Franciscan Saints: Jutta of Sangerhausen — Part II

Here is my second and last installment on the life of Bl. Jutta of Sangerhausen. We pick up the story after Jutta, a noblewoman who had given everything she had to the poor and had been tending the sick in Thuringia and other parts of Germany, decided to travel as a pilgrim to live in Kulmsee in Prussia, then on the frontiers of the Christian world. (Part I is here).

Jutta-lgAt first sight, Prussia was an odd choice to live a life of contemplation. It was a land full of violence and turmoil. At this time, Kulmsee (modern Chelmza) was part of the Teutonic Order State. This military order had ruled the territory along Europe’s northern frontiers since defeating the pagan Old Prussians beginning in 1230. The territory consisted of parts of modern-day Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Russia.

As Fryderyk Szembek, Jutta’s seventeenth-century biographer, wrote about the extreme violence:

Prussia . . . was ravaged by sword and fire; within the fortified castles and strongholds, the Teutonic Knights with difficulty guarded life and liberty against the barbarians, who . . . numbered up to three thousand: and even the Pruthenians [Prussians] who had not long ago been baptized, going back to paganism, carried out no small massacre of the priests and Christian men living among them.[1]

Large waves of auxiliary troops had recently been sent for pacification and the situation seemed to have stabilized somewhat when Jutta arrived in Kulmsee (in Polish Chelmza) sometime in the summer of 1256.[2] This city was the center of the newly founded diocese, which had been set up in the old town of Loza in 1243. The cathedral was just beginning to be built when Jutta arrived.

Here she took up residence in a small deserted hut in the woods on the shore of a lake near the little settlement of Bielczyny, about half a mile from Kulmsee. She was not only unprotected from the elements but from the potentially violent pagans. Here she spent most of her time in contemplation. She prayed to God for the people, “out of wonderful love for the salvation of their souls, for the propagation of the holy faith, and for the confirmation in the faith of the Prussian proselytes and for the conversion of those who remained in paganism in Prussia.”[3] Those who saw her reported that she could often be found praying elevated in the air.


Jutta crossing the lake, from her sanctuary in Bielczyny near Chelmza Poland

Jutta would go to Holy Trinity cathedral in Kulmsee for Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours. A tradition among the townspeople reflected in an early document says that in order to get there quickly out of devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, she would actually walk across the surface of the lake. When she had crossed and was walking on the ordinary footpath, about halfway there was a tree, evidently a small roadside shrine, with an image of the crucified Christi attached to it, where she would kneel and pray.[4]

When she was in town and talking with people, “she would kindle them to the good; she would speak about divine things and those pertaining to salvation and especially about the greatness and omnipotence of the most holy Trinity, strengthening Christians recently reconciled to the faith in the same faith; and urging those [converted] long ago and a short time before to fear and love the same Lord.”[5] The Informatio makes several references to her extraordinary knowledge of Scripture.

Her confessor was the Franciscan Bl. John of Lobdow. He is a neglected saint, and indeed has only a local cult, but he is representative of the best of the Franciscans of the time. He had been born in the small town of Lobdow, and had entered the Franciscan convent in Torun very shortly after its founding around 1239. Around 1257 or 1258, he transferred to the Franciscan convent at the newly built Church of St. James the Greater and St. Nicholas in Kulm (about 15 miles from Kulmsee), where he taught theology to the friars. He was renowned not only for his learning but known for his mystical life:

Once, brothers passing the door of his cell heard a woman’s voice coming from inside. As this was certainly against the rule, and knowing his holiness, they were astonished, and knocked, but they received no answer. They also heard a child crying. They forced the door open and entered, and found John alone. When they demanded to know what had happened, he confessed that he had a vision of the Blessed Virgin and her divine Child. He said that the baby Jesus was crying because “the Catholic faith and devotion, so clearly flourishing in Prussia, was going to be destroyed by the enemies of his Church, to the great detriment of souls.”[6] This may have referred to the pagans of the time presenting a danger to the faith. Or it may have been a prediction of the results of the future Protestant movement in Prussia.

With his learning and great spiritual sensitivity, John seems to have been the idea confessor for Jutta. There does not seem to have been any Franciscan church in Kulmsee that time; he may have made trips there to celebrate Mass for those who wanted the friars’ services. Or Jutta may have gone to Kulm, a relatively long distance, to confess to him. If so, she must have had a real devotion to the Franciscans to want to undertake the trip.

