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Mechthild of Magdeburg

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Mechthild (or Mechtild) of Magdeburg (c. 1207 – c. 1282/1294), a Beguine, was a medieval mystic, whose book Das fließende Licht der Gottheit (The Flowing Light of the Godhead) described her visions of God.

Definite biographical information about Mechthild is scarce; what is known of her life comes largely from scattered hints in her work. She was probably born to a noble Saxon family, and claimed to have had her first vision of the Holy Spirit at the age of twelve.[1]

In 1230 she left her home to become a Beguine, and live a life of prayer and mortification under the guidance of Dominican friars. Her criticism of church dignitaries and claims to theological insight seem to have aroused some opposition, and around 1270, she joined the Cistercian nunnery at Helfta, who offered her protection and support in the final years of her life, and where she finished writing down the contents of the many divine revelations she claimed to have experienced. The nuns of Helfta were highly educated and important works of mysticism survive from Mechthild’s younger contemporaries, St. Mechthild of Hackeborn and St. Gertrude the Great.

Mechthild’s writing is exuberant and emotional: her descriptions of her visions are filled with passion. Her images of Hell are believed by some scholars to have influenced Dante Alighieri when he wrote The Divine Comedy, and Mechthild is thought to have been represented by Dante in that work, in the character of Matelda. However, there is no substantial evidence for this and there are important differences in Dante's conception of Hell.

While her work was translated into Latin during her lifetime, Mechthild was never canonized by the Roman Catholic Church. Her work was largely forgotten by the 15th century, but was rediscovered in the late 19th century by Pater Gall Morel, who published the first edition. Her work has been increasingly studied, both for its academic interest and as a work of devotional literature.

ReferencesEdit

LiteratureEdit

  • Mechthild von Magdeburg: Das fließende Licht der Gottheit. Edited and translated by Gisela Vollmann-Profe. Deutscher Klassiker Verlag, Franfurt a. M. 2003 (Bibliothek des Mittelalters 19) ISBN 3-618-66195-9
  • Mechthild von Magdeburg "Das fließende Licht der Gottheit". Nach der Einsiedler Handschrift in kritischem Vergleich mit der gesamten Überlieferung. Tom. 1: Text. Edited by Hans Neumann. Artemis, München 1990 (Münchener Texte und Untersuchungen zur deutschen Literatur des Mittelalters 100)
  • The Flowing Light of the Godhead. By Mechthild of Magdeburg. Translated and introduced by Frank Tobin. Preface by Margot Schmidt. Paulist Press, New York and Mahwah, NJ 1998 (Classics of Western Spirituality Series) online and review
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