Intellectual Mystics at Helfta: A Critical Edition of Mechthilde of Hackeborn’s Liber Specialis Gratiae and a Study of its Historical Context

The 13th-century Cistercian monastery of Helfta was a hub of female mysticism in Saxony. Mechthilde of Hackeborn, Gertrude the Great, and Mechthilde of Magdeburg lived and wrote in this intellectually rich environment. This study focuses on Mechthilde of Hackeborn’s influential work, the Liber Specialis Gratiae (LSG), aiming to:

● Produce a critical edition of the LSG based on Cod. Guelf. 1003 Helmst.
(HAB), the only existing seven-book manuscript.
● Thoroughly analyze the LSG’s historical and cultural contexts within the
intellectual tradition of the Helfta convent.
● Investigate the anonymous Sister N’s role in shaping the LSG and other Helfta
mystical texts.
● Explore the LSG’s themes of allegorical imagination, devotion to the Sacred
Heart of Jesus, and Mechthilde’s distinct mystical voice.

A rigorous critical approach to the LSG will provide a vital foundation for an accurate study and interpretation of Mechthilde’s text. Utilizing archival documents, chronicles, and hagiographical sources related to Helfta to reconstruct the social, intellectual, and spiritual milieu of the monastery, a meticulous analysis of Cod. Guelf. 1003 Helmst. will be conducted, comparing it with other LSG manuscripts and printed editions, to form the basis of the current study and answer the following questions:

● How does the Cod. Guelf. 1003 Helmst. contribute to our understanding of the
LSG and its textual tradition?
● How did Sister N contribute to the composition and revision of the LSG and
other Helfta texts?
● In what ways does Mechthilde of Hackeborn’s mysticism, especially her
devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, distinguish her from other mystics of the period?
● What are the specific literary and spiritual influences within the Helfta convent
that shaped Mechthilde’s work and the works of her contemporaries?