Saint Margaret of Scotland
Saint Gertrude the Great
Today the Church offers us an embarrassment of riches: several colorful saints from the middle ages about whom a lot is known. They include male and female mystics--Gertrude the Great, her mentor and friend Mechtilde von Hackeborne, and Edmund of Abingdon- -a fisherman who converted late in life, Gratia of Cattaro, and Agnes of Assisi, who ran away from home to help start the Poor Clares. The fisherman is contrasted with a queen, Margaret of Scotland. Proving again in a single day that God loves variety and calls to Himself whom he wills without regard to station in life or personality.
I find it particularly interesting to contrast two queens, Margaret of Scotland and tomorrow's Elizabeth of Hungary, who demonstrate that marriage is not an obstacle to sanctity. Margaret's marriage was stormy; Elizabeth lived in wedded bliss. I hope you enjoy.
Afan of Wales B (AC)
6th century. Some believe that the Welsh Saint Afan of the Cunedda family was a bishop. He has given his name to the church of Llanafan (Brecknock) (Benedictines).
Africus of Comminges (AC)
7th century. Although the shrine of Saint Africus in Comminges (southern France) was destroyed by the Calvinists, his cultus survives. His zeal for orthodoxy has lead to his being called a bishop, but his name is not mentioned in the French Episcopologia (Benedictines).
Agnes of Assisi, Poor Clare V (AC)
Born in Assisi, Italy, c. 1197; died 1253; cultus confirmed by Benedict XIV.
Saint Agnes is the younger sister of Saint Clare. When she was 15, she joined Clare at the Benedictine convent of Sant'Angelo di Panzo near Assisi, determined to follow her sister's life of poverty and penance, resisted her relative's attempts to force her to return home, and was given the habit by Saint Francis and sent to San Damiano with Clare, thus founding the Poor Clares.
She was made abbess of the Poor Clares convent at Monticelli near Florence by Francis in 1219, established convents at Mantua, Venice, and Padua, and supported her sister's struggle for poverty in their order.
Agnes was with Clare at her death in San Damiano and herself died three months later, on November 16, reportedly as predicted by Clare. Many miracles have been reported at her tomb in Santa Chiara church in Assisi (Benedictines, Delaney).
In art Agnes is portrayed as a young nun in the habit of a Poor Clare (brown or grey habit, black veil lined with white) holding a book. Sometimes she is shown with her elder sister Saint Clare or with her brothers dragging her by the hair from their sister's convent. Venerated in Assisi, Florence, and Monticelli (Roeder).
Alfrick of Canterbury, OSB B (AC)
Died 1006. Saint Alfrick, a monk and abbot of Abingdon, became successively bishop of Wilton (990) and archbishop of Canterbury (995). He governed the church very ably in the critical times of the Danish invasion of Kent (Benedictines)
5th century. There is a church in Rheims dedicated to Saint Balsamie, a nurse of Saint-Remy (Encyclopedia).
Edmund Rich B (RM)
(also known as Edmund or Edme of Abingdon)
Born in Abingdon, Berkshire, England, on November 30, c. 1170-1180; died near Pontigny c. 1242; canonized 1246 or 1247 (no one agrees exactly on any of these dates).
Born into a prosperous family, Edmund Rich studied at Oxford and Paris. He taught art and mathematics at Oxford, received his doctorate in theology, and was ordained. He taught theology for eight years and about 1222 became canon and treasurer of Salisbury Cathedral.
He was an eloquent and popular preacher, preached a crusade against the Saracens at the request of Pope Gregory IX in 1227, was elected archbishop of Canterbury in 1233 (after Pope Gregory rejected three other candidates), and was consecrated in 1234 against his wishes. He was an adviser to King Henry III, undertook several diplomatic missions for the king during his seven-year episcopate, and in 1237 presided at Henry's ratification of the Great Charter.
Edmund was reputed to be a man of very virtuous life who experienced heavenly visitations. Saint Gregory was essentially a preacher and teacher, a man of study and prayer.
To lighten the burden of public affairs with which he reluctantly, but resolutely, had to deal, he chose as his chancellor Master Richard of Wich, known to later ages as Saint Richard of Chicester.
Immediately after his consecration Saint Edmund was successful in averting civil war in the Welsh marshes, and he brought about a reorganization of the government. His uncompromising stand in favor of good discipline, monastic observance, and justice in high quarters soon brought him into conflict with King Henry III over discrepancies between church law and the English common law, with several monasteries, and with his own chapter.
