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.



Franciscan Saints: Jutta of Sangerhausen — Part II — 1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Franciscan Saints: Jutta of Sangerhausen | On Pilgrimage

Join the conversation!