St. Gertrude the Great icon
November 13, 2013
Ink, watercolor, gold leaf“My Heaven would not be complete without you.” ~ Jesus, to St. Gertrude the Great “The Lord loved Gertrude with an everlasting love; He espoused her to Himself for ever in faith and in love. From her childhood, He drew her to Himself and led her into the wilderness, there, He spoke tenderly to her.” ~ Responsory for the Feast of St. Gertrude
Happy Feast of St. Albert the Great! Even though St. Gertrude’s Feast day isn’t until tomorrow, I’m going to be gone on retreat so I wanted to submit this earlier.
In this image, I’ve depicted the great St. Gertrude as a young woman holding her great work the Legatus Memorialis Abundantiae Divinae Pietatis
(Herald of Divine Love), a pen (to symbolize her writings that are deep in mystical and theological significance) and the Sacred Heart of Jesus shown flaming over her own heart to show her great devotion to the Divine Heart of the Lord, even before it was made a universal devotion by the Church in the 1600s. The white center of the Heart also symbolizes the flaming-hot charity of Christ in the Sacred Eucharistic Host. Although most depictions of St. Gertrude the Great show her with a crosier (a symbol of being an abbess), it’s mostly because St. Gertrude was confused with her abbess Gertrude of Hackeborn. St. Gertrude was never an abbess, so I didn’t depict her with a crosier. :+: A BRIEF BIOGRAPHY OF THE SAINT :+:Saint Gertrude the Great (January 6th 1256 – November 17th 1301)
, (also known as Gertrude of Helfta) was born on the Feast of the Epiphany in Eisleben, Germany (then the Holy Roman Empire). She was probably offered at a young age by her parents as an oblate to the Benedictine convent of Helfta. However, her parents must have died fairly early in her life as she describes herself in her writings as an orphan. At the age of five she was accepted into the convent school. An incredibly perceptive and intelligent child, she quickly excelled in Latin, rhetoric, philosophy, theology, literature, the writings of the Church Fathers and in Scripture. After her studies, around the age of sixteen, she became a Benedictine nun at the convent of Saint Mary of Helfta, under the leadership of the abbess Gertrude of Hackeborn (the older sister of St. Mechtilde of Hackeborn, who was also a nun at Helfta).
During these years, St. Gertrude threw herself so whole-heartedly into her studies and into the pursuit of learning that she began to neglect her spiritual life. She soon became tired of life at the convent, and went through a dark period of emotional and spiritual turbulence that left her feeling dejected, depressed and discouraged. Soon after her twenty-sixth birthday, at dusk on Monday, January 27th, 1281, one of the most pivotal events in her life took place. As she writes, I looked up and saw before me a youth of about sixteen years of age, handsome and gracious. Young as I then was, the beauty of his form was all that I could have desired, entirely pleasing to the outward eye. Courteously and in a gentle voice he said to me, “Soon will come your salvation; why are you so sad? Is it because you have no one to confide in that you are sorrowful?”…I heard these words, “I will save you. I will deliver you. Do not fear.” With this, I saw his hand, tender and fine, holding mine, as though to plight a troth.
This vision of Jesus Christ marked what she called “her conversion” and changed the whole course of her life.
This was the first of her many great mystical experiences and vision of the Lord. She decided to give up her pursuit of intellectual vanity and her desire for secular knowledge and instead gave herself wholeheartedly to prayer, the study of Scripture, and the writings of the Church Fathers. The influence of great mystical luminaries such as William of St. Thierry and St. Bernard of Clairvaux are very obviously evidenced from her own writings. Although Helfta was a Benedictine convent, it was also strongly influenced by the Cistercian reforms and customs, which has led many to believe that the nuns were Cistercian. But many great Cistercian writers had a great influence on the thought and liturgical customs of the nuns at Helfta.
In 1289, after having received many glorious and wonderful favors from the Lord, Jesus asked her to write them down, saying, “I wish these revelations to be, for later ages, the evidence of My love to draw souls to Myself.”
She resisted the idea at first because she didn’t want to seem to praise herself, but was persuaded that the account might be a help and encouragement to others. So she consented, and in her very refined and polished Latin, wrote down her account titled, Legatus Memorialis Abundantiae Divinae Pietatis
, or The Herald of Divine Loving-Kindness
. Today, the book is composed also of other testimonies from other nuns in the convent at Helfta of St. Gertrude’s great holiness and love for God. Book II of the Herald
is her own writing. She also wrote a book now known as The Spiritual Exercises of St. Gertrude
which are a compilation of beautiful prayers and reflections that are based on the Liturgical life of the Church.
One day, on December 27th (the Feast of St. John the Evangelist), she received a vision of the saint resting his head on the Heart of Jesus at the Last Supper. She asked St. John why it was that he didn’t write of the delights of the Sacred Heart in his Gospel. St. John replied that his mission was to write about the Incarnate Word, and that the secrets of the Divine Heart of Jesus were reserved for future ages when the world’s love for God had grown cold.