Edmund protested Henry's action in securing the appointment of a papal legate, Cardinal Otto, to England as an infringement of his episcopal rights. A rebellion by the monks of Christ Church at Canterbury, supported by Henry, to eliminate his rights there caused him to go to Rome in 1237, and on his return he excommunicated 17 of the monks--an action that was opposed by his suffragans, Henry, and Cardinal Otto who lifted the excommunications.
Edmund then became involved in a dispute with Otto over the king's practice of leaving benefices unoccupied so the crown could collect their revenues. When Rome withdrew the archbishop's authority to fill benefices left vacant for six months, he left England in 1240 and retired to the Cistercian abbey at Pontigny. He died at Soissons, France, on Nov. 16 and was canonized in 1247 by Pope Innocent IV.
Saint Edmund was a learned and holy man, and a good if not great bishop. On his deathbed he called God to witness, 'I have sought nothing else but you.' He was buried in the abbey church at Pontigny, where his body still lies; locally there he is called Saint Edme.
Very little of his writing has survived, but his Mirror of Holy Church makes it clear that he is entitled to an honorable place among the English medieval mystics. In this treatise he sets out at various levels the contemplative's way to God.
The only surviving medieval hall at Oxford, Saint Edmund's, is named in his honor, and according to tradition it was built on the site of his tomb (Attwater, Benedictines, Delaney, Lawrence).
Saint Edmund is portrayed in art as an archbishop making a vow before a statue of the Blessed Virgin as the Christ-Child appears to him. Sometimes Saint Thomas of Canterbury appears to him (Roeder).
Elpidius, Marcellus, Eustochius & Comp. MM (RM)
Died 362. Saint Elpidius, a dignitary at the court of Emperor Constantius, was degraded by Julian the Apostate and, with several companions, tied to the tails of wild horses and dragged through the streets. Finally they were burnt at the stake (Benedictines).
Eucherius of Lyons B (RM)
Died c. 450. He was a Gallo-Roman of high rank, married to a lady named Galla; they had two sons, both of whom became bishops and were numbered among the saints. In middle life, c. 422, Eucherius became first a monk at Lérins and then a hermit on the adjoining isle of Sainte-Marguerite, off Cannes. His wife Galla took the veil. He spent his retirement in prayer and writing. His solitude was interrupted, however, because his reputation for wisdom and virtue was such that he was compelled to accept the bishopric of Lyons, c. 435, where he labored until his death. He left a few writings, which include a letter on the solitary life and an account of the martyrs of the Theban Legion. His letter to a relative on disdain for worldly things was translated into English by Henry Vaughan, 'the Silurist,' in Flores Solitudinis (Attwater, Benedictines, Encyclopedia).
Fidentius of Padua B (RM)
2nd century. Some make this saint a confessor, others a martyr, and one a bishop. Tradition assigns him to Padua, Italy, and to the 2nd century. All this is more surmise and nothing is known about him (Benedictines).
Gertrude the Great, OSB V (RM)
Born in Eisleben, Thuringia, Germany, on January 6, 1256; died at Helfta in Saxony, c. 1302.
"O Lord Jesus Christ, in union with Your most perfect actions I commend to You this my work, to be directed according to Your adorable will, for the salvation of all mankind. Amen." --Saint Gertrude
Almost nothing is known about one of my favorite saint's birth or death. Saint Gertrude was probably an orphan because at age five she was received by the Cistercian nuns of Helfta and placed under the care of Saint Mechtilde (see below) of Hackeborn, mistress of novices. (Helfta was actually a Black Benedictine convent, which had been falsely designated as Cistercian for political reasons in many early records.)
The intellectual level was high in the castle convent of Helfta, which was then run by the noblewoman, Saint Gertrude of Hackeborn (1232-1292). Even so, Saint Gertrude was considered an outstanding student, who devoted herself to study, especially literature and philosophy. Eventually she became a professed nun but still she concentrated on the secular.
God, however, is a great teacher. Gertrude learned that when she began to get carried away with her love of learning. She didn't go so far as to neglect the Lord completely, but she did push him off a bit to the side. Her mind was growing, but it was growing faster than her heart.
Gertrude's life has a lesson for intellectuals who will profit from her example. If a syllogism moves you to ecstasy and a dissertation about the love of God makes you speechless with joy, then beware. They are a trap. Gertrude learned not to prefer things to people, ideas to reality, the study of divine learning to the pursuit of love. She teaches us to avoid entanglement in the net of our words that save us from believing in the living God, from dressing up God in the latest fashions and making him into a latter-day golden calf, an idol that only serves to hide the real Lord. Love means another person--the beloved--and another person always upsets the neat constructs built by the mind.
