March 17

Saint of the day:

Saint Gertrude of Nivelles

Patron Saint of cats, mental illness, travelers, gardeners, and against mice

Saint Gertrude of Nivelles’ Story

Younger daughter of Saint Pepin of Landen and Saint Ida of Nivelles; sister of Saint Begga of Ardenne. Devoted to her faith from an early age, she turned down a noble marriage to pursue the religious life. Following the death of Pepin in 639, and on the advice of Saint Amand of Maastricht, Ida built a double monastery at Nivelles where both she and her daughter retired. Gertrude became abbess about age 20.

Known for her hospitality to pilgrims and the aid given to Irish missionary monks. Gertrude gave land to Saint Foillan, on which he built the monastery at Fosses, Belgium. She helped Saint Ultan in his evangelization. In 656, Gertrude resigned her office in favor of her niece, Saint Wilfetrudis of Nivelles, and spent the rest of her days studying Scripture and doing penance. Mystic and visionary. Died at the significant age of 33, the age of Our Lord at His death.

The cultus of Saint Gertrude spread widely in the Low Countries, neighboring regions, and England, and folklore attached to her name. As late as 1822, offerings of gold and silver mice were left at her shrine in Cologne, Germany; mice represented souls in Purgatory, to whom she had a great devotion. Patron of gardeners because fine weather on her feast day meant it was time to begin spring planting. Her patronage of travelers comes from her hospitality to pilgrims. She is invoked as a patroness of those who had recently died, who were popularly supposed to experience a three-day journey to the next world; they spent the first night under the care of Gertrude, and the second under Michael the Archangel.

There is a legend that one day she sent some of her subjects to a distant country, promising that no misfortune would befall them on the journey; when they were on the ocean, a large sea-monster threatened to capsize their ship, but disappeared upon the invocation of Saint Gertrude. In memory of this occurence travelers during the Middle ages drank the so-called “Sinte Geerts Minne” or “Gertrudenminte” before setting out on their journey.

Gertrude was abbess of a double monastery, founded by her mother, Itta, at Nivelles, Belgium. Though known for her hospitality and generosity to travelers and pilgrims, she left the management of her monastery to a few trusted nuns and monks, in order that she might gain more time for study, meditation and prayer. A mystic and visionary, she was venerated as a saint immediately after her death on March 17, 659, at age of 33, and a church later was erected in her honor. A large following venerating Saint Gertrude spread widely throughout Belgium and its neighboring countries where quite a bit of folklore accumulated. She is recognized as a patroness of travelers, including those who have recently died. In art, Gertrude is often depicted with mice (some say symbolizing the souls in purgatory) running up her pastoral staff. She is still invoked against rodents and it is said that water from her well and cakes baked in her convent ovens will keep them away. Her power over rodents apparently accounts for her traditional patronage of cats. Gertrude is considered one of the patron saints of gardeners because fine weather on her feast day means it is time to begin spring planting





Collegiate Church of Saint Gertrude, Nivelles

 Nivelles, Walloon Brabant, Wallonia, Belgium, which was built in the 11th century.

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