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  • The Dedicated Spiritual Life of Upper Rhine Noble Women: A Study and Translation of a Fourteenth-Century Spiritual Biography of Gertrude Rickeldey of Ortenberg and Heilke of Staufenberg by Anneke B. Mulder-Bakker
  • Luke Penkett
Anneke B. Mulder-Bakker. The Dedicated Spiritual Life of Upper Rhine Noble Women: A Study and Translation of a Fourteenth-Century Spiritual Biography of Gertrude Rickeldey of Ortenberg and Heilke of Staufenberg. Turnhout: Brepols Publishers, 2017. Pp. xiv + 272. isbn: 9782503574318. €80,80 (cloth).

Sanctimoniales: Religious Women—Geistliche Frauen is a new series, presenting research on the history of religious women in the European Middle Ages, and fostering academic dialogue between English- and German-speaking scholars. The subject of this publication—the second in this series—shows just how many diverse types of "religious women" there were during this period, for the Lady Gertrude (1275–1335) and her lifelong companion lived a deeply spiritual and secular life in her own private, informal, religious household, first in Offenburg and then in Strasbourg in the cultural and economic heart of what we now describe as southern Germany in a time and place deeply influenced by the life and work of Meister Eckhart. (Meister Heinrich of Talheim, a little known Franciscan, also lived and worked in the same geographical area at this time.) Gertrude was not a Beguine, not a canoness, hermit, or recluse, but a widow living in a Gothus [a house of God] or a Seelshus [a house of souls], of which there were many mentioned in the city charters of many German countries. The fifteenth-century Dominican reformer, Johannes Nider, describes many such lives in his treatise De secularium religionibus (Laypeople living as religious in the world).

Gertrude's companion, Heilke of Staufenberg, describes the aristocratic household, reporting the many conversations that her mistress and other women had with fellow believers and learned mendicants, showing how [End Page 91] they led a life of devotion in their own home while being full citizens of the city and participating fully in both the religious and civic sides of life in Strasbourg. This description is told to an anonymous amanuensis and biographer. The written account is found in Brussels, Royal Library of Belgium, MS 8507–9, fols. 133r–239v, "Dis ist von dem heiligen Leben der Seligen Frowen genant die Ruckeldegen" (This is from the holy Life of the Blessed Woman known as of Rickeldey), and this was transcribed and all the available material on Gertrude and Heilke compiled by Hans Derkits in his unpublished doctoral dissertation, "Die Lebensbeschreibung der Gertrud von Ortenberg" (The biography of Gertrude of Ortenberg) (Vienna, 1990); they are now in the same library (there is a second copy in the city archives in Offenburg). The fourteenth-century Middle High German account was translated into modern German in 1980 by Siegfried Ringler and is here translated into modern English.

Mulder-Bakker presents us with an introduction to this relatively unknown religious lifestyle with her latest book, which is in two parts. Part one, subtitled "Study," is a series of six introductory chapters. The second part is a translation of an account of Gertrude's saintly life and the wonders she accomplished.

The first part, written entirely by Mulder-Bakker, discusses in detail the narrative and documentary sources, the Brussels Codex and the entry in the Acta Sanctorum, presently available concerning Gertrude and Heilke (chapter 2), their historical background with special reference to their noble upbringing, seen in contrast to those elements such as patrimony, fortune, and identity, which were considered "essential to the existence of the upper tier of medieval society" (38); their educational backgrounds and formation into "poor sisters" whose home provided a site for religious formation and a community for religious discourse (chapter 4); and their activity as "heralds of divine love" [Botten der götlichen Miltekeit] in response to the social and political changes experienced by Offenburg and Strasbourg during the first part of the fourteenth century as they became communities of Christian solidarity with the arrival of the Franciscans (1222) and the Dominicans (1224) (chapter 5)—a fascinating and vibrant discussion.

Chapter 6 then gives all the foregoing a wider perspective with an analysis of the development...