Saint of the Day – 30 July – Saint Godelieve (c 1049-1070) Flemish Married Laywoman. Born in c 1049 at Londefort-lez-Boulogne, France and died by murder by being strangled by her mother-in-law’s and husband’s servants on 6 July 1070 at Gistel, Belgium. Patronages – difficult marriages, against abuse and spousal abuse, against throat diseases, in-law problems, for good weather and against storms. Also known as – Godelieve of, Ghistelles, Godelieve of Gistel, Godaleva, Godeleine, Godeleva, Godeliève, Godelina, Godeliva, Godelive, Godelva, Godliva.
The Cross and Death of St Godelieve
By Fr Francis Xavier Weninger SJ (1805-1888)
“Godelieve was a native of France and the daughter of rich and noble parents, who neglected nothing, to give her an education in accor,dance with her station in life. She united with most exquisite beauty, great virtue and piety and hence was early sought in holy matrimony by many young men of the nobility. Among these, a certain Bertulph of the Netherlands, who seemed her equal in rank, gained her parent’s consent and Godeliva submitted to their will.
Having received a dowry according to her position, she went, accompanied by some of her relatives, to the Netherlands, where her marriage was to take place. But how surprising an evidence of the inconstancy of human love! Scarcely had the noble bride arrived under the roof of her future husband, when she perceived that Bertulph’s love for her was changed into hatred and aversion, as he hardly deigned to look at her. His wicked mother, if not the first, was not the last cause of this unexpected change – as she reproached her son for having chosen a foreigner for his wife, as if, in his own country, her equal in beauty and virtue could not be found. She found fault with everything the innocent Godeliva said or did and thus inflamed, the fire of contention, to such a degree that later, only the blood of the pious Godeliva could quench it.
The poor maiden’s sadness may easily be conceived but she hoped that these dark clouds would pass away. Meanwhile the arrangements for the wedding were completed and it accordingly took place. Bertulph, however, was present only during the ceremony, as he was unable to hide his aversion for his bride. He appointed a separate dwelling for her and remained with his parents, declaring that he would not hear or see anything of her, so great was the hatred he bore her. The deeply grieved Godeliva, seeing herself thus forsaken by men, sought for refuge with God. Day and night, she was on her knees imploring the Almighty to change Bertulph’s heart and fill it with Christian love.
Although God did not answer her prayers in the manner she desired, He gave her grace to submit entirely to His Divine Will and to carry her cross with heroic patience. Bertulph, in order to torment her still more and slowly to kill her, gave her a servant whom he had commanded to furnish for her sustenance daily, only a piece of bread and some water. The godless servant not only obeyed the cruel order but treated Godoliva with as much rudeness as if she had been his slave, instead of his mistress. Godrliva’s Christian virtue bore all this with indescribable patience. She never showed the least sign of indignation and no complaint of Bertulph’s inhuman command, nor the harsh treatment she received from the servant, ever passed her lips. She only uttered the praises of God, and thanked Him for giving her the opportunity to suffer.
When the profligate mother of Bertulph saw that neither hunger nor grief would, as she had hoped, end Godeliva’s life, she persuaded her son to get rid of her in some other way, as starvation was too slow. Bertulph would have been easily persuaded to follow this wicked advice, had not fear of Godeliva’s noble parents and relatives deterred him, at least for some time.
