7 Interesting Things You Should Know About St. Gertrude the Great

Hannah Crites

7 Interesting Things You Should Know About St. Gertrude the Great

On November 16, the Church celebrates the feast of St. Gertrude the Great, a Benedictine nun whose great love for the Holy Souls in Purgatory and devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus has helped earn her the title of "the Great." Here's some more interesting things you may not know about her. 

Gertrude was born in the same town as Martin Luther

Gertrude was born in Eisleben, Germany on the Feast of the Epiphany in 1256, two centuries before Luther. However, she lived during the same time as many of the great saints including St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Dominic. 

Not much is known about her parentage. Historians believe that she may have been a child oblate to the church, just as Hannah offered Samuel to the temple.

She entered a monastery school in Saxony when she was five years old where she earned an impressive education and ultimately discerned to become a religious sister herself. 

She was incredibly smart, earning an education unlike any woman of her time

She admitted in her autobiography that often times, she allowed Christ to take a backseat as she harnessed her skills in philosophy, literature, singing and painting. It eventually led to her feeling lonely and depressed and called her intellectual pursuits a "tower of vanity and curiosity." She refocused her priorities after a mystical encounter with Christ and began to focus on studying Scripture and theological works.

Gertrude was a mystic 

She had many mystical experiences which she recorded in her journals. One was a series of visions of St. John on the night of the Last Supper. She laid her head on the breast of Christ and heard his most Sacred Heart beating and asked John why he didn’t record the experience in the Gospel. He answered saying that this detail had to be reserved for subsequent ages when the world, having grown cold, would need to rekindle its love for Christ’s Sacred Heart. 

Gertrude wrote extensively about the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Her writings helped spread the devotion throughout the Western world.  

She wrote a prayer that when said, releases 1,000 souls from Purgatory

Gertrude had a great devotion to the Holy Souls in Purgatory, whom she frequently wrote about and the need for the living to pray for them. She wrote this prayer, which is especially fitting for the month of November:

Eternal Father, I offer Thee the Most Precious Blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus, in union with the Masses said throughout the world today, for all the holy souls in purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal church, those in my own home and within my family. Amen.

Gertrude was never formally canonized 

Surprisingly, this famous saint was never officially canonized as such. However, in 1606, over 300 years after her death, Pope Paul V approved a liturgical office of prayer, readings and hymns in her honor. In 1738, Pope Clement XII extended the Feast of St. Gertrude to the Universal Church. 

Regardless, she is still recognized as a saint who is praying for us among the communion of saints. 

She is the patron of the West Indies 

She was declared Patroness of the West Indies after a petition from the Holy See was sent to King Philip IV of Spain. Her interecession is also often sought for the souls in purgatory. 

Gertrude is the only female Saint to be called “the Great” 

Pope Benedict XIV gave her the title to differentiate her from Abbess Gertrude of Hackeborn and to acknowledge the depth of her writings and theological insight.

There is no formal criteria to determine a saint as “great” like there is for determining doctors of the Church. It is often to distinguish them from a saint with the same name, such as St. James the Great who was St. John’s brother and St. James the Lesser, the first bishop of Jerusalem. 

Other saints receive the title of "great" because of their lasting influence on the world and the Church. St. Gregory the Great was named “the Great” as a result of his leadership, profound writings, and contributions to the liturgy, including Gregorian Chant.

St. Gertrude died on November 16, 1302 and remains one of the most well-known saints in the West.

St. Gertrude the Great, pray for us!