Saints and Blesseds
Sacred Norbertine ancestors cross many ages and nationalities — from the early members of the original community at Prémontré in France to the martyrs of the order in the Holy Land, and from the challenges of the reformation to the crises of the modern era.
Throughout and beyond the centuries-old existence of their order, outstanding Norbertine men and women of heroic virtue remain sources of edification, inspiration and models for daily life.
Many disciples of Norbert attained sanctity and were drawn to his way of life, helping to further his ideals and values. Some followers left their high status as nobility and humbled themselves to found new houses of the order. Others used their talents as administrators, scholars, preachers and teachers, and still others simply served with generosity and humility.
Gertrude was the daughter of Count Louis of Thuringia and Hesse and St. Elizabeth of Hungary. She was dedicated to God from the womb by her father as he prepared to depart for the Crusades in 1227. Louis offered the unborn child to the Premonstratensian Canons of Rommersdorf if a boy, or the Premonstratensian Canonesses of Altenberg near Wetzlar if a girl. Gertrude was born on September 29, 1227, a few weeks after Louis died in the Crusades. Her mother, Elizabeth, who wished to devote the rest of her life to prayer and the service of the poor, kept her husband’s vow by entrusting Gertrude to Altenberg.
Though Elizabeth died within a few years of Gertrude’s birth, she was remembered by the community of Altenberg for her visits, during which she spun wool with the sisters. The 8-year-old Gertrude was brought from Altenberg to Marburg to attend her mother’s canonization in May 1235. Altenberg became prominent among the religious houses most active in promoting the cult of St. Elizabeth. Gertrude received her entire education at Altenberg and became the third prioress of the monastery at age 24. Using her inheritance, Gertrude built the monastery church after the Gothic style of the church at Marburg. She also built a hospital and guesthouse for the poor, following the example of her mother who had demonstrated her love of Christ by caring for the poor and sick. While washing the sick Gertrude was reported to say: “How beautiful it is that we are allowed to bathe the Savior!”
When Pope Urban IV renewed the call for a crusade, Gertrude became a zealous advocate of this endeavor. Together with the sisters of the monastery and many noble ladies, she collected money for the outfitting of the crusaders. When the feast of Corpus Christi was introduced to the universal Church by a Bull of Pope Urban IV in 1264, the new feast met with widespread resistance, remaining a dead letter for 50 years in many places, including Rome itself. Gertrude introduced the feast at Altenberg already in 1270, where it was celebrated with the greatest solemnity, thus becoming one of the first to introduce the new Eucharistic feast. In everyday life, Gertrude took care of the needs of the poorest, both in the hospital and the monastery. She had the gift of reconciling people upon whom she implored the Divine Mercy through penance and mortification. She was 69 years old when she died after a serious illness on August 13, 1297, having led her community for 50 years. She was buried in the monastery church of Altenberg.
Pope Clement V granted indulgences on her day of death and allowed her veneration in 1311 (the authenticity of this Bull has been questioned by some). Her cult as a blessed was definitively confirmed by Pope Benedict XIII on January 22/March 8, 1728. The Lutheran deaconesses who now inhabit the cloister of Altenberg retain a profound veneration for Blessed Gertrude to this day.