Do You Know the Amazing Story of This Beatified Mystic?

Gillian Weyant

Do You Know the Amazing Story of This Beatified Mystic?

Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, who is numbered among those beatified in the Roman Catholic Church, was a German nun, mystic, stigmatist and visionary.  Beatified in 2004 by Pope Saint John Paul II, she was known throughout her life as a woman of great piety and humility.  She is now recognized by the Catholic Church as an influential figure whose mystic writings and visions leave a great deal to be learned and discussed.

Early Life

Emmerich was born on September 8, 1774.  This date, celebrated in the Church as the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, would become significant to Emmerich in her later years as she spoke of visions of the Blessed Mother.  Emmerich was born into a farming community in the Diocese of Münster in Westphalia, Germany.  Her family was comprised of poor farmers, so from an early age Emmerich was needed to help the family in their work both in the home and on the farm.  This was not an uncommon situation for children at the time, yet Emmerich was noticed for her special sanctity and prayerfulness during these years.

She left her family to work on a larger neighboring farm at the age of twelve and later learned to work as a seamstress.  It was at approximately this time that Emmerich began to strongly desire the life of a consecrated nun.  She began applying for admission to various convents in the area, but she was always rejected on the basis of her poverty at the time.

Vocation To Religious Life

Undeterred, Emmerich continued her pursuit of the religious life.  She was eventually accepted to the community of the Poor Clares in Münster, provided that she would learn to become an organist.  Emmerich began to study in Coesfield, Germany, under an organist by the name of Söntgen.  Although Emmerich had taken the request of the Poor Clares seriously, she was often drawn away from her studies of the organ: the Söntgen family was impoverished like her own, and so Emmerich felt compelled to work for them as well as donate her small savings to them.  Thus, Emmerich exhibited Christ-like selflessness and generosity, placing her own desires and vocation second in order to help the poor.

Emmerich, however, would be rewarded in an unexpected way: Klara Söntgen, the organist’s daughter, began to feel called to the religious life as well.  She would join Emmerich as they were finally both accepted to a convent of Augustinian nuns in Dülmen, Germany.  Emmerich took her final vows in the year 1803, at the age of 29.  Her years-long process of entering into her life’s vocation was complete.  At the time, Emmerich’s health was already in a state of deterioration, leading to confusion between her and her fellow nuns, who were puzzled by her simultaneous physical frailty and spiritual zeal.  Emmerich was also beginning to experience some ecstasies and visions, further drawing attention to her in the convent.

Emmerich, however, would not need to be a part of this community for much longer.  In the year 1812, the convent was suppressed by Jérôme-Bonaparte, the reigning King of Westphalia at the time as well as the youngest brother of Napoleon I.  Upon the disintegration of this particular convent, Emmerich began to live with a poor widow.  It was during her stay with this widow that Emmerich would enter into the next phase of her life: here she would begin to experience more prominent mysticism and visions, as well as acquire the stigmata which she initially attempted to hide out of humility.

Mysticism: Stigmata And Visions

By the year 1813, Emmerich was completely bedridden.  At this time, she began to experience more vivid and particular visions.  She supposedly foresaw the downfall of Napoleon twelve years in advance.  When visited by the sick, Emmerich was able to know their illnesses and prescribe remedies which were reported to be successful.  She began to pray even more fervently for the Holy Souls in Purgatory, whom she reported seeing in her visions a number of times.  During all this time, she kept her devotion to the poor.

Most prominent to outsiders, however, was the appearance of external stigmata upon Emmerich’s body, even extending to marks on her head from a crown of thorns.  Although she had tried to conceal these marks for fear of drawing attention to herself, they did not go unnoticed.  Since this was so unusual, doctors were called in to determine the nature of the stigmata, and eventually ecclesiastical authorities were brought in to conduct an investigation.  No evidence of fraud was determined at this time.

In the year 1818, Emmerich’s stigmata ended. She was moved from the widow’s home in the following year to a different home, where she would undergo weeks of intense scrutiny and surveillance in order to determine the validity of her signs.  The commission which was investigating her life eventually departed, unable to prove that Emmerich was lying.

After Emmerich was moved to her new home in 1819, the poet Clemens Brentano began to visit her.  It is said that after recognizing him by name, she told him that he was the man designated to help her fulfill God’s wish: that her revelations might be written down for the benefit of innumerable future souls.  Brentano, while conversing with Emmerich, wrote what would later become several different volumes.  Some were published prior to Emmerich’s death, whereas others remained unpublished until afterwards.  Notable chapters of Brentano’s book include descriptions of the house of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Ephesus, which at the time had been undiscovered.  Prompted by Emmerich’s visions of this house, several priests journeyed to Ephesus and found one entirely fitting Emmerich’s description.  The house has since been declared a Holy Place and a shrine.

Beatification And Legacy

By 1823, Emmerich had grown steadily weaker.  She died on February 8, 1824, in Dülmen (the same city in which she initially entered the convent of Augustinian nuns).  Emmerich was relatively well-known at this point, and her funeral was attended by many.

Emmerich’s cause for beatification was opened by the Bishop of Münster in 1892.  Not much progress had been made when the Vatican suspended investigations in 1928, as it was then suspected that Brentano had fabricated some of the transcriptions of Emmerich’s visions. There were a number of serious additional allegations against Brentano, with many describing Brentano as a well-intentioned fraud or a poet prone to elaboration.

The Vatican permitted Emmerich’s cause for beatification to be opened again in the year 1973, provided that the investigations revolve around the sanctity of Emmerich herself rather than the possibly fabricated writings of Brentano.  A miracle attributed to Emmerich was validated thirty years later in 2003, during the papacy of Pope Saint John Paul II.  Emmerich was beatified on October 3, 2004.

Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich remains one of the most notable mystics of the nineteenth century.  From her life and visions, we are able to take to heart a number of valuable lessons.  Her sacrifice and dedication to helping the poor and the sick exude holiness.  One of the most notable ways in which we may imitate Emmerich is through strong efforts to carry out God’s will in our lives, despite our own weaknesses.  In Emmerich’s case, her weakness resided in her physical body, but we may allow ourselves to be inspired to set aside our own personal or spiritual weaknesses as we work to carry out God’s will in our lives.


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