But the Lord Himself saw to it that she was set on the right path of devotion. Once touched by the Spirit of God, Gertrude was converted from innocence to holiness, and swiftly ran in the paths of perfection, devoting herself to prayer and contemplation. Thus, her ecstasies began when she was 26.
Then she redirected her energies from secular studies to scrutinizing the Bible and the writings of SS Augustine, Gregory, and Bernard.
Many of her writings are lost, but fortunately she left to the world an abundance of spiritual joy in her book The Herald of Divine Love, in which she tells of the visions granted her by our divine Lord. She wrote this excellent, small book because she was told that nothing was given to her for her own sake only. Her Exercises is an excellent treatise on the renewal of baptismal vows, spiritual conversion, religious vows, love, praise, gratitude to God, reparation, and preparation for death.
She began to record her supernatural and mystical experiences in what eventually became her Book of Extraordinary Grace (Revelation of Saint Gertrude), together with Mechtilde's mystical experiences Liber Specialis Gratiae, which Gertrude recorded. Most of the book was actually written by others based on Gertrude's notes.
She also wrote with or for Saint Mechtilde a series of prayers that became very popular, and through her writings helped spread devotion to the Sacred Heart (though it was not so called until revealed to Margaret Mary Alocoque).
When in a vision the Lord asked Gertrude whether she would prefer health or sickness, she responded, "Divine Lord, give me whatever pleases You. Do not consider my wishes at all. I know that what You choose to send is the best for me."
What value should be placed on our suffering? All the saints looked upon it as a gift that brings great merit. Moreover, it is better to bear the sorrows God allows. Gertrude says, "It is the most dangerous kind of impatience if a person desires to choose his own sufferings. Whatever is given to him by God is the best."
What if sickness comes? Our Lord said to Gertrude:
"When man, after applying the remedy for his suffering, patiently bears for love of Me that which he is unable to cure, he gains a glorious prize."
"If a man can, with the help of grace, praise and thank God in time of suffering, he obtains a treasure from the Lord, because thanksgiving when sorrow comes is the most beautiful and precious crown of the soul." (Note the similarity to the Book of Job.)
Saint Gertrude learned that every tear shed on the death of a loved one earns a rich reward if offered to God in obedience to His holy will. The deep sympathy our Lord shows for the sorrows of men was thus revealed to her.
Gertrude found her strength in the Holy Eucharist. I think this passage from Herald of Divine Love shows us how much Jesus prizes diversity in worship.
"Once Gertrude felt slightly provoked when she noticed a certain religious approach Holy Communion with extreme timidity. Our Lord rebuked her, however, saying, 'Dost thou not realize that I deserve reverence equally as much as love? But as human frailty is incapable of rendering both, I inspire one with reverence, and to another I give the unction of My love.'"
Regarding frequent communion, Jesus told her:
"It is a time honored custom that one who has twice held the office of governor excels in honor him who has filled the office but once. Likewise, they shall be more glorious in heaven who shall have received Me oftener on earth . . .
"In communicating but once, the Christian receives Me for his salvation, with all My goods--that is, with the united treasures of My Divinity and Humanity; but he does not appropriate the abundance of these treasures except by repeated Communions. At each new Communion, I increase, I multiply the riches which are to constitute his happiness in heaven! . . . In the end, he who approaches Me with fear and reverence is less eagerly welcomed than he who comes to Me from a motive of pure love."
The depth of His love was shown to Gertrude in several visions. One day she saw Jesus during Holy Communion placing beautiful white robes on some of the sisters. Precious jewels, shaped like violets and giving out a delightful fragrance, adorned the robes. A rose- colored garment with golden flowers was also given them as a sign of Christ's passion and His infinite love for man.
Our Lord wishes people to pray for the souls in purgatory. He once showed Gertrude a table of gold on which were many costly pearls. The pearls were prayers for the holy souls. At the same time the saint had a vision of souls freed from suffering and ascending in the form of bright sparks to heaven.
In one of my favorite passages, Our Lord tells Gertrude that he longs for someone to ask Him to release souls from purgatory, just as a king who imprisons a friend for justice's sake hopes that someone will beg for mercy for his friend. (I've posted this long passage previously.) Jesus ends with:
"I accept with highest pleasure what is offered to Me for the poor souls, for I long inexpressibly to have near Me those for whom I paid so great a price. By the prayers of thy loving soul, I am induced to free a prisoner from purgatory as often as thou dost move thy tongue to utter a word of prayer."