The innocent handmaid of the Lord perceived meanwhile, by the daily increasing torments, that she had nothing to expect but a violent death and, therefore, sought for an opportunity to escape. God gave her this opportunity and she, embracing it, fled, and after many hardships returned to her parents. The latter were inexpressibly griev,ed when she told them og her sufferings and being greatly indignant at the tyranny she had endured, they requested Baldwin, Count of Flanders and also the Bishop of Nimwegen, as their friend, to reproach Bertulph, seriously, with his impious conduct and command him, at the same time, to receive his wife again and in future to treat her in a different manner. Both took a deep interest in the matter and they supposed that their expostulation had impressed Bertulph, as he professed to them and to the parents of Godeliva, deep regret at his tyranny and promised on , not only to cease from maltreating her but to live with her in love and harmony. On this promise, she was commanded by her parent, to return with him to his home, which she did
No sooner, however, had she arrived there than she was more ill-treated than before. All her former miseries were redoubled and the hatred of Bertulph, now more deeply rooted, made itself more clearly manifest. Nothing was to be expected but the execution of the long nourished murderous design. The innocent Godeliva was ready for her last hour; for she was determined not to leave her husband again, even if it should cost her life. Everyday she prepared herself to die, commending her soul to the mercy of her Creator.
To some women, who came to comfort her in her misery, she said, with great cheerfulness; “You believe that I am an object of pity but I, although encompassed by sorrow, hope one day to be exalted and recompensed above all women in Flanders.” Thus she consoled herself with the contemplation of her reward in Heaven.
Into this she was soon to enter, for Bertulph was determined to do the worst. He hired two assassins to murder Godeliva. Not to be suspected of the bloody deed, he undertook a journey to Brussels, went to Godeliva and pretending to acknowledge and repent of his faults, he informed her that he was obliged to set out for Brussels but that, on his return, he would show greater love for her than she had ever expected from him. Upon this, the false spouse took leave, with the assurance that he would return in a few days. He really went away, believing that no-one would suppose him to be the instigator of the murder, which would take place during his absence.
Godeliva had no faith in his promises, his many other false demonstrations had made her suspicious. She had no doubt that her end was near. Soon after Bertulph’s departure, the two assassins entered Godeliva’s chamber at night, dragged her out of bed, put a rope around her neck, and strangled her in a most barbarous manner. After this, they placed the dead body again in the bed and covered it, thinking that no-one would discover how Godoliva had come by her death. When she was found on the following day, everyone believed that grief had put an end to her life.
God, however, so ordered, that Bertulph, in the course of time, confessed his crime and, to do penance, retired into a cloister.
How precious Godeliva’s death was in the sight of the Lord, was shown by the many miracles which were wrought at her tomb. History does not tell what became of the wicked mother of Bertulph but she doubtless went to eternal destruction, if she repented not, since, by destroying the harmony between her son and his wife, she had been the cause of so much unhappiness. And the same lot will befall all those, who, by slander, tale-bearing, or other wicked means, produce the same disunion.
Woe to such mischief-makers! How great will be their responsibility before the Judgment-seat of God! The Lord, according to Holy Writ, has the greatest detestation for those who stir up dissensions among brothers and still more, for those who disturb the peace of husband and wife because the quarrels of the latter, are generally of longer duration and their consequences are more disastrous.
The two left panels represent the Saint’s piety and charity during her life in Boulogne. In the centre, the first panel shows Bertolf’s courtship, the second their marriage and the third Godelieve’s ill treatment from her husband and mother-in-law. In the two right panels the servants first strangle her, then immerse her in water, then return the body to her bed.
Godelieve’s body was exhumed in 1084 by the Bishops of Tournai and Noyon, in the presence of Gertrude of Saxony, the wife of Robert I, Count of Flanders, the Abbot of St Winnoc’s and a number of clergymen. It was Radbod II, Bishop of Noyon-Tournai, that consecrated Godelieve’s relics in 1084 and Godelieve’s popular cult developed thereafter. Godelieve’s feast day, 6 July in Belgium, was, like that of Saint Swithun in England and Saint Medard in France, connected with the weather. She is thus considered one of the “Weather Saints.”
Drogo, a Monk of St.Winnoc’s Abbey, wrote the Vita Godelieve, about ten years after her death. The Abbey of Ten Putte in Bruges, was dedicated to her. Every year, on the Sunday following 5 July, a procession celebrating Saint Godelieve takes place in Gistel.