Saint Brigid Religious Education
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West Hartford, CT 06110
St. Gertrude the Great
Feast day: November 16
Gertrude of Helfta was a highly intelligent woman. She was born on 6
January, 1256 in the little town of Eisleben in Thuriangia. At age 5,
Gertrude went to the Cistercian monastery school of Helfta in Saxony,
and since then has always been known as "Gertrude of Helfta". She
dedicated herself to study, and it was not long before she surpassed all
She also discovered Christ in the monastery, and beauty of living for
him and with him in the intimacy of love. But the Divine Teacher
remained in the background of her life for some time while she used all
her faculties to improve her education, becoming proficient in
literature, philosophy, song and the refined art of miniature painting.
After several years, Gertrude moved from the monastery school to the
novitiate, taking the veil and becoming a nun. For her, Jesus was
"Someone", but her studies were still her all. She was on the right
track in search for knowledge, for it goes hand in hand with humility
and does not distance people from God. He was waiting along her path.
In 1280, she was 24 years old and a half-hearted and distracted nun.
Towards the end of the year, she went through an inner crisis that
lasted several weeks. She felt lonely, lost and depressed. Her human
plans disintegrated like shattered idols. This might have been the end
of everything, but instead, it was a new beginning.
On 27 January 1281, Gertrude saw Jesus in person in the form of a
marvelous adolescent who said to her, "I have come to comfort you and
bring you salvation". Remembering that day, she was to write: "Jesus, my
Redeemer, you have lowered my indomitable head to your gentle yoke,
preparing for me the medicine suited to my weakness". From that moment,
she was solely concerned with living in full union with Jesus.
In her writings, she established the date of her newfound unity with
Christ as 23 June 1281: all her life she must have seen that day as the
day of her new birth, the birth of the true Gertrude in the image of
She abandoned the study of profane subjects and dedicated herself
entirely to the study of Scripture, writings of the Church Fathers and
theological treatises. She found extraordinary delight in reading
letters of Augustine, Gregory the Great, Bernard and Hugh of
But Gertrude did not want to be the only one to enjoy this supreme
"Pleasure"; so she began to write short treatises for the Sisters in the
monastery and those who approached her in which she explained the most
difficult passages in the Scripture, true spiritual treasures written in
a clear and lively style.
The monastery parlor was also often filled with people in search of her
words, comfort and guidance. She exercised a great influence on souls.
Since her conversion, she had become the confidant of Jesus, who
revealed to her the infinite Love of his divine Heart and charged her to
spread it among human beings with love for the suffering and for
sinners. Gertrude’s ecstasies with Jesus prompted her to write those
ardent pages that would bring souls to him.
In 1298, her health deteriorated but she transformed her sufferings into
love, an offering with Jesus to the Father and a gift for humankind.
On 17 November 1301, at age 45, she rejoined her Bridegroom forever.
Interestingly, she is the only woman among saints to be called "the
Great": St. Gertrude the Great. The feast of St. Gertrude of Helfta is