Odo of Cluny vs. Mechtild of Magdeburg

We continue our march through the Saintly Sixteen this week as Lent Madness rolls on! In this round of Quirks and Quotes we'll continue to get to know our merry band of saintly souls in ever deeper ways. Don't forget, you can always return to the first round to refresh your memory of the basic bios by clicking the Bracket Tab.

Today it's Odo of Cluny taking on Mechtild of Magdeburg. To get here, Odo snuck past Theodore the Studite while Mechtild trounced Isaac the Syrian. Also, if you're in the market for a baby name, or need to suggest one to your daughter-in-law, we think "Odo" or "Mechtild" will soon wind up on the most popular list. Get ahead of the curve!

Whoever wins today will join Stephen and Florence Nightingale (who made it past Henry Beard Delany on Friday 53% to 47%) in the Elate Eight. Onward!

Odo of Cluny

Odo of Cluny, renowned for his reformation of the monasteries, was a man of deep prayer himself, and often spent days in dedicated prayer, especially at the Tomb of St. Martin. Like St. Francis, Golden Halo Winner in 2015, Odo encountered humans and animals intent on disrupting his prayer life. The animals proved much easier to deal with.

“From the sides of the road the foxes came out, at first following behind and watching him, and then throwing themselves in his way. But when they saw that they could not turn the eager youth from the straight path that he was pursuing, snarling and rushing at him with gaping mouths, they threatened to seize him by the throat. He neither fled nor resisted, but with legs together and shoulders hunched defended himself only with his shoulders and arms…[and] he guarded only his throat from their mortal wounds. Then suddenly a wolf came running swiftly and freed him from their attacks, and from thenceforth showed itself tame and acted as his companion.”

John of Salerno, the writer of this account argues if we find this difficult to believe, we should remember the life of St. Paul, whose grave was prepared by lions; blessed Ammon, whose monastic cell was guarded by dragons; or Florentius, who convinced a bear to guard his lambs. So Odo having a wolf as a prayer companion is not odd. At all.

During meals, the monks would read. When the reading ended, the meal was done and the monks were to resume their daily duties of prayer. Odo, after eating, would gather up the crumbs that had fallen from his plate, not wanting any food to be wasted. The abbot ended the reading with Odo holding a handful of crumbs. “He did not know what to do, for when the reading stopped he did not dare to death them, nor yet to leave them lest they should be lost. He therefore closed his hand on them thinking it would be best to keep them to offer to the abbot.” When they left their post-meal chapel, Odo prostrated himself at the abbot’s feet to offer the little pile of crumbs. But on opening his hand, Odo discovered the crumbs had transformed into a heap of pearls. The community was amazed and we read they immediately used the pearls to decorate a chalice.

Odo is also the inventor (or one of them) of attributing letters of the alphabet to musical notes. He’s also credited with identifying the note b-flat. Several hymns composed and attributed to Odo survive. A visitor to Cluny heralded the monks as a choir whose chants were dazzling prayers for the salvation of all souls. One of his hymns, composed for the Feast Day of Mary Magdalene, captures the dazzling love of an encounter with Christ:

She sees Jesus rising
victorious from the grave
and earns that first joy

-- Laurie Brock

Mechtild of Magdeburg
Mechthild of Magdeburg received her first Holy Spirit vision at the age of twelve. Was this a quirk or something normal in the thirteenth century? It’s hard to know and evidence of other quirky behaviors is long lost to history.

As an educated young woman she shared her visions through her writings:

“The love of God has moved my pen,
My book is not from the mind of men.”

She wrote on loose pages she believed were a gift from God. Friar Henry of Halle collected her writings dividing them into a series of books called The Flowing Light of the Godhead.

As her works were collected she said, “I was warned by some that my book might give much offence, and that it would be burnt as evil teaching. And I turned to my Beloved, as was my wont, and said to Him that if it were so, He had Himself misled me, for it was He who commanded me to write it. Then did He reveal Himself to my sorrowful heart, as if He held the book in His right hand, and said, ‘My beloved one, do not be sorrowful. The truth can be burnt by no man. He who would take it out of My Hand must be stronger than I.”

Mechthilde wrote in flowery Middle Low German; unusual since most wisdom literature during this period was written in Latin. She noted “of Latin I know nothing… And now, Lord, I will commend these writings to Thy tender mercy; and with a heart that sighs, and with eyes that weep, and with a downcast spirit, I pray that they never may be read by a Pharisee, and I pray also that Thy children may so receive them into their hearts, as Thou, O Lord, hast of Thy truth given out of Thy store to me.”