Jutta did not entirely give up her hospital work for the poor; we can find in the Informatio a fleeting reference to “the chapel of the poor, to whom she ministered”; it was in this same chapel that her body was prepared for burial.[7] Many scholars have identified this chapel as the little church of St. George, outside of the city wall of Kulmsee, and to the north, along the road to Grudziadz.[8] It seems to have been founded for the spiritual support of lepers, most likely with a leper hospital nearby.[9] The religious affiliation of the church and hospital is an important question, because this might give a clue to the religious order, if any, to which Jutta and her sisters belonged, but there is no certain information about it. Westphal writes: “It is certain that in Jutta’s time in Kulmsee a sisterhood of women who cared for the sick existed, which called Jutta “mater et soror,” thus was probably founded by her. Whether they were Beguines or Franciscan tertiaries, or whether they followed the popular rule of St. Augustine, we don’t know.”[10] This is a question that arises with many of the women who followed St. Elizabeth in the thirteenth century.

The location of Jutta's hut at her sanctuary in Bielczyny, Poland

The location of Jutta’s hut at her sanctuary in Bielczyny, Poland

The Informatio also mentions Jutta’s “faithful companions in ministry to the poor.”[11] We don’t know of any of these companions had accompanied her from Germany, but it seems very likely, since many of the details in the Informatio about her earlier life must have come from someone who knew her at that time. Jutta herself, who was so humble, certainly would not have spoken much about her own virtues and miracles. It’s also likely that Jutta inspired a number of local women to follow her in this service to the poor.

Jutta predicted the time of her death, and she indeed fell ill with a high fever, and was assisted in her last moments by Bishop Heidenreich. On her deathbed, she discoursed about the Last Words of Christ from the close, demonstrating her amazing knowledge of Scripture. The bishop then read to her from the Gospel of John, up to the point where Jesus said, “Rise, let us go from here.” She died lying on the bare floor of the hut, nothing but earth and stone, like St. Francis.

With all the vague dates and details in Jutta’s life, it is good that we can be almost certain about the date of her death: early in the morning of the vigil of the Ascension, that is, Wednesday, May 12, 1260.[12] She had lived for just four years in Kulmsee, but she was already renowned for her holiness there.

Her faithful sisters prepared her body for burial in the small “chapel of the poor.” Thirteen priests led the funeral procession – a large number for that time of place — and though news of her death hadn’t been made known, so great was the renown that Jutta gained for her humble life, prayer and ministry to the poor that the people came in enormous crowds, as great as had ever been seen at the time. She was buried in a new chapel made for the purpose at the still unfinished cathedral, even though Jutta had asked for a poor funeral.

It’s unfortunate that we don’t learn more about her interactions with the pagans and the recent converts from their ranks. As for why Jutta chose to come to this place, we have only this statement she made on her deathbed: “O what great happiness and what a unique means for imploring God it is to have, along with joy, these three things: serious illness, insults among strangers far from your homeland and poverty in voluntary want for God’s sake.”[13]

Her words “insults among strangers far from your homeland” say a great deal. Was it that the pagans insulted her? Or was it the knights of the military, who didn’t know what she was doing there? Whatever the case might be, her witness for peace and willingness to endure everything illustrates the extent of Jutta’s radical love of God and her care for those “on the peripheries” of faith and culture.


Chapel at Bl. Jutta’s sanctuary at Bielczyny

Jutta’s chapel can still be seen at the cathedral, though the former sanctuary enclosing the site of the little stone building where Jutta lived by the lake was destroyed during World War II. Today there is a modest chapel there, still surrounded by the peace of the woods that Jutta knew.

Jutta’s Thirteenth Century Vita and St. Elizabeth

The last question I want to address is the possible identity of the author of the thirteenth-century life based on the testimonies (see above). The major passage of the Informatio detailing how Jutta wanted to imitate St. Elizabeth in serving God in voluntary poverty, describes Elizabeth as “the Landgrafin of Thuringia, patroness of our Poland.”[14] Westphal believed it was an addition by Szembek; but as Nemes points out, the Jesuit biographer did not show a particular Polish patriotism in his work.[15] It might be added that he spoke about Prussia more than he did Poland, and regarded Elizabeth, along with John of Lobdow and Dorothy of Montau as patronesses of Prussia. In fact, Elizabeth was not considered patroness of Poland in his time. Nor were such words really suitable for a writer of the Teutonic Order, who may have drawn up the Informatio. Such a person would have described Elizabeth as the patroness of his Order and perhaps also of the Teutonic State, but would hardly have described her as Patroness of Poland. Nemes believes that these words are not actually part of the original Informatio, but of a thirteenth-century Vita based on the testimonies contained in it.[16]

If so, who wrote this life? Was it on behalf of a religious order? Nemes hypothesizes that it was written in a Cistercian or Dominican monastery, because both orders were present in the diocese of Kulmsee, rather than the Teutonic Order, which did not have a literary tradition in the thirteenth century.[17] This could explain why the manuscript of the Vita that Szembek found came from a Cistercian monastery. But this certainly doesn’t solve the question of why Elizabeth was called “patroness of our Poland.”

