than is the Helfta literature; Medieval Spirituality (London: Sands, 1930), 220–223 and 270. Vagaggini (Theological Dimensions, 777) has examined the way Gertrude's mysticism and her liturgical observances influenced each other. Ann Marie Caron has shown that Mechtild's visions are structured according to the cycle of the liturgical year, and she has argued that Mechtild's visions should be understood as “visionary commentaries” on the “mystical meaning” of the cycle; “Taste and See the Goodness of the Lord: Mechthild of Hackeborn,” in Hidden Springs Cistercian Monastic Women, vol. 3, bk. 2 of Medieval Religious Women, ed. John A. Nichols and Lillian Thomas Shank (Kalamazoo, Mich.: Cistercian Publications, 1995), 512–513. Spitzlei Sabine B, Erfahrungsraum Herz: Zur Mystik des Zisterzienserinnenklosters Helfta im 13 Jahrhundert (Stuttgard-Bad: Connstatt, 1991), 77, identifies Gertrude and Mechtild as “liturgical mystics.” McGinn (Flowering, 270) and Hamburger (“Art, Enclosure,” 493 n. 221) are among the latest in a long line of scholars to have noted the important place of the liturgy in the visionary spirituality ascribed to Mechtild and to Gertrude. For visionary experiences outside of liturgical contexts that are as tender, intimate, and dramatic as any that occur during Mass or office, see, for example, Le Héraut, SC 139, 2:7:1, 260, SC 143, 3:45:2–3, 202–206; Liber, 2:26, 168–171, 3:10, 209–210, 3:31, 235–236. Ulrike Wiethaus has argued that “by recording where she experienced ecstatic pleasures and insights, Gertrude in turn filled the literal places and thus daily routine of her monastery with the promise of spiritual encounters with the divine”; “Spatial Metaphors, Textual Production, and Spirituality in the Works of Gertrud of Helfta (1256–1301/2),” in A Place to Believe In: Locating Medieval Landscapes, ed. Clare A. Lees and Gillian R. Overing (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006), 136.

40 Le Héraut, SC 143, 3:37:1:31–34, 180: “Hinc accedens, dum sumpsisset corpus Christi, recognovit animam suam velut crystallum niveo splendore perlucidam et susceptam in se Christi divinitatem tamquam aurum miraculose inclusam per cystallum splendere.”

41 Ibid., SC 139, 2:5:2, 248–250. Hamburger (“The Visual,” 125–127) comments on this passage to draw attention to the way nuns harnessed art to foster visionary experience. For the Helfta nuns' use of hand-held books during liturgical observances, see Holsinger, Music, Body, and Desire, 251. For a general discussion of the use in thirteenth-century monasteries of art or devotional objects seen or handled in private and in communal settings to induce and focus visionary experience, see Hamburger, “The Visual,” 131–148, esp. 131.

42 See Bynum (“Nuns of Helfta,” 218) on the nuns' assuredness of the power and utility of the monastic practices in which they engaged.

43 Le Héraut, SC 139, 2:21:1, 322.

44 Liber, 1:31, 105–106.

45 Ibid., 1:28, 97–98. Mechtild's and Gertrude's ruminations on a specific word or series of words routinely ushered in appearances of Christ or compelled the attention of his saints, who provided responses to their questioning thoughts.

46 Ibid., 1:20, 74–75. And see, for example, the extended gloss on the Alleluia of the Easter Mass: Le Héraut, SC 255, 4:27:4:264–266.

47 Holsinger has noticed that the “glosses” the nuns' visions provided were not culled from authoritative texts; they are ones that the women themselves elaborated (Music, Body, and Desire, 243). He has argued that whereas women's liturgical practice has often been seen as “inherently conservative,” the Helfta mysticism is exceptional for “the frequency with which it transforms the structure, practice, and meaning of Christian liturgy” (ibid., 242).

48 Le Héraut, SC 143, 3:44:1–2, 198–202.

49 Vagaggini, Theological Dimensions, 777–778; Graef, “Flowering”; and see, too, Guillous Marie-Geneviève, “La louange à l'école de sainte Gertrude,” Collectanea Cisterciensia 53 (1991): 175.