Like most members of the Beguine community where she lived, her time was spent tending those in need. She wrote of caring for the sick “to comfort them with the lovely words of God, and to refresh them also in a gentle way with earthly things, for God is very rich. It is needful also to bestow much care on the cleanliness of the sick-room, and it is a good thing to be merry and to laugh with them, but in a godly manner.”

While she was dedicated to serving others, her most joyful time was spent in prayer, “Prayer has a marvelous power, it makes the bitter heart sweet, and the sorrowful heart glad, and the  poor rich, and the foolish wise, and the fearful bold, and the sick strong, and the blind to see, and the cold to burn.”

— Beth Lewis

Odo of Cluny vs. Mechtild of Magdeburg

  • Mechtild of Magdeburg (52%, 4,181 Votes)
  • Odo of Cluny (48%, 3,908 Votes)

Total Voters: 8,089

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Mechtild of Magdeburg—Unknown Artist, Public domain via Wikimedia Commons


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170 comments on “Odo of Cluny vs. Mechtild of Magdeburg”

  1. For Odo of Cluny and Mechtild of Magdeburg
    Tune: Leoni, Hymnal ’82, 372, Praise to the Living God

    Two saints of great renown
    Who sought to do God’s will
    Took diff’rent roads to sanctity
    As all saints will.
    One worked hard for reform
    For Benedict’s true way.
    One stepped outside of rigid norms
    To live God’s praise.

    A true monastic star,
    His trek to holiness
    Was convoluted ‘cause his dad
    Failed his promise.
    A man of strict precepts
    This Odo held the line.
    No shifting of the Rule’s true shape
    He thought was fine..

    Mechtild knew from her youth
    That God was her true love.
    Through Flowing Light of Godhead Bright:
    She lived and wrote.
    As Beguine cared for those
    The world had left behind.
    Reviled for life beyond strict rule;
    Her light still shines.

    For Odo and Mechtild
    We offer up our praise.
    Two saints of mindset quite diverse
    To choose today.
    ‘Twas by the Grace of God
    they lived and served, and they
    still speak to us of faithfulness;
    of holy ways.

      1. I voted Odo because he was a musician and identified B flat! What would we do without B flat?!!

    1. Your poetry is beautiful. I too hope the SEC is gAthering them all together and will find a way to share them all.

      1. Exactly my thoughts! Our parish of St. Edmund's also has a wolf mascot (the wolf guarded the head of St. Edmund after the king was killed by the Vikings for refusing to give up Christianity). But Mechtild is very inspiring and it was a hard decision.

  2. Tough one. Mechtild's writing regarding caring for the sick "to comfort them with the lovely words of God, and to refresh them also in a gentle way with earthly things, for God is very rich. It is needful also to bestow much care on the cleanliness of the sick-room, and it is a good thing to be merry and to laugh with them, but in a godly manner.” got my vote.

    1. Yes, I almost went with Odo (being a music lover) until I read the passage you quote above from Mechtild, as well as her beautiful writings on the power of prayer. So Mechtild it is!

  3. As a music lover, I voted for Odo, but I know he's going to get trounced by Mechtild because that's just how the brackets are going this year.

  4. Odo's wolf buddy almost swayed me, but Mechtild's words on prayer were the clincher. Truly the battle of the bizarre names today, however!

  5. Yikes! This is when Lent Madness gets really difficult, and only three comments so far this morning to reflect on!! Mechtild won my heart and vote in the first round and does it again today.

  6. Mechtild it is. "It is a good thing to be merry and to laugh wth them." For that and "joyful" prayer time. I used to think saints were a little too somber and unapproachable. Thanks again madness people.

  7. Yow! I think Odo's chances are going to be diminished by his write up being so heavy on miracle stories. They don't seem to go down too well with the LM voting crowd.
    By the way, just to avoid confusion, it was Paul the Hermit whose grave was dug by lions, not Paul the Apostle.

    1. Re: Paul
      Thank you for the clarification. As read the bio piece I wondered to myself, "where did they get that idea?!?!". I should have thought of the fact that there are many Pauls.

    2. I agree Harlie. The online write-ups were heavily weighted toward Mechtild, all the huggy-feeley things. The Odo write-up, however, did not really relate to his accomplishments, but rather to this hocus pocus about wolf-child experiences, which, if they happened, we're not the central reason for his saintification. I went with Mechtild, however, for her "saintliness".

