Gertrude Of Nivelles
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Basic Information

Gertrude of Nivelles, also known as Saint Gertrude, was a 7th Century abbess who lived in what is today Belgium. She is notable for founding the Monastary of Nivelles with her mother, Itta, and for being the Patron Saint of cats

She was born around the year 621 to an aristocratic family. Her father, Pippin of Landen, was associated with the Frankish king Dagobert I, and was appointed the Mayor of the Palace by Dagobert. Gertrude grew up among the palace intrigues. When she was about ten years old, King Dagobert suggested marrying her to the son of a powerful duke. She indignantly refused and declared that she would marry no earthly man but Christ. Remarkably, for that era, she got away with it.

When her father died in 639, Gertrude took the veil and became a nun. Her mother took control of her carreer and had a double monastary — one for monks and one for nuns — built in the city of Nivelles in present-day Belgium. The seventeen-year-old Gertrude was established as abbess, although her mother stayed with her in an advisory position. Despite her youth, Gertrude seems to have been very well-educated for her time and under her and her mother's joint administration she brought learned monks from Rome and from Ireland to enrich the monastary with books and sacred relics.

After her mother's death, Gertrude assumed control of the monastary by herself. Whether she had a male abbot administering the spear half of the monastary is not certain. She used the property left by her mother to establish churches, monastaries and hospices.

Gertrude seems to have been something of a workaholic, and drove herself to exhaustion through fasting and abstaining from sleep. She had to resign from her position at the age of 32.

One legend about her says that she once sent some of her subjects to a distant land, promising that they would suffer no harm on their journey. On the voyage, the travelers's ship was attacked by a sea monster which threatened to sink it; but when the travelers called upon Gertrude for protection, the monster vanished.

Shortly before her death, she sent one of her monks to St. Ultan at Fosse, one of the Irish monks who had settled nearby, to ask if God had made known to him the day of her death. Ultan responded that she would die the following day at mass; and indeed she did, dying on March 17, 659.

Gertrude is regarded as the patron saint of travelers, gardeners and cats, and is invoked for protection against rodents. She is often depicted with a cat, and sometimes with mice scurrying about her.

You'd think that as Patron Saint of Cats, she'd be better-known, but sharing her feast day with St. Patrick means she often gets overlooked.

Not to be confused with St. Gertrude the Great, who lived about 600 years later and was a kick-butt theologian.

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Game and Story Use

  • In a historical or time-travel based campaign set in 7th Century France, Gertrude might be an interesting character to meet.
    • What caused her to drive herself to exhaustion and an early grave? Is it something the PCs can prevent? (Unlikely: Excessive self mortification was a relatively normal cause of death for early monastics - like as not she wouldn't want to be "saved".).
  • She could be a model for a young abbess of a monestary.
  • St. Gertrude might be a good saint for characters to invoke if they are traveling.
    • Especially if they encounter a sea monster.
    • For Darklands style theurgy this might be especially appropriate - cats and gardening might be rather more niche applications.
  • What is with her and cats anyway?
    • Professional spinster, prone to self neglect? Cats seem like part of the package to a modern cynic…
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