We know, to begin with, that the Informatio was drawn up about 15 years after Jutta’s death, as Szembek’s text tells us, this, is, about 1275. The Vita based on it would have been written after that. But when and by who?

The real clue may lie in the fact that two rulers of Poland in the thirteenth century were nieces of St. Elizabeth, daughters of her brother, King Bela IV of Hungary. St. Kinga or Kunegunde (1224-1292), was married to Boleslaw the Chaste, the Grand Duke of Krakow. Her sister, Bl. Jolenta (1235-1298), was married to Boleslaw the Pious, the High Duke of Greater Poland. Both would certainly have been devoted to the memory of their saintly aunt, as their father was. Both were also devoted to the Franciscans and both founded and entered Poor Clare monasteries after their husbands’ deaths. It certainly would have been very natural for them to have considered Elizabeth, so closely tied to them by blood, a patron saint of the land they ruled.

This is hinted at in Szembek’s text, which notes that at the time Jutta arrived in Kulmsee, “Boleslaus the Chaste was reigning in Poland with his wife Kunigunde [Kinga], the Master of the Teutonic Order in Prussia being vacant by the death of Poppo von Osterna, sixth in the order of the Grand Masters.” Westphal considered the first of these phrases used to date Jutta’s arrival in Prussia as an addition to the original Informatio and removed it from his reconstructed text, while keeping the second. Yet both statements could easily have gone back to the original text.

We also know that both Kinga and Jolenta, along with Bl. Salomea (1212 – 1268), a Polish princess, who was married to Kalman, another brother of St. Elizabeth, and who also became a Poor Clare, were prominently mentioned in the Anonymous Franciscan life of Elizabeth, which was written between 1279 and1301.[18] In fact, there seems to have been a circle of Franciscans around the royal family of Hungary who were devoted to Elizabeth’s family, and also extolled the Polish monarchy into which they married. Sometime around 1290, the life of Bl. Salomea was written by a Franciscan named Stanislaus who had been her confessor.[19] The life of St. Kinga was also written by a Franciscan around 1329.[20]

It is at possible that, if members of this circle regarded Jutta as part of the Franciscan sisterhood of St. Elizabeth, they could have produced a biography of her as well around this same time. This in itself doesn’t prove that Elizabeth was a Franciscan, and in fact, if this were true, we would expect something about her devotion to St. Francis or more about her attachment to the Franciscans. Even so, it would put both her life and veneration of her in a new light.


[1] Fryderyk Szembek, S. J., Przyklad Dziwny Doskonalosci Chrzescianskiey. . . S. Jutti Niemkinie (Torun, 1638), translated into Latin in the Acta Sanctorum, Mai VII, p. 597.

[2] We can deduce the date from the statement in the Informatio that Jutta lived in Prussia for almost four years before her death, and that she arrived there during the interregnum between the terms in office of the Grand Masters of the Teutonic Order, Poppo of Osterna and Otto of Sangerhausen, that is, in the summer or fall of 1256 (see Westphal, “Untersuchungen,” p. 589).

[3] Informatio, no. 39,

[4] The source was probably an old document from the cathedral in Kulmsee; Westphal, “Untersuchungen,” p. 590, note 1.

[5] Informatio, no. 41; Westphal, “Untersuchungen,” p. 591.

[6] From Szembek’s life of Bl. John, Pomoc z nieba na uspokojenie Prus, translated in Acta Sanctorum, Octobris IV, p. 1098.

[7] Informatio, no. 45; Westphal, “Untersuchungen,” p. 592.

[8] See Westphal, “Untersuchungen, Ch. 2, no. 5. Some recent research into the history and location of this church can be found at (in Polish).

[9] We learn this from a document of the bishop of Kulmsee, from 1348. At the time the document was written, just two lepers were left there, and in order to maintain them, and provide for a chaplain, the diocese took the church back under the control of the cathedral chapter, as it had been at an unspecified time in the past; Carl Peter Woelky, Urkundenbuch des Bisthums Culm. Theil I: Das Bisthum Culm unter dem Deutschen Orden, 1243-1466 (Danzig: Commissionsverlag von Theodor Bertling, 1884), pp. 218-19. The age of the church is uncertain; it may have existed while the town was still called Loza, since it was used by trade ships along the Browin river as a navigational mark, and the Hanseatic trade was active before Loza became a cathedral town. (see website in note 8)

[10] (Westphal, “Untersuchungen,” p. 557-58). Westphal notes that a seventeenth-century Polish author named Loniewski, who was himself an Augustinian, suggested that Jutta and her sisters were Augustinian canonesses; this was probably based on the fact that the canons of the cathedral chapter during Jutta’s time were Augustinians, and the church at some point was a dependency of the cathedral. It is true that the garb Jutta wears in some later art works seems to resemble the Augustinian nuns’ habits. But while it is true that the church at some point before 1348 was a dependency of the cathedral, we don’t know if it was in the 1250′s, and even if it were, it would not have proven that the sisters who served the sick there were Augustinians.