St. Gertrude’s mystical theology is very much centered on her experience of being espoused to Jesus Christ. Her writings are replete with bridal imagery, drawing especially from the Song of Songs and the Psalms. She often speaks of having boundless trust in God’s immeasurable Mercy, and her chief devotions centered around the Sacred Heart of Jesus, His Sacred Passion, the Holy Eucharist, love for the poor souls, and devotion to the Mother of God and to St. John, the Beloved Disciple. Her writings are marked by a great familiarity with Scripture, and in the way she very adeptly weaves the texts from Scripture and from the Sacred Liturgy into her own meditations and prayers. “Ah, most sweet Jesus, I have chosen you above all as the trustworthy Lover of my soul, the best partner of my life. My soul languishes for you. I offer my heart’s love to you; I choose you as my companion and guide. I offer my body and soul to you in service. For I am your own, and you are my own. Ah! Cement me to you, O true love. I offer you my chastity because you are altogether sweet and pleasant, my Spouse full of delight. I vow obedience to you because your fatherly chairity allures me, your loving-kindness and gentleness attract me. In observing your will, I tie myself to you because clinging to you is loveable above everything, cherishing you is exceedingly sweet and to be wished for. I offer myself to you, O my heart’s One and only One, so that hereafter I live for you alone because I have found nothing more sweet and have judged nothing more useful than to be more intimately united with you, my cherished One. Ah! Model my heart after your own Heart so that I deserve to be totally changed according to your gracious purpose.” ~ from the Spiritual Exercise of St. Gertrude the Great
When she was forty-five, St. Gertrude was consumed by love for her Divine Spouse, and pined for the true fatherland. She sickened, and on November 17th, 1301, finally fell asleep in Christ as her sisters gathered about her and read to her from the account of the Lord’s Passion.
May my soul bless you, O Lord God my Creator, may my soul bless you. From the very core of my being may all your merciful gifts sing your praise. Your generous care for your daughter has been rich in mercy; indeed it has been immeasurable, and as far as I am able I give you thanks. I praise and glorify your great patience which bore with me even though, from my infancy and childhood, adolescence and early womanhood, until I was nearly twenty-six, I was always so blindly irresponsible. Looking back I see that but for your protecting hand I would have been quite without conscience in thought, word or deed. But you came to my aid by giving me a natural dislike of evil and a natural delight in what is good, and provided me with necessary correction from those among whom I lived. Otherwise I should now have to admit to doing my own will whenever the opportunity offered itself, living like some pagan in a pagan society, and never understanding that you, my God, reward good deeds while punishing evil. Yet you had chosen me to be specially trained to serve you. I was a child of five when I began to live in a convent surrounded by your most devoted friends.
To make amends for the way I previously lived, I offer you, most loving Father, all the sufferings of your beloved Son, from that first infant cry as he lay on the hay in the manger, until that final moment when, bowing his head, with a mighty voice, Christ gave up his spirit. I think, as I make this offering, of all that he underwent, his needs as a baby, his dependence as a young child, the hardships of youth and the trials of early manhood.
To atone for all my neglect I offer, most loving Father, all that your only-begotten Son did during his life, whether in thought, word or deed. That sacred life was, I know, utterly perfect in all respects, from the moment he descended from your heavenly throne and came into this world, until finally he presented the glory of his victorious human nature to you, his Father.
And now, as an act of thanksgiving, I praise and worship you, Father, in deepest humility for your most loving kindness and mercy. Though I was hurrying to my eternal loss, your thoughts of me were thoughts of peace and not of affliction, and you lifted me up with so many great favors. To these you added the inestimable gift of your intimate friendship, and in various ways allowed me to possess your Son’s own heart, that most noble ark of God united with the Godhead. You refused me no delight that could be mine.
Finally, you drew me to yourself by your faithful promises of the good things you would give me from the hour of my death. So great are these promises that for their sake alone, even if you had given me nothing besides, my heart would sigh for you always and be filled with a lively hope.
~ from the Herald of Divine Loving-Kindness by Saint Gertrude, virgin
She was never formally canonized, but her Feast and the accompanying Office said in her honor were approved by Rome in 1606. The Feast of St. Gertrude was extended to the universal Church by Clement XII in 1738, Pope Benedict XIV gave her the title "the Great.” She is the only woman saint to be given that title. She is the Patroness of the West Indies and of Peru.
St. Gertrude also had a great devotion towards the Holy Souls in Purgatory. She composed this prayer in order to obtain relief for them and also to pray for souls still in the world. Eternal Father, I offer You the most precious blood of thy Divine Son, Jesus,
in union with the Masses said throughout the world today,
for all the Holy Souls in Purgatory,
for sinners everywhere,
for sinners in the universal church,
for those in my own home and within my family. Amen. The Feast of St. Gertrude the Great is celebrated on November 16th. O God, who prepared a delightful dwelling for yourself
in the heart of the virgin, Saint Gertrude,
graciously bring light, through her intercession,
to the darkness of our hearts,
that we may joyfully experience You present and at work within us.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.