Gertrude the Great vs. Gertrude of Nivelles

Welcome back! This week, we'll conclude the Round of 32 and get our first peek at the Saintly Sixteen. But first, it's The Great Gertrude Game as Gertrude the Great faces Gertrude of Nivelles. And, yes, cats are involved.

On Friday, Cornelius the Centurion snuck past Piran of Cornwall 53% to 47% to advance to the Saintly Sixteen, where he'll tangle with Adomnan of Iona.

Vote now!

Gertrude the Great

Gertrude the Great (1256 – c. 1302) was a German Benedictine nun, mystic, theologian, and writer. Gertrude was born on January 6, 1256, in Eisleben, Thuringia. As is often the case with people who lived long ago, there are differing accounts of her early life. One source claims that at age four or five, Gertrude was taken to St. Mary’s Monastery to the monastery’s school in Helfta with the intention of her becoming an oblate when she was old enough. Another source claims that she was taken to St. Mary’s due to her parents’ death. The abbess put Gertrude in the care of Mechthilde, a nun and the abbess’s younger sister. St. Mary’s was known for cultivating the spiritual gifts of the nuns who lived there, and we have written works from this time that prove the success of the nuns’ intellectual and spiritual environment.

Gertrude thrived in the Monastery under the care of Mechthilde and eventually entered the monastery formally and studied various subjects. The two were close throughout their lives as nuns. In 1281, at age 25, Gertrude experienced a vision that changed her life, the first of many. She began to focus her studies on theology and scripture and cultivated a strong practice of prayer and meditation. She wrote spiritual treatises for the other nuns and, along with Mechthilde, practiced nuptial mysticism, seeing herself as the bride of Christ.

Gertrude wrote many works, but only a few remain. Her most well-known work is Legatus Memorialis Abundantiae Divinae Pietatis or The Herald of Divine Love. Comprised of five books, book two was written by Gertrude and is viewed as the core of the work. Other nuns wrote the other books during and after Gertrude’s lifetime; it’s possible that Gertrude dictated some of them to nuns. Gertrude’s writings give us insight into her education at the monastery, as she wrote in fluent Latin, and show that Gertrude knew scriptures and the writing of early theologians and philosophers, including Augustine, as well as her contemporaries, including William of St. Thierry and Bernard of Clairvaux.

Because she became known as the most prominent theological writer of her time, male or female, she was given the title Gertrude the Great. Gertrude died in 1302, but the exact date is unknown. Therefore, people often commemorate her with her foster mother and teacher, Mechthilde. The Episcopal Church celebrates her feast day on November 21.

Collect for Gertrude the Great

Almighty God, who gave to your servants Mechthilde and Gertrude special gifts of grace to understand and teach the truth in Christ Jesus: Grant that by their teachings we may know you, the one true God, and Jesus Christ your Son; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Miriam Willard McKenney

Gertrude of Nivelles

Some people spend March 17 celebrating a certain saint by going out for a green beer. Others celebrate by staying in with their cat.

That’s because two saints share the same feast day: St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, and St. Gertrude of Nivelles, the patron saint of cats.

Gertrude was born around 628 into “what was to become the most illustrious dynasty of early medieval Europe.” Her great-great-great-nephew was Charlemagne, Pattenden notes, and the king of the Franks attended a banquet hosted by her family when Gertrude was 10 years old.

At that banquet, Gertrude reportedly lost her temper when King Dagobert offered to arrange her marriage to a duke, swearing she would not marry “any earthly spouse but Christ the Lord.” The king and her father might have tried to convince her otherwise, but the two men died shortly thereafter.

A stream of suitors continued until Gertrude and her mother, Itta, established their own monastery, the Abbey of Nivelles in present-day Belgium. Gertrude became abbess after Itta’s death, welcoming Irish monks and other pilgrims, memorizing much of Scripture and tending to her garden.

So where do the cats come in?

