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Mechthild of Hackeborn (1241–c.1298)

  1. Laura M. Grimes

Published Online: 25 NOV 2011

DOI: 10.1002/9780470670606.wbecc0875

The Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization

How to Cite

Grimes, L. M. 2011. Mechthild of Hackeborn (1241–c.1298). The Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 25 NOV 2011

Abstract

Mechthild of Hackeborn was a nun and mystic of the medieval German monastery of St. Mary at Helfta. She entered the house as a 7 year old child oblate, joining her elder sister Gertrude of Hackeborn. Gertrude soon became the abbess; after Mechthild grew up she became choir director and chantress and was called “the nightingale of Christ.” Mechthild had mystical experiences from childhood, but only after her sister's death in 1291 did Mechthild begin to reveal her visions. Two other members of the community then compiled them, at first without her knowledge, into the Liber specialis gratiae, or Book of Special Grace. The work was initially composed of five books of Mechthild's visions, preceded by a brief biographical notice. Then two additional books were written expanding on the holy deaths and posthumous glory of Gertrude of Hackeborn and Mechthild herself. The book was most influential through its Middle English adaptation, The Book of Gostlye Grace. (The title change derived from an incorrect expansion of the manuscript abbreviation sp., for specialis, to spiritualis.) Caroline Walker Bynum sums up some of the characteristics of Mechthild's spirituality as evident in the Liber. Mechthild's visions are much more vivid, poetic, and affective than Gertrude's and, to some tastes, therefore more beautiful. She has a keener sense of emotional identification with Christ's suffering and of the theological significance of the crucifixion. Her personal asceticism appears (at least in this account) to have been somewhat harsher. She seems to have been a more tender counselor to others than Gertrude (Bynum 1982: 212–213).

Keywords:

  • Mechthild of Hackeborn (1241–c.1298);
  • mechthild's spirituality, in the liber;
  • liber specialis gratiae, or book of special grace;
  • mechthild, sisters who had visions