50 For example, Liber, 2:4, 140–141.

51 See, for example, Le Héraut, SC 143, 3:54:1, 232–234, and SC 143, 3:59:1–2, 242–244. For examples of the physicality of Mechtild's liturgical practice, see Liber, 3:7, 205, and 5:30, 366, and for the toll common worship took on the nuns' bodies, see Dolan, St. Gertrude, 134.

52 Liber, 2:4, 140–141.

53 Ibid., 1:13, 42–43. For dust as image of sin in the Book of Special Grace, see Rosalynn Jean Voaden, “Articulating Ecstasy: Image and Allegory in The Booke of Gostlye Grace of Mechtild of Hackeborn” (Ph.D. diss., University of Victoria, 1990), 63.

54 Finnegan (Scholars and Mystics, 107) observes that, during the office, Gertrude was able to “remain in a state of contemplation while conforming to the actions of the community,” and Graef (“Flowering,” 173) remarks that Gertrude received the grace to follow the office while in ecstasy.

55 Le Héraut, SC 255, 4:34:3, 286. The Herald does not tell us on what specific texts Gertrude was reflecting or whether during Mass she was holding in her hands the writings in question.

56 Ibid., SC 139, 2:16:2, 290–292.

57 Ibid., SC 255, 4:55:6, 460. For Gertrude's concerns about her waning physical strength, see, for example, SC 255 4:34:1, 284.

58 Liber, 3:7, 205.

59 Ibid., 2:5, 141: “multoties sibi accidit ut, dum in Matutinis plena Deo in fruitione magna et dulcidine esset, ita ut omnem fortitudinem consumpsisse nec lectionem suam legere posse videtur, diceret ad eam Dominus: ‘Vade et lege; nam ego te juvabo.’ Sicque cum magna constantia lectionem incipiens eam complevit.”

60 Ibid., 2:6, 141–142. For Christ's energizing presence in Gertrude's life, see Le Héraut, SC 139, 2:13:1:1–5, 282.

61 Liber, 1:26, 90 and 2:4, 140: “tota absorpta in Deum.”

62 Vagaggini, Theological Dimensions, 777.

63 Gertrude's Marian piety has generated much interest. See, for example, Dolan, St. Gertrude, 124–143; Preger Wilhelm, Geschichte der deutschen Mystik bis zum Tode Meister Eckharts, vol. 1 of Geschichte der deutschen Mystik nach den Quellen untersucht und dargestellt (Leipzig: Dörffling und Franke, 1874), 129, whose analysis of the role of Mary in Gertrude's piety anticipates claims in Elkins Sharon K., “Gertrude the Great and the Virgin Mary,” Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture 66:4 (December 1997): 720734; Clark, “Unequal Triangle”; Lewis Gertrud Jaron, “Maria im mystischen Werk Gertruds von Helfta,” in “Vor dir steht die leere Schale meiner Sehnsucht”: Die Mystik der Frauen von Helfta, ed. Bangert Michael and Keul Hildegund (Leipzig: St. Benno Buch- und Zeitschriftenverlagsgesellschaft, 1998), 8194. On Mechtild's Marian piety, which has attracted less attention, see Schmitz Philibert, Les Moniales, vol. 7 of Histoire de l'Ordre de Saint-Benoît (Liège: Les Éditions de Maredsous, 1956), 300301.

64 Le Héraut, SC 139, 2:16, 290–298. Kate Greenspan provides several examples from thirteenth-century hagiographies of similar encounters between holy women and Mary; “Matre Donante: The Embrace of Christ as the Virgin's Gift in the Visions of 13th-Century Italian Women,” Studia Mystica 13:2/3 (Summer/Fall 1990): 26–37.

65 Le Héraut, SC 139, 2:16:3:1–19, 292–294: “cum celebraretur Processio illa qua tu … in templum duci elegisti, inter Antiphonam: Cum inducerent, virginea mater tua te filiolum dilectum uteri sui reddi sibi a me repetiit vultu severo, quasi minus ad placitum sibi educassem te, qui es immaculatae virginitatis ipsius honor et gaudium. Et ego recolens quod ob gratiam quam invenit apud te, peccatoribus in reconciliatricem et in spem desperatis data esset, prorupi in haec verbis: ‘O Mater pietatis, immo ad hoc datus est tibi misericordiae fons in filium, ut omnibus gratia egentibus eam obtineas, et multitudinem peccatorum ac defectuum nostrorum operiat charitas tua copiosa.’ Inter quae illa benigna serenum et placibilem praetendens vultum, ostendit quod quamvis meis exigentibus malis mihi severa appareret repletam eam tamen usque ad summum visceribus charitatis, et pertransitam medullitus dulcedine divinae charitatis; mox enituit dum ad tam exigua verbula severitas praetensa discessit, et naturaliter ingentia serena dulcedo processit.”