[11]Informatio,” no. 47, Westphal, “Untersuchungen,” pp. 593-94.

[12] The Informatio says “at daybreak on the vigil of the Ascension.” (Informatio, no. 46, Westphal, “Untersuchungen,”p. 593). Both Szembek and Wadding thought that Jutta died in 1264, based on their belief that this was the date inscribed on her tomb, though the tomb inscription had actually disappeared long before their time, and might have referred to the date the stone was erected rather than to that of her death. Her death in 1264, however, is impossible in the light of the fact that the bishop of Kulmsee, Heidenreich, who heard her Jutta’s last confession, died in 1263. The fixing of the date of the interregnum in 1256, and the statement in the same source that she died four years after her arrival in Kulmsee, as well as other evidence, point to her death in 1260.

[13] Informatio, no. 45; Westphal, “Untersuchungen,” p. 592.

[14] Informatio, no. 6, Westphal, “Untersuchungen,” p. 580; Nemes seems to correct Westphal, who quoted the text only as “patroness of Poland.” (Nemes, “Jutta von Sangerhausen,” p. 71).

[15] Nemes, “Jutta von Sangerhausen,” p. 72.

[16] Nemes, “Jutta von Sangerhausen,” pp. 69-70.

[17] Nemes, “Jutta von Sangerhausen,” p. 72.

[18] See Lori Pieper, The Voice of a Medieval Woman: St. Elizabeth of Hungary as a Franciscan Penitent in the Early Sources for Her Life (New York: Tau Cross Books and Media, 2016), pp. 77-78.

[19] Wojciech Ketrzynski, introduction to the “Vita sanctae Solomeae.” Monumenta historiae Poloniae ed. A. Bielowski, (Lwów,1884), p. 773-74. For more discussion of this life, see Karol Hollý, “Princess Salomea and Hungarian – Polish Relations in the Period 1214-1241,” Historiky Casopis, Historical Journal of the Institute of History of the SAS, 55 Supplement (2007): 7-8.

[20] Wojciech Ketrzynski, introduction to the “Vita e miracula S. Kyngae, ducissae Cracoviae.” Monumenta historiae Poloniae ed. A. Bielowski, (Lwów,1884), pp. 676-81.


Papa Luciani May Soon be Declared Venerable

Fantastic news, which I just got yesterday, though it was published a month ago in Italian. I don’t think it’s in English at all yet! I published this on The Pope John Paul I Association website. I was thrilled to get this news on the anniversary of his death (September 28).


“The heroic virtues of John Paul I will soon be proclaimed,” Stefania Falasca, the vice-postulator of his cause for canonization, announced on August 25, 2017 in an article in the Italian Catholic daily Avvenire. “The congress of theologians has already expressed a positive vote on the question this past June 1. There remains now the vote of the bishops and cardinals, which is expected by the end of the year.”

The 5 volumes of Pope John Paul I’s Positio

The news was welcomed with great emotion by the people of Albino Luciani’s hometown, Canale d’Agordo, as they gathered on August 26 for the Mass for the thirty-ninth anniversary of the papal election of the man who is still known to everyone in his native mountain province as “Don Albino. “We are awaiting with confidence further recognition of the heroic way that Luciani practiced the Christian virtues,” Renato Marangoni, the bishop of Belluno, who was the celebrant, told the congregation.

The curia (chancery office) of the diocese of Belluno celebrated the “splendid results” for the cause that was begun almost fourteen years ago, in November 2003, by the then-bishop of the diocese Vincenzo Savio. After a number of years of work, the Positio on Luciani’s virtues was submitted to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints on October 17, 2016 (his birthday).

Later this year, the bishops and cardinals of the congregation will vote, and if the results are positive, they will be submitted to Pope Francis, who will decide whether to declare Luciani “Venerable.” Many in Canale d’Agordo hope that this declaration will come at the beginning of 2018, the fortieth anniversary of his election.

