Sunday, May 20, 2012


 One of the interesting things in my search to know new saints and their relationship to birds is that many saints have no stories which connect them to birds, but are portrayed with birds by the artist for some reason or other - sometimes for reasons they never tell us- perhaps their "vision" as an artist just speaks to their mind or heart..

Of the two following Benedictine saints, the first is often portrayed with ravens while the later is rarely seen with a bird and that is usually a dove representing the Holy Spirit.

Ida (Ita) of Kirchberg (d. 1226) was born at Kirchberg Castle, Swabia, the daughter of Hartmann, Count of Kirchberg, and was married to Count Henry of  Toggenburg, Switzerland. Henry was abusive, especially when the couple had no children.

According to legend a raven stole Ida's wedding ring. The ring was found by a hunter in the nest of the bird. When her husband noticed the ring on the hand of the hunter, he accused Ida of infidelity. He killed the hunter and Ida fell in anger from the window of his castle. Because of  her innocence, Ida had been saved by God but in a miraculous way. The mistake was cleared up, but Ida wanted to dedicate her life to God. Her repentant husband agreed to her becoming a Benedictine nun at Fischingen Abbey where she died in the odor of sanctity.   She is also revered as the saint of runaway cattle.

ST. MECHTILDE of HELFTA (d. 1298)  was born to a pious, powerful Thuringian noble family and her older sister was a nun. Convent educated from age seven, Mechtilde became a nun at Rodersdorf, Switzerland. She moved to the Helfta monastery (Germany) in 1258 where her sister served as abbess. She was the teacher and choir director at the convent school at Helfta and later novice mistress for St. Gertrude the Great who wrote The Book of Special Grace about Mechtilde’s teachings. St. Mechtilde was initially terrified that the book might cause trouble, but Christ appeared to her in prayer and told her not to worry. She became a spiritual adviser to her sister nuns and the laity. She is one of the great mystics of the Benedictine Order.

While I could find no reference to birds, there is a very lovely statue at the Monastery of St. Mechtilde on the island of Malta, by the German artist Mark Glass.

The  figure shows St. Mechthilde reaching upward - as if she wants to follow birds in their flight. In her hands she holds a nightingale. She is barefoot, balancing on one leg and singing.   At her feet are an owl and a raven, birds of wisdom and mystery. The statue radiates energy and vitality.

The  Artist

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