Benedictine Abbess, descendant of St. Thomas More; b. Essex, England, March 25, 1606; d. Cambrai, Aug. 17, 1633.
After the dissolution of the English monasteries under Henry VIII, wealthy Catholics often sent their children to other countries to be educated. Many joined religious communities. Among them was Helen (Dame Gertrude) More, daughter of Crisacre More, great-grandson of St. Thomas More.
Gertrude's father helped endow a women's monastery under the English Benedictines of Douai. In 1623, Gertrude and eight companions went to Cambrai where three Benedictine nuns from Brussels assisted in establishing the community. There Gertrude suffered physical illness, interior restlessness, indifference, and even hostility toward the life. She struggled to accept both her desire for God and the conflicts between her own natural inclinations and the demands of monastic life. Some time around her profession, Gertrude began to receive spiritual guidance from Dom Augustine Baker. Through this relationship she was able to come to understanding and acceptance of the monastic ideal as he envisioned it.
Both became known for their enthusiastic articulation and restoration of Benedictine spirituality, but not without controversy and detractors. Baker's critics feared that his way of prayer was too affective and allowed for too much personal authority. Dame Gertrude died of smallpox after four years as abbess, while the debate still raged. After her death, several writings by her were found and circulated to promote the spirituality, notably The Holy Practices of a Divine Lover, or the Saintly Idiot's Devotions (1657) and Confessiones Amantis, A Lover's Confessions (1658).
Baker took advantage of this in writing a biography of her in which he examined her struggles with her vocation, the nature of her personality, and the holiness that she exemplified. Benedictine life did revive and prosper, and eventually the monastic community was able to relocate to Stanbrook Abbey in England.
Bibliography: e. weld-blundell, ed., The Writings of Dame Gertrude More (London 1910). a. baker, The Inner Life of Dame Gertrude More (London 1910). nun of stanbrook, Stanbrook Abbey, A Sketch of Its History, 1625–1921 (London 1925). nun of stanbrook, In a Great Tradition: Tribute to Dame Laurentia McLachlan (London 1956).