Gertrude of Helfta lived from the age of five until her death in the Cistercian abbey of Helfta, in Eisleben, Germany. She wrote several mystical works and was the first person to urge devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. For this reason she is portrayed with a burning or shining heart on her breast. The heart is often embellished by a small figure of the Christ Child, as at right.
This Gertrude is sometimes confused with St. Gertrude von Hackenborn, who was the abbess at Helfta at the time, so sometimes we see a "Saint Gertrude" portrayed with both a burning heart and a crozier (the symbol of an abbot, abbess, or bishop), as in the two images below.1
There is also a brief paragraph in the Windbergen legendary entitled De S. Gertrude in which a "King Pippin of the Franks" and his pregnant queen Hitta are en route to Rome when a pilgrim greets the queen not for herself but for the virginem Deo consecratam, the "virgin consecrated to God" in her womb. This virgin, the chapter asserts, was "Saint Gertrude" but it cannot be either Gertrude the Great or Gertrude of Hackeborn, because they lived in the 13th century and the only king of the Franks named Pippin lived in the 8th and had a queen named Bertrada. Of Gertrude the Great Butler says, "Nothing is known either of her parentage or the place of her birth." Gertrude of Hackeborn was the daughter of a baron.2
Prepared in 2013 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University. Revised 2020-10-02.