Mechthild of Magdeburg
Bornc. 1207
Diedc. 1282 – c. 1294
Notable workThe Flowing Light of Divinity
EraMedieval philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
SchoolChristian mysticism

Mechthild (or Mechtild, Matilda,[1] Matelda[2]) of Magdeburg (c. 1207 – c. 1282/1294), a Beguine, was a Christian medieval mystic, whose book Das fließende Licht der Gottheit (The Flowing Light of Divinity) is a compendium of visions, prayers, dialogues and mystical accounts.[3] She was the first mystic to write in Low German.


Definite biographical information about Mechthild is scarce; what is known of her life comes largely from scattered hints in her work. She was born into a noble Saxon family.[4][5] She had her first vision of the Holy Spirit at the age of twelve.[6] In 1230 she left her home and “renounced worldly honour and worldly riches”[4] to become a Beguine at Magdeburg.[6] There, like Hadewijch of Antwerp, she seems to have exercised a position of authority in a Beguine community.[7] In Magdeburg she became acquainted with the Dominicans and became a Dominican tertiary.[8] It seems clear that she read many of the Dominican writers.[9] It was her Dominican confessor, Henry of Halle, who encouraged and helped Mechthild to compose The Flowing Light.[6]

Her criticism of church dignitaries[10] and her claims to theological insight aroused so much opposition that some called for the burning of her writings. With advancing age, she was not only isolated and the object of extensive criticism, but she also became blind.[11] Around 1272, she joined the Cistercian nunnery at Helfta which offered her protection and support in the final years of her life. Here, she finished writing down the contents of the many divine revelations she says she experienced. It is unclear whether she actually formally joined the Cistercian community or whether she simply resided there and participated in the religious services without taking Cistercian monastic vows.[11] 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.

It is unclear when Mechthild died. 1282 is a commonly cited date, but some scholars believe she lived into the 1290s.[12]


Mechthild's book is written in the Middle Low German that was spoken in the region of Magdeburg at the time. It includes phrases in Latin.[13]


Mechthild's writings comprise the seven books of Das fließende Licht der Gottheit (The Flowing Light of Divinity), which was composed between 1250 and 1280. There appear to have been three stages in the evolution of the work. The first five books were finished by about 1260. During the next decade Mechthild added a sixth book. After joining the community of Cistercian nuns at Helfta around 1272, she added a seventh book, rather different in tone from the previous six.[14]

The Flowing Light was originally written in Middle Low German, the language of northern Germany. While her original composition is now lost, the text survives in two later versions. First, around 1290, Dominican friars of the Halle community translated the first six books into Latin. Then, in the mid-fourteenth century, the secular priest Henry of Nördlingen translated The Flowing Light into the Alemannic dialect of Middle High German. This version survives complete in one manuscript and in fragmentary form in three others.[12] The sole surviving copy of The Flowing Light is located in the Einsiedeln library in Switzerland and was rediscovered in 1861.[15][16]

What is unusual about her writings is that she composed her work in Middle Low German at a time when most wisdom literature was composed in Latin. Thus she is remembered as an early proponent and popularizer of German as a language worthy of the divine and holy.[11] Mechthild's writing is exuberant and highly sophisticated. Her images of Hell are believed by some scholars to have influenced Dante Alighieri's The Divine Comedy, and Mechthild is thought to have been represented by Dante in that work, in the character of Matelda.[17][5][18] However, there is no concrete evidence for this and there are important differences in Dante's conception of Hell.[citation needed]

While her work was translated into Latin during her lifetime, it had been largely forgotten by the 15th century. It 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.[8]

Remembrance days and artifacts

A sculpture of Mechthild of Magdeburg, The Holy Mechthild von Magdeburg, is on display in the Magdeburg Sculpture Park. It was created by Susan Turcot as part of a project in collaboration with the Art Museum of the Kloster Unser Lieben Frauen. It was installed in the sculpture park in 2010.

Radio adaptations

The Medievalist Hildegard Elisabeth Keller integrated Mechthild von Magdeburg as one of five main female characters in her work The Trilogy of the Timeless, published at the end of September 2011. Selected passages have been included in the radio play The Ocean in the Thimble, which she wrote and staged. In the fictional encounter, Mechthild talks to Hildegard von Bingen, Hadewijch and Etty Hillesum.

Published editions


  1. ^ Bevan 1896.
  2. ^ Bevan 1896, p. 8-10.
  3. ^ Hollywood, Amy M., 1963- (1995). The soul as virgin wife : Mechthild of Magdeburg, Marguerite Porete, and Meister Eckhart. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press. ISBN 0-268-01753-0. OCLC 31376283.((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  4. ^ a b Bevan 1896, p. 40.
  5. ^ a b Preger 1874.
  6. ^ a b c Flowing Light 4.2.
  7. ^ Flowing Light 6.7.
  8. ^ a b Ghezzi, Bert. Voices of the Saints, Loyola Press ISBN 978-0-8294-2806-3
  9. ^ See for example the influence of the friars in Flowing Light 4.20-22.
  10. ^ Bevan 1896, p. 51-57.
  11. ^ a b c Lindemann 2014.
  12. ^ a b McGinn 1998, p. 223.
  13. ^ Poor, Sara S. (26 March 2013). Mechthild of Magdeburg and Her Book: Gender and the Making of Textual Authority. University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 32. ISBN 978-0812203288.
  14. ^ McGinn 1998, p. 222-223.
  15. ^ Holder, Arthur; Holder, Arthur G., eds. (2010). Christian spirituality: the classics (1. publ ed.). London: Routledge. p. 106. ISBN 978-0-203-87472-1.
  16. ^ "e-codices Virtual Manuscript Library of Switzerland". Retrieved 2023-10-19.
  17. ^ Bevan 1896, p. 8-10, 58-62.
  18. ^ Preger, lecture on Dante's Matilda, 1891 (Probably Preger 1873)
  19. ^ Gotteslob. Katholisches Gebet- und Gesangbuch Ausgabe für die (Erz-)Diözesen Berlin, Dresden-Meißen, Erfurt, Görlitz und Magdeburg (PDF) (in German). Leipzig: St. Benno-Verlag. 2013. p. 1156. ISBN 978-3-7462-4005-3.
  20. ^ a b "Katholische Kirche St. Mechthild (Magdeburg-Nord)". Katholische Pfarrei St. Johannes Bosco Magdeburg. Retrieved 2024-04-16.
  21. ^ Schäfer, Joachim (2023). "Mechthild von Magdeburg". Ökumenisches Heiligenlexikon (in German). Retrieved 2024-04-16.
  22. ^ "The Calendar". The Church of England. Retrieved 2021-04-08.
  23. ^ Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2018. Church Publishing, Inc. 2019-12-17. ISBN 978-1-64065-235-4.

Works cited

Further reading