Buckle up for this journey: One theory goes that because Gertrude was known for her hospitality (or maybe because she often prayed for those in purgatory), she was embraced as the patron saint of travelers and those who had recently died — who, you could say, were traveling from one life to the next, perhaps with a layover in purgatory. Because souls in purgatory were portrayed as mice, Gertrude was often depicted with mice at her feet or scurrying up her robes. Because Gertrude was covered in mice, she was invoked against rodents. Then she became associated with cats, who also are handy in warding off mice.

Gertrude is rumored to be handy in warding off sea monsters, too, but we’ll save the legends for future rounds of Lent Madness.

Meantime, if you need an excuse to stay in this St. Patrick’s Day, St. Gertrude of Nivelles stands ready to provide it.

Collect for Gertrude of Nivelles

O God, whose blessed Son became poor that we through his poverty might be rich: Deliver us from an inordinate love of this world, that we, inspired by the devotion of your servant Gertrude, may serve you with singleness of heart, and attain to the riches of the age to come; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP)

Emily Miller


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134 comments on “Gertrude the Great vs. Gertrude of Nivelles”

    1. Cast your vote, please, for Gertrude the Great
      For she’d never let voting start late;
      If some guidance you need
      In a pinch you can read
      Her theology during your wait.

    2. In honor of my two cats, I'm going with the cat lady (and overlooked saint) Gertrude of Nivelles

        1. I had to vote for Gertrude of Nevilles because my love of cats started in the 1980s.

  1. No longer accepting votes @ 712a? . . . With 0 votes recorded? Surely an error@

  2. If I could vote, I would vote for Gertrude the Great. But the site states that it is no longer receiving votes, and it is 8:15 AM on 3/4/24! What’s up with that?

  3. 8:18 am on the East coast - post still says no more voting allowed with zero votes for either Saint. Needs fixing!

  4. Problem with the voting system this morning. Says not accepting any votes for Gertrude

  5. Finishing my EfM class this year I tend to identify more with Gertrude the Great. Her piety seems a little more structured but I am sure there are some (if not all) cat lovers who attend to their cats before they began their daily prayers. And that is good too.
    Ientifying at this moment and voting though are apparently two different things.

    1. Cat lovers who accomplish daily prayers before tending to their cats are likely to have the cats make their displeasure known. Greater harmony is achieved by feeding, scooping, and stroking before turning to prayers. I think God understands.

      1. My cat is most irritated with me when I sit down to pray before tending to her needs. ‍⬛ But she calms down when I let her read over my shoulder or drool on the pages.

        She was lobbying for the lady of Nivelles, but I voted (when I finally could) for the Great lady.

  6. As a master of two beloved cats, Gertrude of Nivelles is a most tempting candidate for my vote. But I am a far bigger fan of the theological and spiritual depth of Gertrude the Great. She presents and practices the Cistercian bridal spirituality to such a perfect degree and invites others into the same profound relationship with Christ. Go Gertrude the Great

    1. Fr. Peter - "Master of two cats"? Is there such a thing? Are you sure you're not mastered by two cats?

  7. It’s 8:27 am and no votes are being allowed. I’ll check back later today, and enjoyed reading about the two Gertrudes. Still considering which one to vote for, but leaning toward Gertrude the Great. Time will tell.

  8. Maybe it is good site is not accepting votes as I can’t decide who to vote for.
    But how will you decide who moves on to the next
    Guess you know who my cat wants me to vote for.

  9. So for the first time I have been denied a vote, the page says this poll is no longer accepting votes, it is 13:41 GMT.

  10. Opened Gertrude at 8:22 am today.
    When trying to vote it came up something like closed to vote.

  11. Perhaps we need to send a few cats to deal with Technology Gremlins while we wait in Lent Madness purgatory

  12. 8:47 am EST and the post is marked "This poll is no longer accepting votes." Help!

  13. For any who had not already lost all hope in "free and fair elections", this year's Lent Madness is sealing the deal. I'll try to remember to come back later and vote for Gertrude of the Cats, but am frustrated by the many "technical difficulties" that have plagued LM2024. (Still seeing "vote closed" at 8:48am)

    1. P.S. It would really be helpful if this site had some way to contact the administrators when there are problems.