The Dominican Tommaso di Cantimpré wrote the life of this “extatica” or “admirabilis” born in 1150 or 1160 in Sint-Truiden and died in 1224. Initiated by the family to become a shepherdess or a herdsman, Christina knows her first mystical experiences while grazing. Jesus was constantly near her. Her behavior and abilities, beyond human understanding, arouse repugnance and admiration. It has never been a “socially acceptable” being.
After an illness, from which she miraculously recovered, she began a life of itinerant preaching in the diocese of Liège, but in a discreet way, because she was convinced that preaching was the responsibility of priests only. He lives for 9 years in Borgloon with the anchorite Jutta. We know that in 1259 in Borgloon, near the hospital of Gratem, just outside the city walls, there was a Beguinal presence in the hospital service (Simon, p.42). Christina usually begs door-to-door not for herself, but to support the sins of those who give her food. If she ate food that had been procured illegally, she became ill. Her body to which she had inflicted the worst trials, towards the end of her life is totally submissive to her. Her experience resembles that of a fakir (resistance to fire, boiling water, cold, crushing weight), but also to shamanism for her ability to transform the body (bird, ball, snake-woman) and self-healing in the moments of greater difficulty (milk of her breast, oil produced by the body …). She had the damned souls at heart. Having visited hell and purgatory during an apparent death, she had made the salvation of these souls the meaning of her atonement. She is founded on the scaffold of the hanged man and among the graves of cemeteries. According to her jubilation or her loud cries of anguish, the inhabitants can know the supernatural destination of the dying person. During her ecstasies, a sound that rose from her throat and from her chest causes chills to her listeners. During her first burial, she gets up and flies towards the ceiling of the church. Fear makes all those present escape. She returns to her body after choosing, like a Buddhist bodhisattva, not to leave the earth to atone for the souls in purgatory and thus save them. Later, with her ethereal body, she lives among the trees. She died in 1224 and was buried in the Benedictine monastery where she had been ill for three weeks. His remains are currently in the sanctuary of the Stennaert Redemptorists.
The Orientalist Louis Massignon (1883-1962) was very impressed by this woman, whose cult was approved by Pius IX in 1857. At the invitation of Father Van Straeten, rector of the Redemptorists who keep the relics of the saint in the sanctuaries or of Steenart , Louis Massignon prepares, on the occasion of the 7th centenary of Christina’s death, a conference to be held July 24 (anniversary date of death) 1924. The text is then published in La cité chrétienne and in a volume in 1950. The figure by Christina hits Massignon at various levels, personal and spiritual. In the Gedenkboek, published in 1950, we read: “Professor M. Massignon of the College of France, who in 1924, at the 7th centenary of the death of Saint Cristina had asked to be able to glorify the saint recognizing the grace of her conversion which she attributes to our Virgin of Saint Truiden “(p.350)
James from Vitry in the prologue to the life of Mary (dated 1115, according to Greven) addresses his friend Bishop Foulque of Toulouse and speaks, without naming her, of Christina’s “resurrection” and her experiences of Purgatory on earth , “and, for a long time she was afflicted by God with extraordinary punishment … she was driving when I saw her, writes Jacques, souls to the threshold of Purgatory, making him even cross, and taking them, without damage, to the supreme kingdom “. This testimony of Jacques de Vitry was taken up by the Cantimpré, which also collects – between 1239 and 1249 – other stories of those who knew her: Count Louis de Looze, Jutta of Loon, his hermit friend, and Thomas of St Truiden, former rector of the church of Santa Maria and then 29th abbot of the Benedictine convent of San Trond. But his work offers a rather caricatural and eager for unnecessary exaggeration, which however remains the only source after the fourteenth century. Over the centuries this text has been revisited and commented.
To return to Massignon, what struck him, just like James of Vitry, is Christina’s reparative role, this perception that we are partly responsible for the mistakes of others and that it suits us to expiate them. It is the mystical substitution, universal and triumphant proof of Jesus’ sacrifice: Christina climbs up the gallows to pray and suffer alongside criminals already strangled, eager to wrest their soul from damnation by joining their physical torture. This vocation as a victim, of which she was the first complete and exclusive case in Western Christianity, is increasingly encountered since the 13th century to undoubtedly counterbalance the growing weight of the inequities committed.
Massignon meets the figure of Christina at the age of 20, when she sees a relief print outlined in 1902 at the instigation of Huysmans. “We see Christina, clasped hands, praying, in ecstasy, perched like a bird on the highest pole of a gallows, while the tortured for whom she interceded, they hang their corpses twisted to the lower poles of the gallows; misty sun Antithesis of innocence and crime, confrontation between desperation and prayer, imperative invitation to a meditation on death “(Massignon, p.363).
“This print is in front of his eyes every day … .. while with an unexpected intervention God made me a new Christian. Jesus is there, vigilant while the image of this holy Christina cries to us that nothing is impossible in love, that prayer can dare everything, that she will carry our souls to God, forever, out of the prison of our sins, the graves of our deceased good resolutions, our paralyzed feelings, our betrayed promises “(Massignon, p 364)
Christina, although presented dressed in the Cistercian white robe, was not affiliated with any Order and her connection with the Monastery of Saint Catherine of Sain-Trond seems to have been temporary hospitality. Among his surprising manifestations were ascetic ecstasies, dances and ecstatic songs of jubilation that rose from his chest.
De VITRY Jacques,Vie de Marie d’Oignies, avec supplément de Thomas Cantimpré, traduction et préface par André Wankenne, Société des études classiques, Namur, 1989
MASSIGNON Louis, Ecrits mémorables, Tome I, Laffont, Paris, 2009
SIMONS Walter, Cities of Ladies. Beguine communities in the Medieval Low Countries. 1200-1565, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001