  8. I thought I would back Odo, love the story of the foxes and the wolf by the way. I wonder what the foxes had against them? Also I love singing hymns, any by Odo in the hymnal, btw? But I appreciate Mechtild's willingness to go on her own, as opposed to Odo's insistence on strict following of Benedict's rule. I've always been fond of those who follow their own path. Next cat name: Mechtild if it's a girl, Odo if it's a boy!

    1. I think Odo's call (the reformation of monasteries) required him to be a stickler for Benedict's Rule. The problem with the monasteries was that they had grown so very lax. To bring them back into Benedict's holy way, Odo had to insist on a strict following of that way. It was making exceptions and granting concessions that got the monasteries into the mess they were in. Of course, all our actions should be subject to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but sometimes that guidance is in favor of the rules.

    2. when attending spiritual directors training we all choose a saint to read about and report on. My choice was Mechtild, so had to go with her. I am however, impressed by Odo as well and would have voted for him if my loyalties were not already spoken for. Anyone with such a deep connection to our 4 legged friends that he had one as a prayer partner has my heart.

      1. What would we do without F-A-C-E and Every Good Boy Does Fine. And B flat is perfect forLent!! Odo!!

        1. Yes! I agree. Where on earth would we be without B-flat! As soon as I saw that, it was Odo for me. And the wolf... you can't argue with a wolf.

  9. Ok, being that I am such a softy for animals, I could not help but vote for Odo. I agree his chances are slim because his story is so far fetched! But I still think Odo deserves to advance to the next round!

    1. Really? That would be so cool. I read about the Beguines in Education for Ministry (Diarmaid MacCulloch's "Christianity : the First Three Thousand Years") and wondered about the name.

      This is making the "music vs. mystic" choice even harder.

  10. Friend of wolf and shape-shifter gets my vote again. Regardless, the winner of this round will surely get trounced by the heavy hitters already in the Elate 8.

  11. Let's not forget that Odo's life work was the reformation of monasteries, preserving and cleansing monastic life, enabling it to survive to provide us with examples of prayerful and mindful living, long before "mindful" was hyped as the solution to everything. On with Odo!

  12. I love it that Mechtild was concerned about cleanliness at a time that conjures up only muddy surroundings and most folks living with filth, no sanitation, and ignorance of the importance of more sanitary conditions. She clearly had a sense of humor, too, and believed God has humor,too. I like that. Mechtild for me today, though I am sorry
    Odo doesn't get the credit he is due for naming musical notes, esp B flat.

  13. Odor is still my boy, even in defeat, though Mechtild is certainly a worthy opponent. Guardian animals for mad every day.

  14. Mechtild--hands down. My grandmother was born in Magdeburg. On a recent trip to Germany we visited Magdeburg. The first place we stopped was the Dom! I like to think my grandmother and her family had often visited the Dom and since it was begun in 1209 perhaps Mechtild did also. It is exciting to think one has walked in the footsteps of a saint.

  15. Meant to type "guardian animals for me . . . " my iPad often has a mind of it's own.

  16. I voted for Odo today. Though it can be very easy to be distracted when attempting to pray, not all of us will be defended from attacking foxes by a wolf. Perhaps this tale attempts to prove that dog truly is man's best friend?

  17. Aside from her trailblazing contribution to Middle High German literature, Mechthild is thought by many to have influenced the great pioneer of Italian literature, Dante with her geography of hell and her evocative descriptions of the suffering souls in hell and purgatory. Some see her as the Matelda in Paradiso, a possible homage of Dante to his imaginative predecessor.

  18. I basically voted for the first domesticated wolf, otherwise known as Man's Best Friend (and also Women's). If you've ever been blessed with one of these, you know how saintly a companion they are.

  19. I've been reading "The Wisdom of the Beguines" by Laura Swan, so Mechtild got my vote. The book by Laura Swan is a very interesting read about a women's movement with which I was not familiar

  20. Beautiful essay this morning at Huffpost about how the ACA, flawed though it is, has fundamentally changed America's expectations of who is worthy of care. So, it's appropriate to celebrate this morning one of the pioneers of nursing, Mechthild.

  21. Not sure who the "Pharisees" were that Mechthild referred to (hypocrites? Jews?), but I find it troubling that she would exclude anyone from the opportunity to, perhaps, be changed by her writings. Until I read that I leaned in her direction, but I'm persuaded by Odo's humble sweetness, and by his connection to animals, which is special to me. So although I think Mechthild will win the day, I voted for Odo.

  22. I voted Odo, or as I like to call him, Chants With Wolves. I really want his recipe book for leftovers. He would bring so much to the kitsch round. And what would we do without B flat?

    1. I was undecided until Chants with Wolves swayed my vote. Can't wait for a full moon. Odo is the saint.