Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
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Saturday, June 20, 2015

Blessed Margareta Ebner, Nun and Visionary

Margareta Ebner (died 20 June 1351)


Born in southeastern Germany (Swabia) in 1291, Margareta Ebner was a member of an aristocratic family and well-educated. Without any of the opposition or controversy that many young women experienced before entering into a religious life, Ebner joined the Dominican nuns at the convent of Maria Medingen, near the Bavarian town of Dillingen, probably around the year 1305. She spent the rest of her life there. 

The tomb of Margareta Ebner,
convent of Maria Medingen
From 1312, she suffered a series of traumatic, debilitating illnesses--at times she experienced bouts of uncontrollable laughter and tears that lasted for days at a time, while at other times she was bedridden, occasionally for months at a time. 

However, as Bernard McGinn notes, her illnesses became "the occasion, even the stimulus, for her conversion to a deeper mystical life of devotion." In 1315, her "mystical life" began; she would later record these experiences in her Revelations, "a kind of mystical journal, or autohagiographical narrative." She was encouraged by the priest Henry of Nördlingen, a spiritual adviser with whom she exchanged letters (fifty-six of his letters to her survive; unfortunately, only one of hers, to him, survives). 

Ebner began the process of composing her Revelations in 1344 and completed her task in 1348. She died on 20 June 1351. 

Interestingly, Nördlingen not only provided the impetus for Ebner's recording of her visionary experiences, he also translated the beguine Mechthild of Magdeburg's The Flowing Light of the Godhead into Middle High German and sent a copy to Ebner. (The original seems to have been written in Mechthild's Middle Low German; it had then been translated into Latin.) 

Henry of Nördlingen also correspond with, visited, and inspired the Dominican nun, mystic, and writer Christina Ebner (1277-1356)--to whom he also gave a copy of Mechthild's The Flowing Light of the Godhead. With his encouragement, Christina Ebner began a correspondence with Margareta Ebner--despite sharing a name, their religious order, and their mystical experiences, the two are not related.

Margareta Ebner was beatified by Pope John Paul II on 24 February 1979.

For an account of Ebner's visionary experiences, I recommend Bernard McGinn's The Flowering of Mysticism: Men and Women in the New Mysticism--1200-1350, the third volume of his monumental history of western Christian mysticism. Her Revelations is also available in a Classics of Western Spirituality edition, Margaret Ebner: Major Works.