Stefania Falasca, the Vice-Postulator of John Paul I’s cause, with Fr. Vincenzo Criscuolo, OFM Cap., Relator General of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints

If one of the miracles under investigation is certified, he might even be beatified towards the end of that year, though the process on a miracle is also a lengthy one: after the diocesan process, a panel of doctors needs to vote on it, as does the congregation.

Many devotees of Papa Luciani, including a dozen priests and all the mayors of the local towns were among the congregation in the newly restored church in Canale d’Agordo. “This is the decisive year,” said the bishop who, turning almost into Luciani’s “fan”, exclaimed “Forza!” (i.e. “go team!”)

At the end of September, Marangoni will lead the people of Belluno and Feltre on pilgrimage to Rome to pray at the tomb of the “Smiling Pope.”

Reporting from Avvenire, August 25, 2017 and Il Corriere delle Alpi, August 27, 2017.

Lori Pieper

Papa Luciani Newsletter – August 26, 2017

My most recent newsletter for the Pope John Paul I Association. If you want to receive these newsletters by e-mail, sign up here.

Dear friends of Pope John Paul I,

Today we are commemorating the 39th anniversary of Pope John Paul I’s election. I know I haven’t communicated with you for almost a year; I have to apologize for that, but it was due mostly to the lack of news about John Paul I, especially the process of his beatification.

John_Paul_I_Credit_ANSA_OLDPIXCanonization cause

There is actually not much news on that front right now, though there are some signs that in Italy they are gearing up for the big 40th anniversary celebrations next year. There are plans to have the whole episcopal conference of the Triveneto (the region where all the places Luciani lived are located) come to Canale d’Agordo for next year’s commemoration. Many people are hoping that he may be declared Venerable then, though it usually takes a long time for the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to do its work of examining the documentation on a candidate’s life.

There are also a few details coming out about a possible new miracle for Papa Luciani, the cure of a nun in Brazil. Members of a Vatican congregation have recently been to Brazil and verified that the details are credible, so perhaps the process for this miracle will now begin. I hope to be able to post more details about this on the website soon. (All the details I have come from the Belluno paper Corriere delle Alpi).

Papa Luciani and Fatima

In the meantime, in honor of the centenary of the Fatima apparitions (1917-2017), I have posted my translation of Luciani’s account of his talk with Sister Lucia in the convent in Coimbra on our website.

More on Papa Luciani and Pope Francis

One last bit of news. The last issue of Humilitas in Italian showed again how fond Pope Francis is of quoting his predecessor. Here are the passages that were cited there.

They asked the Pope: “How do you keep your simplicity and your Jesuit rigor after celebrating a Mass in Manila in front of seven million of the faithful and hundreds of millions of viewers?” He replied: “When a priest celebrates Mass, it is certainly in front of the faithful, but above all it is in front of the Lord. However, the more we stand before the crowds, the more we must always be aware of our littleness, of our being “useless servants,” as Jesus asks of us. I ask every day for the grace to be a sign that points to the presence of Jesus, a testimony of his embrace of mercy. For this, sometimes when I hear “Long live the Pope!”, I invite people to say, “Long live Jesus!” From Cardinal Albino Luciani, on facing applause, he recalled: “Do you think that the donkey Jesus rode as he entered Jerusalem amid ‘Hosannas’ might think that this welcome was addressed to him?” Here the Pope, bishops and priests keep faith in their mission if they know how to be that donkey and help to show the true protagonist, always aware that if today there are ‘Hosannas’ tomorrow will come the “Crucify him!” “(“Spesso mi arriva una rosa. Intervista di Papa Francesco in Paris Match, reprinted in L’Osservatore Romano, October 15, 2015).

An actual citation from Luciani’s work was not given, but he did use the comparison in several places, including his letter to King David in Illustrissimi. Pope Francis also most likely took the last part part on “Hosanna” and “Crucify him directly from Papa Luciani, as he did say this as Pope when referring to his popularity. Here is the other one:

“Since the Decree Unitatis Redintegratio was promulgated more than fifty years ago, and we rediscovered Christian brotherhood based on one baptism and the same faith in Christ, travel on the road of the search for unity has gone ahead in small and large steps and has yielded its fruit. I continue to follow these steps. All those things that have been carried out by my predecessors. A further step was that talk of Pope Luciani with Russian metropolitan Nikodim, who died in his arms and was embraced by his brother Bishop of Rome, Nikodim told him such beautiful things about the Church” (Stefania Falasca, “Papa Francesco: non svendo la dottrina, seguo il Concilio,” in Avvenire, November 17, 2016)

It would be wonderful if Pope Francis could have the honor of beatifying Papa Luciani. Let’s pray it does happen soon.



