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The Cloister of Hellfde
How, and by whom the cloister was founded and built, in which the two blessed maidens, Mechthild and Gertrude, served God.
When men had counted one thousand two hundred and nineteen years since the birth of Christ our dear Lord and Saviour, it came to pass, by the special grace of God, that the mighty and noble Count Burkhardt of Mansfeldt built a convent of nuns near to the castle of Mansfeldt. This convent was dedicated by Count Burkhardt to Mary the Blessed Virgin; and therein did he place pious nuns, taken from the convent of S. James, called Burckarsshoff, of the Cistercian order, near Halberstatt.
The wife of the above-mentioned Count Burkhardt was a Countess of Schwarzbruck, Elisabeth by name. She was the mother of two daughters—one named Gertrude, the other 2 Sophia. Gertrude married a young Count of Mansfeldt, the cousin of Count Burkhardt, and Sophia married a Burggraf of Querfurdt.
Now Count Burkhardt, in the same year that he finished the building and furnishing of the aforesaid convent, departed joyfully from this present life; and after his departure the noble countess, Frau Elisabeth, his widow, found that the place chosen near the castle of Mansfeldt was not suitable for a spiritual life, and therefore, in the fifth year after the death of her lord, by the advice of persons of good understanding, she removed and rebuilt the convent at a place called Rodardsdorff. And when it had remained there twenty-four years it was again removed to Helpede or Hellfde, as the following history relates.
Now when the above-named countess, Frau Elisabeth, had removed the convent to Rodardsdorff, she betook herself thither, and there did she serve God, and ended her life well and blissfully.
The first abbess of this convent was Frau Kunigunde of Halberstatt, and a truly God-fearing and devout woman. And when she had lived seventeen years at Rodardsdorff, she there died a blessed death in the year 1251. 3 And on the day following her departure there was chosen by the direction of the Holy Ghost, as the above-named abbess, Frau Kunigunde, had predicted, to be abbess in her room, the sister Gertrude, born of the noble family of Hackeborn, and a sister by birth of the blessed and marvellously endowed Mechthild, of whom the Book of spiritual graces gives the history.
This Abbess Gertrude was chosen unanimously, as being of a wholly spiritual and devout manner of life. She was nineteen years old at the time of her election, and she filled her office for forty years and eleven days; and during her time the nuns of the cloister lived holy and God-fearing lives, and God bestowed upon them marvellous gifts. And when she had lived fifty-nine years, she was taken away from this world, joyfully and piously, and entered into the gladness and the glory of the everlasting kingdom in the year of our Lord 1291.
And when the cloister had now been standing twenty-four years at Rodardsdorff, and she had been abbess at that place seven years, then for the third time was the site of the convent changed, and it was renewed and rebuilt as follows:—4
It was seen and observed by Count Hermann of Mansfeldt, a son of Frau Gertrude, the elder daughter, and Burggraf Burkhardt of Querfurdt, a son of Frau Sophia, the younger daughter of the mighty Count Burkhardt of Mansfeldt, the founder of the convent, that at Rodardsdorff there was a great want of water, so that it could not have been well for the convent longer to remain there. Therefore these two counts made an exchange of the convent with the two barons, the Lord Albert and the Lord Ludolf of Hackeborn, for the manor and village of Hellfde, adding on their part other estates. And at Hellfde was the cloister for the third time rebuilt.
The nuns of the convent of Rodardsdorff were removed to the convent of Hellfde in the year 1258, on the Sunday of the Holy Trinity. To this inauguration of the convent did the aforesaid two Counts of Mansfeldt and Querfurdt invite many lords and gentlemen, such as Rupert, the archbishop of Magdeburg, Bishop Volradt, of Halberstatt, also many other lords and prelates, spiritual and temporal.
Count Hermann of Mansfeldt had no male issue, but only three daughters. Two of these, Sophia and Elisabeth, did he place in the convent 5 of Hellfde, where they lived godly lives. One of them became an able writer, who wrote many good and useful books for the convent, and afterwards became the abbess thereof. The other was for a long time prioress, and was a skilful painter, who laboured industriously at the adorning of the books and of other things which pertained to the service of God. The third daughter was given in marriage by Count Hermann of Mansfeldt to a Baron von Rabbinswalt.
And because the aforesaid Count Hermann had no male heirs, he sold the castle and the county of Mansfeldt to the Burggraf Burkhardt of Querfurdt. And thus did Mansfeldt and the land come into the family of Querfurdt, as also other estates of Count Hermann in the land of Thuringia.
In the cloister of Hellfde there lived many most excellent persons, the children of counts and lords, and of nobles and common people. And for near ninety years the community lived after the manner of cloistered nuns, a life as it were angelic. And the Lord Jesus was so intimately known to the persons of this community that they communed with Him, as with their most dearly beloved Lord and Bridegroom, 6 as one good friend would speak with another. And the angels of heaven had a special joy and gladness in beholding this blessed company, of which much might be written, but which for brevity’s sake we will not write, as much is told of these things in the Book of spiritual graces.
At last, in the year 1342, after the birth of Christ our dear Lord, there arose a great dispute between the Duke of Brunswick and the Count of Mansfeldt, whose name was Burkhardt. And this dispute arose because a Duke of Brunswick, Albert by name, was chosen by some to be Bishop of Halberstatt, and by others there was chosen the son of Count Burkhardt of Mansfeldt, whose name was also Albert. And the choice of this latter was confirmed by the Pope.
Therefore there arose war and fighting, so that the Dukes of Brunswick invaded the land of the Count of Mansfeldt with rage and violence, and spoiled and wasted and burned all before them. And by means of this visitation of God was the convent burned to the ground, and utterly ruined and destroyed. And as the chronicles relate, it was Duke Albert of Brunswick (the Bishop-elect) and a lord of Weringenrod, who with their own hands 7 set fire to the convent. What it was that moved them to do this, is known to Him who knoweth all things.
There were also several horsemen, and others with cross-bows and other murderous weapons, who ran to seize the abbess and some of her godly spiritual children, intending to do them grievous harm. Yet, as the enemies themselves bore witness, when they were a stone’s throw from these maidens they lost, as it were, their strength and force, and could proceed no further. And although it was against the will and desire of Duke Henry of Brunswick (who was also Bishop of Heldesheim) and of Duke Otto of Brunswick, and of others who were with Duke Albert, and though these endeavoured with all possible good faith to prevent it, the cloister was nevertheless pillaged and burnt.
After this, in the year 1346, the convent was for the fourth time again rebuilt, in the outer part of the town of Eisleben. (From the German edition of the Mechthilden Buch 1503.)
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