66 Similar to Christ, the saints are easily moved by the sisters' desires and requests and sensitive to them. Liber, 1:25, 88; Le Héraut, SC 255, 4:4:4:1–12, 64–65.

67 Ibid., SC 255, 4:4:4, 64–66. Halligan Theresa A. (The Booke of Gostlye Grace of Mechtild of Hackeborn, ed. and trans. Halligan Theresa A. [Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1979], 41) remarks on the dramatic dialogue many of Mechtild's visions contain. On the centrality of dialogue to the Herald and the Book of Special Grace, see Spitzlei, Erfahrungsraum Herz. Their conversations attest to a collegiality and mutual engagement between the visionaries and particular saints that—with the exception of Gertrude's and Mechtild's conversations with Christ—is without parallel in the Helfta literature. See, for example, Gertrude's and Mechtild's relationship with John; Liber, 1:6, 21–24, and Le Héraut, SC 255, 4:4, 58–80. For Gertrude's devotion to John and the influence of his gospel on her thought, see Dolan, St. Gertrude, 144–149; Bangert Michael, “A Mystic Pursues Narrative Theology: Biblical Speculation and Contemporary Imagery in Gertrude of Helfta,” Magistra 2:2 (Winter 1996): 330. I am aware of no studies on the role that John the Evangelist plays in Mechtild's devotions. Conversations between the individual visionaries and Christ are more numerous than conversations between the women and the saints. The nuns were, in fact, far more interested in the saints as a group than in individual saints among them. There is fairly little scholarship on the community of saints in the piety of Helfta. The most insightful consideration is Vagaggini, Theological Dimensions.

68 Le Héraut, SC 255, 4:11:4, 130.

69 Ibid., SC 255, 4:56, 462.

70 Ibid., SC 255, 4:4:3–4, 62–66. John placed himself on Christ's left side. He did so mindful that Gertrude could not easily penetrate as could he—now of one body with Christ—to the inside of Christ's body.

71 Ibid., SC 255, 4:4:58–9, 66: “immensus pelagus divinitatis.”

72 See, for example, Liber, 1:32, 111, and Le Héraut, SC 255, 4:42, 332–336.

73 Liber, 1:25, 86–87.

74 Le Héraut, SC 255, 4:10, 124.

75 Liber, 1:28, 97–98.

76 For Christ's accessibility, see, for example, ibid., 2:20, 157–158, and 2:23, 165–166. On this matter, see Preger, Geschichte, 116–132, and Bynum, “Nuns of Helfta,” 185 and 210. In spite of occasional intrusions into their consciousness of doubts about Christ's love for them, Mechtild and Gertrude are portrayed as enjoying security in Christ's love for them and a strong sense of his nearness to their needs. It is sometimes Christ who aids the women in their relationship with the saints; he inserts himself repeatedly into the nuns' dealings with his mother (see, for example, Liber, 1:44, 128). On Christ mediating between Mary and Gertrude, and for examples of this, see Elkins, “Gertrude,” and especially Clark, “Unequal Triangle.”

77 Liber, 1:1, 10: “Tu in me et ego in te, et in aeternum non derelinquam te.” And see ibid., 2:24, 166.

78 Le Héraut, SC 139, 2:21:4:18–26, 326.

79 Liber, 1:23, 82: “anima tua mea est.”

80 Le Héraut, SC 143, 3:5:1, 26. And see, for example, ibid., SC 139, 3:21, 112–114, and SC 139, 2:14, 286. Vagaggini, Theological Dimensions, 758, comments on the loving encounters with Christ that Gertrude experienced in a liturgical setting.

