Saint of the Day – 17 March – St Gertrude of Nivelles O.S.B. (626-659) was a 7th-century Religious Abbess who, with her mother Itta, founded the Abbey of Nivelles located in present-day Belgium. She was born in 626 at Landen, Belgium and died on 17 March 659 at Nivelles, Belgium of natural causes. Patronages – against fear of mice and rates, against suriphobia, fever, mental disorders, insanity, of cats, of gardeners, innkeepers, hospitals, the mentally ill, pilgrims, travellers, suriphobics, sick, poor, prisoners, Landen, Belgium, Nivelles, Belgium, Wattenscheid, Germany. Attributes – a nun with a crosier, with cats, with mice, a woman spinning.
Our Saint was born at Landen, Belgium in 626 and died at Nivelles, 659; she was just thirty-three, the same age as Our Lord. Both her parents, Pepin of Landen and Itta were held to be holy by those who knew them; her sister Begga is numbered among the Saints. On her husband’s death in 640, Itta founded a Benedictine monastery at Nivelles, which is near Brussels and appointed Gertrude its abbess when she reached twenty, tending to her responsibilities well, with her mother’s assistance and following her in giving encouragement and help to monks, particularly Irish ones, to do missionary work in the locale.
Saint Gertrude’s piety was evident even when she was as young as ten, when she turned down the offer of a noble marriage, declaring that she would not marry him or any other suitor: Christ alone would be her bridegroom.
She was known for her hospitality to pilgrims and her aid to missionary monks. She gave land to one monk so that he could build a monastery at Fosse. By her early thirties Gertrude had become so weakened by the austerity of abstaining from food and sleep that she had to resign her office and spent the rest of her days studying Scripture and doing penance. It is said that on the day before her death she sent a messenger to Fosse, asking the superior if he knew when she would die.
His reply indicated that death would come the next day during holy Mass-the prophecy was fulfilled. Her feast day is observed by gardeners, who regard fine weather on that day as a sign to begin spring planting.
Devotion to St. Gertrude became widely spread in the Lowlands and neighbouring countries.
Commonly seen running up her pastoral staff or cloak are hopeful-looking mice representing Souls in Purgatory, to which she had an intense devotion, just as with St Gertrude the Great. Even as recently as 1822, offerings of mice made of gold and silver were left at her shrine. Another patronage is to travellers on the high seas. It is held that one sailor, suffering misfortune while under sail, prayed to the Saint and was delivered safely.
Just before her death in 659, Gertrude instructed the nuns at Nivelles to bury her in an old veil left behind by a travelling pilgrimess and Gertrude’s own hair shirt. Gertrude’s choice of burial clothing is a pattern in medieval hagiography as an expression of humility and piety. Her death and the image of her weak and humble figure is in fact a critical point in her biographer’s narrative. Her monastery also benefited from this portrayal because the hair cloth and veil in which Gertrude was interred became relics. At Nivelles, her relics were only publicly displayed for feast days, Easterand other holy days.
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