Mechtild’s century, the 13th, was the golden age of chivalry. Troubadours sang of romance between lords and ladies. It was also a golden age of saints, including Francis, Clare, Dominic, and Gertrude. Mechtild takes her place among them as a mystic and poet. She was a troubadour of the love that binds the soul to God.
At 23, Mechtild moved from her village to Magdeburg, Thuringia, in central Europe. She lived there many years as a Béguine and later became a Dominican tertiary. Béguines were women without religious vows who formed communities to serve the poor. Mechtild exhausted herself with austerities because she believed she had to conquer herself in order to achieve oneness with God. Later she wrote this beautiful dialogue between God and the soul about curbing desires and orienting them to God:
God: You hunt ardently for your love, What do you bring to me, my Queen?
Soul: Lord! I bring you my treasure; It is greater than the mountains, . . . More glorious than the sun, More manifold than the stars, It outweighs the whole earth!
God: O image of my Divine Godhead, . . . What is your treasure called?
Soul: Lord! it is called my heart’s desire! I have withdrawn it from the world, . . . Where, O Lord, shall I lay it?
God: Your heart’s desire shall you lay nowhere, but in my own divine heart and on my human breast. There alone you will find comfort and be embraced by my Spirit.
Bothered by persecution for her outspoken criticism of church abuses and laxity, Mechtild retired to the convent at Helfta in 1285. Welcomed there by St. Gertrude the Great, she spent her last 12 years in the hospitable environment of that famous monastery.