Tirzah Woman: Mechthild of Magdeburg

Watercolor portrait by Camille Grager. View her artist statement here. 

Watercolor portrait by Camille Grager. View her artist statement here

Mechthild of Magdeburg was born in 1207 to a Saxon noble family. Mechthild left her life of privilege and her family's castle at the age of 20 and chose a life of poverty as a Beguine for the next forty years of her life. A Beguine was not a nun; she didn't take vows or renounce her property, and she could return to the world and marry at any time she chose. Beguines did, however, wear robes so that they could be identified in society. What tied Mechthild to her fellow Beguines was the pursuit of the same kind of life - one of humility, community, simplicity, kindness, and worship. 

Mechthild, like Hildegard, was a visionary and began seeing visions of God around the age of 12. Local Dominicans with whom she became acquainted encouraged the mystic to write her visions down, producing her work, Das fließende Licht der Gottheit ["The Flowing Light of the Godhead"]. Mechthild of Magdeburg wrote not in Latin, then the only acceptable language for spiritual writing, but it German, the language of her people, making her spiritual experience accessible not just to the clergy and the educated, but to the layperson. 

Mechthild became a strong voice calling out the church, traveling the region to confront corrupt clergy and insisting upon their repentance and their return to the Gospel. She saw that the powerful church officials who indulged in worldly luxuries were not representing the Gospel clearly. Mechthild hoped that her writings, as they detailed her personal relationship with God, would inspire others - commoners and high clergy alike - to a unique, passionate faith. She wrote in poetic form of courtly love about God, something that was astonishing and especially not culturally accepted coming from a woman.  "Where two heated desires unite / love is perfect," (VII, 16) her poem speaks; and God is "lovesick for her" (III, 2).  (Is it just me, or is it getting hot in here?) Mechthild saw the Bible and the true story God tells in it as the greatest love story of all time.

We think Mechthild is an awesome #TirzahWoman because she leaned into the mystery of the Holy Spirit without fear, she shared her spiritual experiences with others to the end that they would know God more fully and experience his love, and she believed that personal relationship, not rule-following religiosity would lead to a fulfilling union with God. 

love,

Team Tirzah

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