St. Mechtilde was one of a trio of extraordinary mystics who inhabited the same Benedictine convent in Saxony in the late thirteenth century. Aside from Mechtilde of Helfta (born in Hackeborn – and also carries that title), first came to the convent of Helfta when she was seven, there was also the ex-Beguine St Mechtild of Magdeburg (70 years prior) and the younger, St Gertrude the Great. None of these women held any notable office in their community and yet they exerted spiritual authority far beyond the convent as a result of their visions and their wide reputation for holiness.
Mechtilde of Helfta and Gertrude were particularly close. Gertrude had been donated, to the convent at the age of five, and Mechtilde, fifteen years her senior, had been largely responsible for her upbringing. As nuns and mystics they both developed a similar spirituality, emphasizing an affective devotion to the humanity of Christ and a strong focus on the Eucharist.
In the case of Mechtilde, her first mystical vision occurred while receiving Holy Communion. our Lord appeared to her, held her hands, and left his imprint on her heart “like a seal in wax.” Christ furthermore presented his own heart to her in the form of a cup and said, “By my heart you will praise me always; go, offer to all the saints the drink of life from my heart that they may be happily inebriated with it.”
Mechtilde had a great devotion to the humanity of Christ, for this humanity was the “door” by which human beings and, indeed, all creation entered into union with divinity. In one extraordinary vision she perceived that “the smallest details of creation are reflected in the Holy Trinity by means of the humanity of Christ, because it is from the same earth that produced them that Christ drew his humanity.”
As a result of her visions, Mechtilde wielded tremendous authority within her community and beyond. She was regarded as a prophet, teacher, and counsellor, “a tender mother of the unfortunate by her continual prayers, her zealous instruction, and her consolations.” The teachings and visions of St. Mechtildis were carefully recorded, by her spiritual daughter and lifelong friend, St. Gertrude, in a work entitled the Book of Special Grace. She died on November 19, 1298.