Franciscan Saints: Jutta of Sangerhausen

Last time I wrote briefly about the life of Jutta von Sangerhausen, who has often been seen as a Franciscan tertiary. The more I have studied her, the more fascinating she has become. Her life was truly radical! In particular, I am fascinated by her striving to be imitate St. Elizabeth’s way of life, and she does in many ways resemble Elizabeth; she was from Thuringia, and was a widow with children who nevertheless desired a life of perfect poverty, and carried out great works of charity.

Studying her life in light of the lives of the early Franciscan women is very revealing. In fact, I think my study of Elizabeth and the Franciscan women in Germany can contribute to study of Jutta. For this reason, I’m going to take advantage of this post and the next to talk about her and what I’ve discovered about the relation of her life to that of St. Elizabeth and other Franciscan sisters of her time. (Read Part II here).


Christ appears to Jutta; from her sanctuary in Bielczyny, near Chelmza, Poland.

Until recently, scholars were able to say very little about the life of Jutta (Judith) of Sangerhausen. There was disagreement not just about whether she was a Franciscan tertiary, but about some of the most basic facts about her life.

Apart from the contemporary notice of Jutta by Mechthild of Magdeburg, which I quoted last time, and which shows the great importance she had in her own time, the only early material that survives can be found in a seventeenth-century biography by a Polish Jesuit named Fryderyk Szembek, who says he made use of an old manuscript containing the material sent to Rome around 1275 when the diocese of Kulmsee in Prussia (now Chelmza in Poland), where Jutta died, wanted to open her canonization process. In fact, one scholar believes his whole life in Polish was more or less a transcription and translation, with some additions, from this Latin document, which Szembek calls the Informatio.[1] Other scholars believe that his source was actually a thirteenth-century life of Jutta based on these testimonies.[2] The truth is difficult to determine, given that the original documents have since disappeared, and the canonization process seems never to have been taken up by Rome. (In the seventeenth century, Jutta was recognized as having a local cult from the time of her death, and so was declared Blessed in 1637 by the bishop of Kulmsee).[3]

But compared to the other sixteenth and seventeenth-century chroniclers,[4] Szembek’s work provides the clearest and most accurate information. Happily there has recently been a renewal of interest in Jutta in the places she lived, Germany and Poland, and a number of scholars have begun to examine the sources in more detail.

Here is what seems certain, based on the earliest sources:


The town of Sangerhausen, Germany, where Jutta was born.

We don’t know exactly when Jutta was born, but it may have been sometime between 1215 and 1220.[5] She was evidently born in Sangerhausen in Thuringia, where St. Elizabeth lived with her husband. She was from a noble family, but we don’t know the family’s identity; evidently Jutta didn’t speak of it in her later life.

Jutta was very devout from her earliest years. Not long after she passed the age of ten, she asked God to direct her life in this world. God then revealed to her that she would marry, live only a few years with her husband, and that all their children would enter religious life. She was consequently married, most likely in her teens, as was the custom, to a nobleman, whose name does not appear in the early sources. They did have children, but it is not certain how many.

Jutta practiced all the virtues proper to a Christian wife; she lived peacefully with her husband, raised her children to obey God, and was kind to the servants and especially compassionate toward the poor. Her husband once expressed some dissatisfaction that she didn’t spend more on her clothes, which, while fitting to her rank, were not magnificent. Jutta replied that it seemed unnecessary to her to adorn so magnificently a body that would one day be decayed, and added: “For the one who gives alms does not lose his money; rather it is invested in Christ. . . and he gives an unfailing return.”[6]

During her life as a young wife and mother, Jutta longed to imitate the life of voluntary poverty that St. Elizabeth lived after her husband’s death. In response, Jesus appeared to her and said: “Follow the example of my life.” Jutta strove to do this; she spent a great deal of time meditating on the life and passion of Jesus. and in time, she obtained great mystical heights.

While the children were still young, Jutta’s husband went on pilgrimage (or perhaps a crusade) to the Holy Land and died there. In this way, the Lord’s word to her was fulfilled, that she would live only a few years with her husband. Jutta now had to run the household on her own, and bring up her children, who in time all entered the clergy or religious life. After this, she felt free to follow the path that Jesus had marked out for her.