81 Liber, 3:16, 217: “‘Domine, quid agis cum oro, vel psalmos lego?’ … ‘Ego ausculto.’”

82 The Helfta nuns were not, of course, unique in this regard, as literature on visionaries establishing relationships with the saints in the monastic context of the liturgy has shown. Scholars such as Barbara Newman and Anne Clark, for example, have drawn attention to the way in which the twelfth-century Benedictine nun Elisabeth of Schönau drew on her experience of liturgy to cultivate relationships with the saints and mined the liturgy as a source of profoundly personal significance: Clark Anne L., Elisabeth of Schönau: A Twelfth-Century Visionary (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992), 101111; Newman Barbara, “Introduction,” in Hildegard of Bingen: Scivias, trans. Hart Columba and Bishop Jane (New York: Paulist Press, 1990), 4647.

83 As the Herald and the Book of Special Grace depict it, living in a community in which the majority of waking hours was spent in the company of others brought with it an array of burdens. Gertrude and Mechtild express a weariness of the company of others and a longing to withdraw from the presence of people and seek solace in isolated association with Christ. See, for example, Le Héraut, SC 143, 3:47:1, 212. See Preger (Geschichte, 131) for Gertrude's yearning to be alone with Christ. Scholars have long pointed to the desire on the part of late medieval religious for, as Penelope Johnson puts it, “respite from total togetherness” (Equal in Monastic Profession, 194). A. Robinson Mary F. (“The Convent of Helfta,” Fortnightly Review 40 [1886]: 641658) suggests that the visions that came to Gertrude and Mechtild delivered them from chronic tedium. Clark has noticed that her visions gave Elisabeth of Schönau entry into a world more interesting to her than that of the convent (Elisabeth of Schönau, 101) and the content of which helped to ease her “spiritual malaise” (ibid., 107). Hamburger remarks on nuns' attempts to find arenas of privacy within the communal life (“Art, Enclosure,” 80–89 and 477 n. 92). McNamara Jo Ann Kay documents sisters' efforts to protect their solitude: Sisters in Arms: Catholic Nuns through Two Millennia (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996), 332. For nuns' manipulation of the liturgy to elevate their mood and lift themselves out of depression, see Yardley, Performing Piety, 145.

84 Le Héraut, SC 143, 3:6:1:9–18, 28: “‘Cum mater aliqua artificiosa operari voluerit de serico vel margaritis, quandoque parvulum suum in eminentiori loco ponit, ut sibi filum vel margaritas teneat vel aliquod tale adjuvanmen impendat. Sic ego te in eminentiori statuens Missae huic interesse disposui; tu vero si extenderis voluntatem tuam ad hoc quod libenter, quanto-cumque difficili labore, ad hoc servire velles, ut haec oblatio in omnibus Christianis tam vivis quam defunctis secundum dignitatem suam plenum sortiretur effectum, tunc optime, pro modulo tuo, me adjuvisti ad opus meum.’”

85 For the notion that viewing the consecrated host with devotion integrated the viewer more fully into the community of the faithful, see Caspers, “Augenkommunion,” 90.

86 Le Héraut, SC 255, 4:2:13, 42.

87 Ibid., SC 255, 4:2:8, 34.

88 Ibid., SC 139, 2:16:2, 290–292.

89 Ibid., SC 143, 3:61:1, 246–248.

90 Liber, 1:42, 126–127. As McGinn has observed (Flowering, 271), Gertrude's and Mechtild's visions and ecstasies “take place in and for the community.”

91 It would not be odd if portions of the material that comprises Gertrude's Spiritual Exercises came to Gertrude as she participated in the liturgy, although there is no direct evidence for this. It is, after all, in the context of the liturgy that Gertrude sometimes receives prayers as spiritual gifts for other nuns.

92 Liber, 1:32, 111.

93 Ibid., 1:6, 23: “‘Ex omnibus his quae mihi obtulit, sanctis omnibus convivium praeparabo.”

94 Le Héraut, SC 255, 4:48:4, 360–362. As Doyère points out, the nuns of Helfta may have been aware of visual and literary representations of the Virgin thus depicted and sometimes termed Mother of Mercy (ibid., SC 255, 362 n. 1).

95 Liber, 5:10, 335.

96 Ibid., 1:1, 9. On this passage, see Holsinger, Music, Body, and Desire, 243. For the visionaries’ priestly authority, see Bynum, “Nuns of Helfta,” esp. 224.

