Cistercian nun and mystic, patron of Flanders (1182–1246).
Born at Tongeren near Brussels, she was educated in the Benedictine nunnery of St Catherine from the age of twelve. Initially, she greatly enjoyed pretty clothes and amusements and was regarded as a boarder without a dowry. But one day, while she was entertaining a friend, Christ appeared to her in a vision, showed his wounds and told her to follow him. She now renounced everything, not in a passing way but permanently. Other visions followed of Our Lady and St John the Evangelist, and in her meditation on the Passion of Christ she seemed actually to share his sufferings and her sympathy went out to the grief-stricken.
After twelve years at St Catherine's, she sought a stricter way of life with the Cistercians of Aywières (near Liège): here only French was spoken, and she spoke only Flemish. There she lived in a somewhat alien culture. But she undertook long fasts and often deplored her supposed lack of response. Her deep insight into the scriptures enabled her to be a noted spiritual counsellor in spite of her language difficulties. Some of her spiritual insights on the Sacred Heart of Jesus anticipated those of Margaret Mary Alacoque. In 1235 she became blind, but welcomed this as detaching her further from the world around her. She prepared for death by praising God for blessings received, by praying unceasingly for sinners, and by relying in everything on God alone. She died on a Saturday evening, just as the Sunday night-office was starting: a popular cult soon arose. Her monastery was destroyed at the French Revolution and the nuns took her relics with them. These finally rested at Ittré in 1804. Feast: 16 June.
B.L.S., vi. 122–3; Bibl. SS., viii. 396–9. Dict. Sp., ix. 1201–4; T. Merton, What are these Wounds? (1953)