After consulting with her confessor, she sold all her possessions to give to the poor, and not only that, “she stripped herself of everything, so that she did not have her own refuge, in which she might hide herself at harsh weather, imitating him who, on account of our salvation, although he was Lord of the whole world, did not have a place to lay his head.” Throwing aside her expensive clothes, she “dressed in coarse and poor garments and girded herself with a cord in memory of Christ her Spouse, who on account of us was bound with cords.”[7]

Around 1635, Franciscan chronicler Luke Wadding examined the same early life used by Szembek, and must have noticed this mention of the Jutta’s love for poverty and total stripping of herself, as well as her girding herself with a cord, and interpreted it in a Franciscan sense; this is most likely why he wrote: “Having assumed the way of life (instituto) of the Third Order of St. Francis, she distributed the possessions left to her by her husband to the poor for the love of God and of voluntary poverty.”[8] He was apparently the first to suggest that Jutta was a Franciscan tertiary. The cord as an indication of Elizabeth’s following of St. Francis also appears in the Anonymous Franciscan life of Elizabeth. There is also a Franciscan tradition that Francis chose the cord in memory of Christ being bound. Not all scholars, however, think that Wadding’s conclusion about Jutta adhering to the Franciscans is justified.[9] I will go into this more later.

Jutta went out to beg in the public square and even went from door to door, often helping and leading the lame and sick beggars, who had to lie on little carts or lean on crutches to get around. She begged at the doors of people who had once seen her as a great lady. She bore resulting insults and derision patiently and even cheerfully. Our Lord appeared to her again, consoling her with the reward promised in the Gospel, “Everything that is mine is yours, and everything that is yours is mine.”[10]

This is what St. Elizabeth had also desired to do when she first heard about Franciscan poverty, telling her handmaids that she wanted to go begging one day “for the love of God”; later she asked Master Conrad to be allowed to beg from door to door.[11] Knowing this, Jutta’s way of life does not seem so incredible, though she succeeded in actually begging, where Elizabeth did not.

After a time, Jutta dedicated herself to the service of the sick, traveling from town to town and region to region in different hospices. She washed their heads afflicted with scabies and bandaged their most repulsive sores, seeing in them the wounds of Christ himself.

We also read from the earliest source that in time, she acquired some “pious female companions,” This detail is fascinating, since it matches up with what we learn from Elizabeth’s canonization process:

[Elizabeth's] faithful friend, brother Gherard of the order of Friars Minor . . . declared that he also saw a certain other noblewoman, a relative of the Roman Emperor Frederick, with whom he had a conversation for one whole day over many things pertaining to salvation, [and] who, following the life of blessed Elizabeth in a cord and habit as abject as it was humble, walking barefoot, actually asked for the alms necessary for herself from the Friars Minor just as faithfully as she did humbly. The same brother declared that he saw a large number of other very noble women living in a very similar way.[12]

We know that in Germany at this time, there were women called the Elizabethines (Elisabethinen or Elisabeterinnin), who lived the common life around hospitals, churches and “Houses of Mercy” that served the poor. It is quite believable then that Jutta was able to join with other women who perhaps like her had been inspired by St. Elizabeth.[13]

Jutta soon began to concentrate on caring for the lepers, who “she chose for her lords on earth.”[14] Rather than accept food from the lepers and take away from their substance, Jutta would eat grass and herbs she acquired for herself. But she did not hesitate to share eat food the lepers had touched; once, when a leper woman had been given the Eucharist but was too ill to swallow it, Jutta took it from her mouth and consumed it.


The oldest representation of Jutta that I have found, from a fifteenth-century altarpiece of the Church of St. Anne in Moeckern, not far from Magdeburg, Germany. She is holding her symbol of the sun. I have no idea why she is wearing a crown, since she wasn’t royalty.

Once when Jutta and her companions were on the road seeking some necessities for the lepers, they lost their way when it became dark; they were in a lonely field on a moonless night a long distance from their destination. The other women became frightened. Jutta knelt and prayed, and suddenly the place was flooded with daylight; the sun seemed to have risen again. They were able to find the road and get to their destination, and the sun set again, to the amazement of the bystanders. This miracle has long been Jutta’s symbol; in works of art she is shown holding the sun in her hands.

The early source adds that Jutta “also wrote and provided a pious way of life or rule for the lepers according to their condition and necessity in different regions and cities.”[15] Unfortunately, we aren’t given any more details about this, but it probably refers not only to the way of life of the lepers, but the sisters caring for them

Another facet of Elizabeth’s life that Jutta shared, one that scholars have not known about until the publication of the Anonymous Franciscan, is her desire for the life of a recluse or solitary. It is remarkably similar in some ways to what Elizabeth desired. In fact, Elizabeth spoke with Franciscan brother Gherard “about the inestimable treasure of precious poverty”: About this, Elizabeth said: “Since it is a question about holy poverty for me, I desire with all my heart that in the crossroads outside the walls there should be a cell for me of muddy straw and earth and that in front of the little door or window, there might be a linen thread fixed on which is to be hung a small vessel in which passersby would place alms by which I should be sustained. . . as it is customary to do for poor lepers.”[16]