97 Le Héraut, SC 143, 3:49:1, 216–218.

98 Ibid., SC 143, 3:49:1:24–25, 218: “in honorem quinque vulnerum Deo, et eadem rosea vulnera Domini devotius deosculando.”

99 The line between vision and visualization is sometimes a tenuous one. Carruthers Mary, The Craft of Thought: Meditation, Rhetoric, and the Making of Image, 400–1200 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 184; Newman Barbara, “What Did It Mean to Say ‘I Saw’? The Clash between Theory and Practice in Medieval Visionary Culture,” Speculum 80:1 (January 2005): 16.

100 Le Héraut, SC 143, 3:49:1:4–7, 216: “apparuit ei Dominus quasi totus floridus et amoenus … praebuit dulcissimum vulnus.” Such visions seem to have brought enormous pleasure to their recipients, and it is clear they were sought after in part for this reason. Scholars have drawn attention to the encouragement the Helfta literature gives to its cloistered readership to cultivate visions: Clark, “Unequal Triangle,” 47, and Newman, “What Did It Mean to Say,” 22–25. Directions to visualization such as I describe above may have provided a platform from which the meditating nun might soar into visionary flight or enter into ecstasy. The Herald and the Book of Special Grace contain examples of and extol a broad range of routine practices (including corporate prayer, gazing at the elevated host, reading scripture) associated, according to Newman (ibid.), in monastic milieus of the later Middle Ages with fostering visionary experience: Anna Harrison, “Sense of Community among the Nuns of Helfta” (Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 2007), 189–192.

101 Liber, 1:19, 70: “illa beata anima Spiritu Sancto repleta de omnibus membris sui igneos radios progredi vidit, ita ut quilibet eorum pro quo oraverat radium ex ea in se susciperet. Et cum communicasset cor suum cum Dei Corde, velut massam auri in unum liquatum vidit, audivitque Dominum dicentem sibi: ‘Sic cor tuum in perpetuo adhaerebit.’”

102 See, for example, ibid., 1:1, 8–11, 1:5, 18–20, 2:29, 166–167; Le Héraut, SC 139, 2:23:8, 336–338. For the connection in the Book of Special Grace between house, heart, and wound, see Voaden (“Articulating Ecstasy,” 44–48, and “All Girls Together,” 83), who comments on the intricacy of the passage to which I refer above. There is a large literature on the imagery of and devotion to the sacred heart in the Helfta literature. See, for example, Berlière Ursmer D., La dévotion au Sacré-Coeur dans l'Ordre de S. Benoît (Paris: Abbaye de Maredsous, 1923), esp. 31–39, and Spitzlei, Erfahrunsraum Herz. The editor of the first Latin-text edition of the Herald, John Lansperg (1490–1539) of the Charterhouse of St. Barbara in Cologne, was himself a devotee of the sacred heart; Gougaud Louis, Devotional and Ascetic Practices in the Middle Ages, trans. Bateman G. C. (London: Burns Oates and Washbourne, 1927).

103 Giovanna, della Croce, I mistici del nord (Rome: Edizioni Studium, 1981), 28.

104 Bynum has argued that for Gertrude service and contemplation were not in conflict, and she did not need recourse to theory to reconcile the two. Bynum has noticed, in addition, “an absolute certainty in the priority of service” in Gertrude's thought (and this seems to be Preger's assessment as well [Geschichte, 125]) that I have not found—although individual passages in the Herald (for example, Le Héraut, 4:2:3, 24–26) do support Bynum's claim. Hubrath has argued that Mechtild and Abbess Gertrude of Hackeborn, respectively, are presented as models for the contemplative and active life; Hubrath, Schreiben, 11–17, and Hubrath, “Collective Work,” 236–239. I have found no such division.

105 See, for example, Le Héraut, SC 143, 3:18:4, 82.

106 Liber, 1:5, 17.

107 Ibid., 1:4, 13: “In Missa Veni et ostende, cum pro omnibus oraret qui Dei faciem toto corde desiderarent, vidit Dominum in medio chori stantem, cujus facies, velut mille soles radians, singulas personas solari radio illustrabat.” For Gertrude and Mechtild as mediators, through whom the divinity flowed to their sisters, see Bynum, “Nuns of Helfta.”