To her was granted the privilege of seeing our Lord's Sacred Heart. The graces flowing from it appeared like a stream of purest water flowing over the whole world.
These visions continued until the end of her life. Jesus said to her at the last: "Come, my chosen one, and I will place in you My throne."
Saint Gertrude was "the Great" because of her single-hearted love for the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the souls in purgatory. Though she was never formally canonized, Pope Clement XII in 1677 directed that her feast be observed throughout the Church. It is interesting to note that Saint Teresa of Avila had a great devotion to Gertrude (Attwater, Benedictines, Delaney, Encyclopedia, Martindale, Melady, White)
In art Saint Gertrude is depicted as a Cistercian (white) abbess wearing seven rings on her right hand and holding a heart with the figure of Christ in her left. She was neither an abbess nor a Cistercian (but rather a Black Benedictine), but is often portrayed as such. Sometimes seven angels ring her head and the Christ-Child is over her heart (Roeder).
She is known as the 'prophetess of devotion to the Sacred Heart.' She is the patroness of the West Indies. Venerated at Helfta, Saxony (Roeder).
Giuseppe Moscati (RM)
(also known as Joseph Moscati)
Born in Benevento, Italy, 1860; died 1927; beatified in 1975; canonized in 1987 by Pope John Paul II. Saint Giuseppe studied medicine at the University of Naples and later joined the school's medical faculty. His work led to the modern study of biochemistry. But Giuseppe was not canonized because he had a great scientific mind; rather his vow of chastity and loving care of the incurables at Santa Maria del Populo drew him to a life of sanctity. His charity was further proven during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 1906 and the cholera outbreak in 1911. Throughout his professional life he continued his medical research to relieve suffering, not to earn acclaim or wealth. He regularly withdrew for long periods of reflective prayer. Three years after his death, his relics were translated to the church of Gesu Nuovo (Farmer).
Gobrian of Vannes B (AC)
Born in Brittany; died 725. Saint Gobrian was a monk when he was consecrated bishop of Vannes in Brittany. He served in the episcopacy before retiring to a hermit's cell at the age of 87 (Benedictines).
Blessed Gratia of Cattaro, OSA (AC)
Born in Cattaro, Dalmatia; died 1509; beatified in 1889. The Venetian fisherman, Gratia, was converted at the age of 30 on hearing a sermon. He then entered the Augustinians as a lay brother, where he became a gardener famous for his gift of infused knowledge (Benedictines, Encyclopedia).
Joseph Mkasa M (RM)
Died in Uganda, 1885; canonized 1964. Saint Joseph, the prefect of the royal pages of Uganda, was baptized in 1881 and beheaded in witness to his faith just four years later (Benedictines).
Blessed Louis Morbioli, OC Tert. (AC)
Born in Bologna, Italy, 1439; died 1495; cultus confirmed in 1842. As a young man, Louis was notorious for his dissipated lifestyle which continued even after his marriage. The Holy Spirit brought Louis low and raised him up again. After a serious illness, Louis completely turned his life over to the Lord. He became a member of the third order of Carmelites, began teaching Christian doctrine, and begged alms for the poor (Benedictines).
Margaret of Scotland, Queen (RM)
Born in Hungary in 1045; died in Edinburgh, Scotland, 1083; additional feast day is June 10.
Margaret was the daughter of the exiled Aetheling Prince Edward (of the line of Saxon kings and son of King Edmund Ironsides) and Agatha (kinswoman of Saint Stephen of Hungary--in the line of the Roman emperors). It is believed that she and her siblings--Edgar and Christina--were all born in exile in Hungary. When Margaret was 12, her family was received at the court of her great uncle Saint Edward the Confessor. Her father died soon after their arrival in England. Although the family did not remain there long, Margaret watched the initial erection of Westminster Abbey. When the Normans conquered England in 1066, the three children and their mother escaped to Scotland, where they were received by King Malcolm, who succeeded the usurper Macbeth. Malcolm immediately fell in love with 21-year-old Margaret and asked Edgar for his sister's hand. Margaret wanted, like her sister who later became an abbess, to enter religious life, but after much prayer, she realized that her vocation was for marriage.
Malcolm (a widower) and Margaret married at Dunfermline around 1068 (their daughter Matilda married the Norman Henry I to reinstitute the old royal blood of England into the descendents of William the Conqueror).
