Architecture & Design Photography: ANONYMOUS/UNKNOWN. Collegiate Church of St. Gertrude (c. 1050), Nivelles, Belgium. (2 Photos).

FEATURE image: The Westwork of the Collegiate Church of St. Gertrude in Nivelles, Belgium, fronts an expansive historical building of the 11th century. Photograph by author, March 1992. Nivelles is an ancient settlement about 25 miles south-east of Brussels in Belgium’s French-speaking region of Wallonia.

The Collegiate Church of St. Gertrude on Grand’ Place, c. 1050, Nivelles, Belgium. It contains the tombs of its foundress, Bl. Ita of Metz and her daugher, St. Gertrude of Nivelles, the monastery’s first abbess in the 7th century.
St. Gertrude of Nivelles, patron saint of cats.

St. Gertrude of Nivelles (c. 628-659) was the daughter of Blessed Pepin of Landen (c. 580-640) and Blessed Ita of Metz, O.S.B. (592-652) who founded Nivelles monastery. Gertrude was born about 45 miles north east of Nivelles in Landen, Belgium on the boundary of Wallonia in Flanders.

In the 7th century, the territory was part of the Austrasian Frankish kingdom and Pepin had established a personal presence there. Following Pepin’s death when Gertrude was about 12 years old, the bishop of Maastrict in today’s Netherlands encouraged Ita to transform Pepin’s royal villa into a monastery. Pepin and Ita’s daughter, Gertrude, become the monastery’s first abbess.

Ita joined her daughter in the monastery to live out their days in a life of work and prayer. In the distant past, older well-endowed individuals often retired to monasteries or convents. A modern corollary may be that some retirees today choose to establish themselves in church-sponsored retirement villages. Ita’s other daughter (Begga) also eventually became an abbess; another son (Bavo), a hermit. One final son (Grimoald) took his father’s place as Mayor of the Palace. (see – http://www.santiebeati.it/dettaglio/37900 and https://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06533c.htm)

In addition to being the patron of cats and gardeners, St. Gertrude was an early medieval patron of travelers. From her birthplace of Landen to Nivelles, Belgium, it is a distance of around 40-45 miles, or a one or two-day journey on foot.

St. Gertrude was superior of the monastery her parents established and, though a young abbess, Gertrude was known for her wise rule. St. Gertrude died at a young age on account of her personal austerities and was venerated as a saint.

The impressive appearance of the westwork of the Collegial Church of St Gertrude in Nivelles is the result of a reconstruction finished in 1984 following severe damage it sustained during World War II by bombing from the German Luftwaffe (air force) in May 1940.

The church was built in the 11th century to serve as a Benedictine abbey of cloistered nuns whose first abbess was St. Gertrude of Nivelles. The community of nuns developed so that by the 15th century Nivelles became professionally staffed and was designated a collegiate church. The dramatic church building is classified a major European Heritage site and remains one of the finest examples of the pure Romanesque style in Belgium. 

Its Romanesque crypt is one of the largest of its kind in Europe where tombs of the Merovingian (5th-7th centuries) and Carolingian (7th-9th centuries) periods have been found.

Interior, Minster (Collegiate Church of St. Gertrude), Nivelles, Belgium, c. 1050.  This structure was built in the early 11th century and consecrated by Wazo of Liège (c.985-1048) in the presences of Henry III, Holy Roman Emperor (1016-1056). Photography by author, March 1992.

IMAGES OF ST.GERTRUDE, PATRONESS OF CATS, GARDENERS AND TRAVELLERS:

Another image of St. Gertrude of Nivelles. Her feast day is March 17—the same as Ireland’s St. Patrick.

In addition to being the patron saint of cats, St. Gertrude of Nivelles is also the patron saint of gardeners and travellers.

St. Gertrude de Nivelles, from the Hours of Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg (1490-1545), Archbishop and Elector of Mainz, c. 1522. Opaque water-based paint mounted on board by Flemish artist Simon Bening (c.1484-1561). Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

SOURCE: The Saints: A Concise Biographical Dictionary, edited by John Coulson, Guild Press, New York, 1957.

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