108 See, for example, Liber, 1:10, 34, 1:23, 84.

109 Ibid., 1:19, 64: “Numquam etiam aliquis diaconus tam studiosus in ministrando fuit, sicut ego cuilibet animae fidelis assisto minister.”

110 Le Héraut, SC 255, 4:12:1–2, 132–133.

111 Ibid., SC 143, 3:38:3:1–5, 184: “dum conventus communicaret, exhibuit se Dominus tanta dignatione adesse, quod videbatur singulis accedentibus manu sua veneranda hostiam porrigere salutarem, sacerdote tamen quaslibet hostias signo cruciis consignante.”

112 Liber, 1:6, 21.

113 Le Héraut, SC 143, 3:17:4, 78–80.

114 Liber, 1:4, 13.

115 Although the visionaries, as we read, claim to perceive the response of women who appear in their visions to the total content of the visions, the women do not themselves seem unaware of the visions in which they figure—at least not for the most part. Newman (“What Did It Mean,” 24) calls a “shared vision” a vision that one of the anonymous authors of the Book of Special Grace receives (for which see Liber, 5:24, 356–357) and which incorporates Mechtild, an anonymous writer of the Book of Special Grace, and all the sisters as subjects of the vision. It is not entirely clear what Newman means by this. This vision appears to have come to one woman alone. Those vision accounts in which one nun's revelations contain many nuns are different from the visions recorded in the Sister-Books or convent chronicles of the fourteenth-century Rhineland. In the Sister-Books, we find numerous descriptions of visions that come to the nuns as a group as well as reports of sisters individually and one after the other receiving similar visions. Dinzelbacher Peter, “A Plea for the Study of the Minor Female Mystics of Late Medieval Germany,” Studies in Spirituality 3 (1993): 91100; Lewis Gertrud Jaron, By Women, for Women, about Women: The Sister-Books of Fourteenth-Century Germany (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 1996); Garber Rebecca L. R., Feminine Figurae: Representations of Gender in Religious Texts by Medieval German Women Writers, 1100–1375 (New York: Routledge, 2003), 61104; Winston-Allen Anne, Convent Chronicles: Women Writing about Women in the Late Middle Ages (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2004). For a discussion of visions in the Helfta literature that may have come simultaneously to more than one nun, see Harrison, “Sense of Community,” 181–189. See Le Héraut, SC 255, 4:2:9, 36–38, for one of a small number of visions that appears, perhaps, to have come at the same time to a group of nuns: “Cum vero praesentabantur ipsi corda magis in cognitione Dei illuminata, tunc obsequebantur angeli Domino de choro Cherubim. Quando autem corda se plus in virtutibus exercitantium, ad hoc serviebant de choro Virtutum. Et sic singuli angleorum chori ministrabant Domino quando corda sibi similium in virtutum meritis offerebantur. Illarum vero corda quae ob praedictam revelationem ad specialem devotionem non errant incitata, non deferebantur Domino per angelorum ministerium, sed in corporibus propriis apparebant in terra prostrata.”

116 Ibid., SC 143, 3:17:4:21–22, 80: “Totus sum vester proprius. Ergo fruimini me quilibet vestrum pro desiderio suo.”

117 For the optimism of the Helfta literature, see, for example, Schmitz, Les Moniales, 7:299, and Bynum, “Nuns of Helfta,” esp. 193–194. For religious women's attempts to open to their sisters the world within their visions, see McNamara, Sisters in Arms, 332.

118 The texts, especially the Herald, otherwise attest to acrimony within the cloister and irritation among its members with one another, as when a sister who remains anonymous grumbles to God about Gertrude, whom she regards as obstinate (Le Héraut, SC 139, 1:16:2, 210–212), or when Mechtild asks God why Gertrude judges severely the failings of others (ibid., 1:11:9, 178). On tensions among the Helfta nuns, see Voaden, “All Girls Together,” 79.

