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Mechtild of Hackeborn, St.


Cistercian nun and mystic; b. Castle of Helfta, near Eisleben, Saxony, c. 1240; d. Helfta monastery, Nov. 19, 1298 (1299?). When Mechtild was seven years old, her parents brought her to visit her sister, Gertrude of Hacke-born, a nun of the monastery at Rodarsdorf, and at her request her parents permitted Mechtild to enter the cloister school. There her sister carefully supervised her education. Mechtild (or Matilda) was amiable and charming, highly gifted in mind and body, and possessed an excellent voice. In 1258 Gertrude, abbess since 1251, transferred her monastery to Helfta, and soon it became a center of learning, culture, and profound spirituality. Mechtild followed her and was appointed choirmistress and directress of the new cloister school. She became the spiritual mother of St. gertrude the great, who, as a child of five in 1261, was entrusted to Mechtild's care.

Throughout her life, Mechtild received extraordinary graces. In 1292 she began to confide the secrets of her interior life to Gertrude the Great and another nun, and for seven years, without Mechtild's knowledge, her revelations were committed to writing. When she discovered this, she was at first deeply disturbed, but at last permitted Gertrude to edit what is now known as the Liber specialis gratiae.

The book is constructed upon the ecclesiastical year; it is liturgical, Trinitarian, and Christocentric, warmly affective and joyful, giving evidence of Mechtild's sound theological education. She urges the use of all the senses in the praise of God and stresses devotion to the Heart of Christ. Largely through the efforts of the Friars Preachers, who were in close contact with the nuns of Helfta, her book was widely read, especially in Italy. It has been suggested that she or Mechtild of Magdeburg may be the Matelda in Dante's Purgatorio. Iconography usually shows her with a book and a dove, holding a burning heart or healing a blind nun.

Feast: May 31.

Bibliography: Revelationes Gertrudianae ac Mechtildianae, ed. Benedictines of Solesmes (Paris 1877) 2:1432. Select Revelations of St. Mechtild, tr. a secular priest (London 1872). The Love of the Sacred Heart Illustrated by St. Mechtilde (London 1922), ed. anon. Les Belles prières de Ste. Mechtilde et Ste. Gertrude, tr. d.a. castel (Bruges 1926). Mechtild von Hakeborn, Das Buch vom strömenden Lob, ed. h. u. von balthasar (Einsiedeln 1955). Mechtild van Hakeborn, Het boek der bijzondere genade, ed. m. costanza (Bruges 1958). Studies. i. mÜller, Leben und Offenbarungen der hl. Mechtild (Regensburg 1880). w. stammler and k. langosch, eds. Die deutsche Literatur des Mittelalters: Verfasserlexikon (BerlinLeipzig 193355) 3:321323. w. preger, Geschichte der deutschen Mystik im Mittelalter, 3 v. (rev. ed. Aalen 1962). m. j. finnegan, The Women of Helfta: Scholars and Mystics (Athens, Georgia 1991). m. hubrath, Schreiben und Erinnern: zur "memoria" im Liber Specialis Gratiae Mechthilds von Hakeborn (Paderborn 1996).

[m. f. laughlin]

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