Even without being able to live as a recluse and devote all of her time in prayer, Elizabeth reached great mystical heights, as did Jutta. The earliest source for Jutta’s life tells us:

Christ himself appeared and not only permitted her, as with his beloved apostle John, to incline her head on his breast, or with Thomas, to touch the most pure wounds of his body, but actually kindly permitted her to place her mouth to the wound opened in his side and from it to suck wondrous heavenly sweetness with ineffable solace of her soul.[17]

Elizabeth was never able to live the way of life of a recluse because she wanted to also maintain her work for the poor. Jutta’s dilemma was very similar. After a time, she sought from God in prayer how she might live a more contemplative life in “woods and deserted places,” and was inspired by him to travel to Prussia. There she would live a life of contemplation on the frontiers of the Church in a time of conflict and affect the lives of both the faithful and converts from paganism.

The next (and last) installment will be about this last period of Jutta’s life; I will also talk more about her possible Franciscan identity and her sanctuary in Poland.


[1] In 1938, Hans Westphal published his study of the sources and reconstruction of the text of the Informatio. His monograph on Jutta is invaluable. It was published in a very obscure journal in German, but I managed to get hold of it: “Untersuchungen über Jutta von Sangerhausen,” Zeitschrift fuer Geschichte und Altertumskunde Ermlands, no. 27 (1938): 515-96.

[2] Balasz Nemes, “Jutta von Sangehausen (13. Jahrhundert): Eine ‘neue Heilige’ im Gefolge der heiligen Elisabeth von Thüringen?” Zeitschrift für Thüringische Geschichte 63 (2009): 39-73. He examines and critiques Westphal’s work closely, and is a valuable contribution to research on Jutta.

[3] See Szembek, in Westphal, p. 539; the declaration by Bishop Jan Lipski took place on April 15, 1637.

[4] Among these writers are Simon of Grunau, who wrote his Preussischer Chronik in 1520 and Martin Baronius, who wrote around 1609. Their work is printed in Scriptores rerum Prussicarum 2 (Leipzig, 1863): 376-78.

[5] We know from the Informatio that as a young wife and mother, Jutta greatly desired to imitate Elizabeth’s life of voluntary poverty, which she lived after her husband’s death from 1227-1231.Westphal accepts a date of 1220 for Jutta’s birth, based on one seventeenth-century author, Baronius, though much of the earlier author’s other information is erroneous, because he felt it fit the known circumstances of Jutta’s life (“Untersuchungen,” p. 555). But this date it is not completely satisfactory. A marriage in 1235, her husband dying after 1245 and the children entering religious life around 1250 leaves little time for Jutta’s wide-ranging travels and service to the sick and lepers in other parts of Germany before she went to Prussia in 1256. Jutta was probably married at the normal age of 15 or so, and her children were not yet adolescent at the time her husband died, so a birth date around 1215 would fit her being married around 1230, her husband dying around 1238-1240, and (presuming at least two children) her youngest child entering religious life in 1245-48, which would leave a bit more time for her labors before she went to Prussia before going to Prussia in 1256.

[6] Informatio, no. 4; Westphal, pp. 579-80.

[7] Informatio, no. 13; Westphal, pp. 582-83.

[8] Wadding, Annales Minorum, an. 1264, XII. Wadding says that in the artistic representations of Jutta he had seen, most likely from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, “her clothing and habit are depicted in gray without a mantle or cloak, with a rather wide belt of leather [and] a veil on her head.” (ibid.) This representation is most likely due to a later legend related by Baronius that she had been an Augustinian sister. There was a sisterhood of this order in Kulmsee, but this was probably after Jutta’s time.

[9] In particular, Nemes rejects Wadding’s view; “Jutta von Sangerhausen,” pp. 55-56.

[10] Informatio in Westphal, no. 15, pp. 583-84.

[11] “Statements of the Four Handmaids of St. Elizabeth,” in Lori Pieper, The Greatest of These is Love, the Life of St. Elizabeth of Hungary (New York: Tau Cross Books and Media, 2014), p. 129, and “Letter by Conrad of Marburg,” ibid., p. 115.

[12] Anonymous Franciscan Life in Lori Pieper, The Voice of a Medieval Woman: St Elizabeth of Hungary as a Franciscan Penitent in the Early Sources for her Life (New York: Tau Cross Books and Media, 2016), p.

[13] Pieper, Voice of a Medieval Woman, p. 230.

[14] Informatio, no. 23 in Westphal, p. 586.

[15] Informatio, no. 24 in Westphal, p. 586.

[16] Anonymous Franciscan Life in Pieper, Voice of a Medieval Woman, pp. 172-73.

[17] Informatio in Westphal, no. 18, pp. 584-85.