119 Le Héraut, SC 143, 3:9:4:15–22, 40.

120 In the thirteenth century, communion became increasingly regulated by ecclesiastical authorities, and we find a heightened fascination with reception of the Eucharist, buoyed by the notion that reception was a principal occasion for affective response to his self-giving and for union with Christ. The piety of the period encouraged self-vigilance and self-appraisal as well as deliberate abstention from communion exactly because of the perception of the stringent requirements to communicate and because of the awe in which the host was held; see, for example, Caspers, “Augenkommunion.” On thirteenth-century theologians' preoccupation with who might receive the Eucharist, concern for the disposition of the recipient, anxieties related to reception, and pressures exerted on Christians to receive, see Gary Macy, “Reception of the Eucharist According to the Theologians: A Case of Diversity in the 13th and 14th Centuries,” in Treasures from the Storeroom, 36–58, and Macy, “Commentaries on the Mass,” 142–171.

121 See, for example, Le Héraut, SC 139, 1:14:2, 196–197, SC 143, 4:7:4–5, 102–104. This is a subject about which the sisters spoke regularly with one another and with the saints, and it is one about which Gertrude and Mechtild offered counsel. The literature does not, it is interesting to note, report conversations between the sisters and a confessor about reception.

122 See, for example, ibid., SC 139, 1:14:2, 196–198, SC 139, 2:5:1, 248, SC 143, 3:18, 80–104, SC 143, 3:34:1, 172–174, SC 143, 3:38:2, 182–184; Liber, 2:14, 147, 3:6, 203, 3:22, 225–226.

123 Le Héraut, SC 143, 3:18:22, 98–100.

124 Ibid., SC 143, 3:18:19, 96: “Conspiciens unam ex Sororibus nimis trepidantem accedere ad Sacramenta vivifica sumenda, et inde se prae taedio quasi cum indignatione advertens, Dominus hoc pie in ea redarguit dicens, ‘Nonne consideras quod non minus digne mihi debetur reverentia honoris quam dulcedo amoris? Sed cum defectus humanae fragilitatis uno affectu nequeat utrumque aeque perficere, cum vos alterutrum ad invicem sitis membra, dignum est ut quod per se quaelibet minus habet, recuperet per alium: verbi gratia, qui nimis dulci amore affectus reverentiae minus obsequitur, pro se suppletum gaudeat ab illo qui magis intendit reverentiae et vicissim desideret illum obtinere solatia unctionis divinae.’” Gertrude's reflections on the attitude the communicant ought to assume while approaching communion is more complex than this particular vision attributes to her. See, for example, ibid., SC 139, 2:19:2, 304–306. On the anxiety Gertrude herself sometimes felt about communicating, see Dolan, St. Gertrude, 42–44.

125 It may be that Gertrude did need such correcting as the vision provides her; hers was a more acerbic personality than Mechtild's, and she may have been a less emotionally generous and nuanced counselor than was Mechtild. Her sisters (and perhaps Gertrude as well) may have thought she might benefit from a tempering of her impulsivity and obstinacy (Le Héraut, SC 139, 1:16:2, 210–212). For a comparison of the personalities of Gertrude and Mechtild, and the different estimation in which their sisters held them, see Preger, Geschichte, 116, 122, 127, and Robinson, “Convent of Helfta,” 647. For a comparison of the attitudes Mechtild and Gertrude assumed as counselors, see Bynum, “Nuns of Helfta,” esp. 187, 208, 212, and 225. Many readers of the Herald have commented on Gertrude's forceful personality. See, for example, Castel D. A., Les belles prières de ste. Mechtilde et ste. Gertrude (Paris: Maredsous, Desclée de Brouwer-Lethellieux, 1925), xixii.

126 With a leap in logic that calls attention to the overriding preoccupation with community in the Helfta spirituality—and to the relative lack of interest in exploring interpersonal relationships between any two sisters—the Herald bypasses the notion that two individuals (one communicating in fear, another in love) can compensate for each other.

127 Hamburger, “Art, Enclosure,” 88–89; Huizinga, Autumn of the Middle Ages.

128 Harrison, “What Treasure Is in This Book?”

1 I am grateful to Anne L. Clark, Rachel Fulton, Anna Trumbore Jones, Kathryn M. Rudy, Anne Bagnall Yardley, and participants of the California Medieval History Seminar for their comments on earlier drafts of this essay. I remain indebted to Caroline Walker Bynum and Joel Kaye for their encouragement and conversation. I owe special thanks to the anonymous Church History reader.

Anna Harrison is an assistant professor of theological studies at Loyola Marymount University.

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