Margaret's first task was to civilize Malcolm, an illiterate barbarian. He was jealous of her, but this allowed him to be molded, "like wax in her hands." She prayed for his conversion, taught him how to pray, and how to show mercy to the poor. After his conversion, they often prayed together. "Turgot tells how `there grew up in the King a sort of dread of offending one whose life was so venerable, for he could not but perceive from her conduct the Christ dwelt within her'" (S. P. Delany).
They were married for 16 years, had six sons and two daughters. Margaret gave them their early religious education. She never spoiled her children (see Douay Chronicles). Edward (son) killed in same battle as Malcolm. Ethelred became a lay abbot; Edmund went astray for a time, but later became a monk; Edgar, Alexander and David (David reigned 29 years) became three of Scotland's best kings; Matilda married Henry I of England (known as Good Queen Maud, who washed and kissed the feet of lepers); Mary married Count Eustace of Bologna and was the mother of Matilda of whom was born Stephen, the English king.
Margaret urged Malcolm to reform his kingdom. She ransomed slaves. She also used her influence to reform abuses in the national Church to bring the Scottish Church into harmony with the rest of the Catholic Church. She wrote to Archbishop of Canterbury, who sent Friar Goldwin and two other monks to instruct her. They settled in a Benedictine priory at Dunfermline, Fife, where she built a new and exquisite church in 1072, dedicated to the Blessed Trinity. Then an ecclessiastical council was held with Malcolm acting as interpreter. She restored the monastery at Iona, provided vestments and chalices, etc. for churches, and established a palace workshop to train women in the making of ecclessiastical vestments.
Margaret developed a deep friendship with her confessor, Prior Turgot, who built the superb Norman cathedral at Durham. He had been one of William the Conqueror's prisoners and had escaped to Norway where he had taught sacred music at the royal court. He told the story of her spiritual life in Latin (translated by W. Forbes-Leith, S.J.).
Margaret's faithful prayer brought blessings on her family and nation. She kept herself humble through severe self-discipline. She repeated Breviary daily, attended five or six Masses daily, and waited on 24 poor people before partaking of her frugal meals. Endless days of toil, nights of prayer and self-discipline brought on an early death, which she accurately predicted (Bentley, S. P. Delany).
Returning thanks after meals is known as Saint Margaret's Blessing.
Mechtilde, O.Cist. V (AC)
Died 1298; feast day formerly on November 19.
"When you awake in the morning, let your first act be to salute My Heart, and to offer Me your own. . . . Whoever shall breathe a sigh toward Me from the bottom of his heart when he awakes in the morning and shall ask Me to work all his works in him throughout the day, will draw Me to him . . . For never does a man breathe a sigh of longing aspiration toward Me without drawing Me nearer to him than I was before." --Our Lord to Saint Mechtilde.
Saint Mechtilde, sister of abbess Gertrude of Hackeborn, was the mistress of novices of the Cistercian convent at Helfta Castle in Saxony. In this capacity she played an important role in the spiritual formation of Saint Gertrude the Great. Like her spiritual daughter, Mechtilde was blessed with many mystical experiences that were recorded by Saint Gertrude in the Book of Special Grace. Mechtilde and the younger Gertrude together wrote a series of prayers that became very popular (Benedictines, Delaney, Martindale).
Othmar of Saint-Gall, OSB Abbot (RM)
(also known as Otmar, Audemar)
Died 759. In 720, the Teutonic priest, Othmar, was appointed abbot of the then dilapidated Saint-Gall monastery. He immediately introduced the Benedictine Rule and the abbey was revived, becoming the most important in Switzerland. Saint Othmar died a holy death in prison after being persecuted by two neighboring counts, unjustly calumniated, and condemned by an church tribunal (Benedictines, Encyclopedia).
Rufinus, Mark, Valerius & Comp. MM (RM)
Date unknown. It is believed that this was a group of African martyrs. Nothing is certain about their lives or death (Benedictines).
Blessed Simeon of Cava, OSB Abbot (AC)
Died 1141; cultus confirmed in 1928. Simeon, abbot of La Cava Abbey from 1124 until his death, was highly regarded by Pope Innocent II and Roger II of Sicily. During his abbacy, La Cava in southern Italy reached the height of its fame and splendor (Benedictines).
About Saints of the Day
These summaries were prepared in 1998 by St. Patrick's parishioner Katherine I. Rabenstein and are reproduced on www.saintpatrickdc.org with the permission of the author. Note that the content has not been updated since that time and represents the research of the author. An alphabetical index of all saints on our site is available. Source references are also available. HTML formatting © 2007-2008 by St. Patrick's Catholic Church, Washington, D.C.