Helfta
Community ID
 
1368
 
Town
 
near Eisleben
 
Medieval Location
 
Founded in Mansfeld; From circa 1234-1256 the community dwelled in Roszdorf; between 1259-1262 it changed its location to Helfta.
 
Dedication
 
S. Mary
 
Date Founded
 
1229 (circa)
 
Date Terminated
 
1545
 
Religious Order
 
Benedictine/ Cistercian (see foundation field)
 
Rule
 
Benedictine
 
Foundation Information
 

The convent of Helfta was fouded in Mansfeld circa 1229 by Burchard, the last of the old Hoyer clan of the counts of Mansfeld. He established the foundation for the benefit of the souls of his predecessors and successors. In 1230 the widow Elisabeth enlarged the endowment and placed the convent under the protection of her son-in-law. Building for the convent began on April 19, 1229. On June 29, 1229 the community was transfered to the Cistercian order, although it was probably never formally incorporated in the thirteenth century (Hilpisch, 43). The convent was established on the location which was a gift of the archbishop Ruprecht of Magdeburg. From circa 1234-1256 the community dwelled in Roszdorf (Roßdorf); between 1259-1262 it changed its location to Helfta. The move to Helfta perhaps came at the instigation of the Abbess Gertrud von Hackeborn. In 1262 twelve sisters moved into the convent of Hedersleben am Harz. In 1364 the community was again resettled to New-Helfta near Eisleben.

 
Notable Heads
 

Abbess Gertrude of Hackeborn was elected in 1251 and served as abbess until 1291. She fostered the intellectual life at Helfta.

 
Notable Members/Residents/Guests
 

The convent is famous for several important nuns/mystics who lived here: Mechtild von Magdeburg, a former beguine who entered the community in 1270 and stimulated visionary practices in the convent (d. 1282), Gertrude von Hackeborn, abbess 1251-1291, and her younger sister Mechtild von Hackeborn, an important visionary (d. 1298), and St. Gertrud the Great von Helfta, who wrote the Herald of Divine Love and Spiritual Exercises. Between the three (Mechthild of Magdeburg, St. Gertrud, and Mechtild von Hackeborn), they produced over 1200 pages of mystical writing. (See Contributors' Notes)

 
Population Counts
 

There were an estimated 100 women at the end of the thirteenth century. (although some modern scholars have questioned such estimates as too high; further research remains to be done on this point). In 1262 twelve sisters moved to a convent in Hedersleben am Harz.

 
Dependent Communities
 

Hedersleben

 
Other Ecclesiastical Relations
 

Traditionally, Dominicans have been credited as possessing the cura (spiritual care) for the sisters of Helfta. (Supposedly in the late thirteenth century the Domincan monks from Halle served as spiritual advisors to the nuns.) Historians have credited them with considerable influence at Helfta and even suggested that they taught theology to the sisters. There is, however, little textual evidence for this. The women were extremely learned and capable teachers-theologians-spiritual directors and collaborated among themselves rather than in the model of male confessors/scribes and female penitents. One of the manuscripts of the Legatus mentions several priest/scholars having learned from St. Gertrud and approving her orthodoxy. The manuscript mentions Franciscans equally with Dominicans in this respect. The convent formed spiritual confraternities with the convent of Kaltenborn and the (Teutonic?) crusading order in Halle.

 
Secular Political Affiliations
 

Helfta was represented and protected by the counts of Mansfeld and the nobles of Hackeborn.

 
Social Characteristics
 

This was a noble house.

 
Relative Wealth
 

The house was very wealthy.

 
Assets/Property
 

The community had considerable holdings, especially in Helfta and Eisleben, including the churches of Augsdorf, Siebigerode, Katharinenhospital in Eisleben (1229). Helfta also took over the church in Schaafsee from Magdeburg in 1268. It acquired churches in Bennstedt and Wormsleben in 1298 and 1307 respectively. In 1400 it had the churches in Helfta, Neinstedt and S. Cyriaci in Reisdorf.

 
Income
 

On September 29, 1393 the convent gained rents from the villages of Hedersleben, Schvittersdorf, Naundorf, and Besenstedt. It received rents from Dederstedt, Augsdorf, Asendorf, and Dornstedt in a document dated to February 2, 1394. The convent also received rents from Henning Trost and his sons.

 
Charitable/Work
 

The convent ran a school.

 
Literary Works
 

The convent had a large library and a scriptorium. Mechtild of Magdeburg wrote "Das fliessendes Licht der Gottheit"; Mechtild of Hackeborn wrote the "Book of Special Grace" ; and St. Gertrud the Great of Helfta, (a different Gertrud from Abbess Gertrud of Hackborn), wrote the Legatus divinae pietatis or "The Herald of Divine Love" and Exercitia spiritualia or "Spiritual Exercises." See:
Liber specialis gratiae. In Sanctae Mechtildis, virginis ordinis sancti Benedicti, Liber specialis gratiae accedit sororis Mechtildis ejusdem ordinis Lux divinitatis.; Revelationes Gertrudianae ac Mechtildianae; Le Héraut; Lux divinitatis; The Herald of God’s Loving Kindness: Book Three

 
Architecture & Archaeology
 

Building for the convent began on April 19, 1229. In 1342 the convent was burned by Albrecth von Braunschweig in the "Halberstadt bishops Feud." In 1346 they began rebuilding the convent buildings. The new convent, called Neu Helfta, was consecrated by the bishop of Ippus, Albrecht von Beichlingen.

 
Manuscript Sources
 

The University library in Basel contains a miscellaneous theological work from the fourteenth-fifteenth century that belonged to this house, #B V 32. The Gymnasialbibliothek in Eisleben possesses a manuscript of Mechthild von magdeburg, (14th c.), #46.

 
Miscellaneous Information
 

The convent came to an end under the double pressure of the Lutheran reform and the devestation of the peasant uprisings in the sixteenth century. In 1529 the abbess returned to the convent alone, desiring to live there, but the situation of the convent did not make it possible. The community suffered great damage during the Peasant's War. The community was secularized in 1545.

 
Manuscripts Produced
 

The convent had a large library and a scriptorium. Mechtild of Magdeburg wrote "Das fliessendes Licht der Gottheit"; Mechtild of Hackeborn wrote the "Book of Special Grace" ; and St. Gertrud the Great of Helfta, (a different Gertrud from Abbess Gertrud of Hackborn), wrote the Legatus divinae pietatis or "The Herald of Divine Love" and Exercitia spiritualia or "Spiritual Exercises." (see also Manuscript sources)

 
Admin. Notes
 

Need to scan in primary documents. Link to Hedersleben

 
Contributors
 
June Mecham; Laura Grimes
 
Contributors Notes
 

The community is noted for its high level of learning and culture. Novices were trained in the trivium and quadrivium. The convent produced books, textiles, and music. There were two Gertruds at Helfta: the Abbess Gertrud of Hackeborn, elder sister of Mechthild of Hackeborn, and St. Gertrud the Great of Helfta. Abbess Gertrud, who came from the noble von Hackeborn family, set the tone of education and piety for the flowering of women's mysticism and theology at Helfta. No known works were written by her. St. Gertrud of Helfta was a child oblate of unknown parentage who wrote extensively, although most of her works have been lost. She also taught in the monastery but held no official office. The two Gertruds have often been conflated as one woman in earlier historical works, but Helfta scholars are unanimous that they are actually two different people.

 
Date Started
 
1229
 
Date Finished
 
1545
 
Length
 
5056