Norbertine Saints and Blesseds for August
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.
Bronislava was born at the castle of Kamien in Upper Silesia in 1203. Her family was of Polish origin and was devoted to the Gregorian reform movement. She grew up in an atmosphere deeply influenced by the Crusades, and devotion to the Holy Cross would characterize her entire life.
She was 16 years old when she entered the cloister of the Norbertine nuns at Zwierzyniec in Krakow, a convent founded by her maternal grandfather. Bronislava’s devout prayer, her meditation on the Passion of Christ, and her veneration of the Holy Cross left a deep impression on her contemporaries. When the Tartars invaded Krakow in 1241, Bronislava, holding the cross in her hand, encouraged her sisters with the words, “Do not be afraid, the cross will save us.” The barbarians left behind a track of misery. In the same year, the pestilence also ravaged this region. In every difficult challenge, Bronislava, supported by her sisters, was an “angel of consolation” to the people in their need. The population considered her their patroness on whom they could count when they needed protection. Her help and protection was the cross, and she is therefore often represented as praying before Jesus Crucified.
During her grave afflictions, she withdrew to the solitude of the hill of Sikornik where she entrusted her troubles and the troubles of her fellow men to the mercy of God. She saw her cousin, the Dominican St. Hyacinth, in a vision at the time of his death on August 15, 1257, as he went to heaven holding the hand of the Blessed Virgin.
Bronislava died on August 29, 1259. Her body was taken to the convent church and she was invoked as a saint. Her relics were placed in a precious reliquary and were carried in solemn procession each year on the anniversary of her death. Pope Gregory XVI declared her blessed on August 23, 1839. The efforts of the Polish bishops toward the canonization of Bronislava in 1947 at Pope Pius XII were delayed by 40 years of Communist rule.