The Life of Christina of Hane
Christina of Hane—
Although it is somewhat embarrassing to write about how she overcame her enemy and how she kept the treasure of her chastity unstained, it is still a sign of her great love. That is why I cannot possibly ignore it and I have to write something about it. When she realized that even with ardent lashes and an ascetic lifestyle she was not able to control the fire of her flesh, which the ugly Foe wanted to kindle in her day and night, she thought that she might be able to extinguish the mental fire of her flesh with material fire, since the body fears and dreads fire more than anything else. Later she not only placed her body into fire in order to stop the fire of temptation, as we read about many others who sat naked on glowing coals, but she did something even greater. That a human should put their body into fire is a thing terrifying to nature; but it was even more terrifying that she put fire into her body. She did so with a great inward desire to overcome the evil spirits and their attacks of the flesh.
The next time she took a burning woodblock and rammed it into her body, while it was still glowing. Thus she extinguished the fire of her temptation with the great pain caused by material fire. I praise much more the reason and the intention behind her deed than I praise the deed itself, because it was an irrational mortification. “But for those who love God from all their heart, all things will turn to the best by God,”says Saint Paul, because love covers a multitude of sins.
The discomforts of pain put an end to the temptations for a long while, until the next time, when our dear Lord wanted to test her harder by charging her very heavily with the same temptation of the flesh. Then the virgin pondered how to renew the pangs of pain in order to make her flesh ignore the lust with which the devil tempted and attacked her. This motivated her to do a horrifyingly brutal thing: she took chalk and vinegar and mixed both into a dough, which she pushed into her body as deeply as she could. Who is able to tell what great pain she suffered? As a consequence her body swelled from the feet up to the hips so much that she could not let water. This state lasted for eight full days. Afterward for three days and three nights blood came from the place where water should come from.In this way she achieved such great pain that her temptation was terminated for a long time.
Another time a man came to visit whom she heard speaking to a woman about things of the flesh and the world. As she listened lustfully, forgetting to restrain her thoughts and allowing temptation, there came the Tempter, who attacked her again with the temptation of the flesh. She then repeated what she had done before, but this time using chalk and urine. Still very infirm from the first two torments she had suffered—fire and chalk—she ended up in such a state of illness from this third torment that her entire body swelled as if she were dropsical. Everyone who saw her then thought she would die.
Then she was greatly distressed and anxious that against God’s will she had trespassed too greatly against prudence. So with crying eyes and with a devout heart she said to our dear Lord, “Oh loyal Lord and Father mine, are you not the sole one whom I love with all my understanding and into whom I have put all my comfort and trust? Now I beg you by the love that has bound you to the cross: if it is your will, deliver me from these bonds of body and soul.” In the ensuing night, as she was lying in such great pain that her natural strength could have failed at any moment from great discomfort and grief, she said, “God never abandons those who set their hope on him.” About these people the prophet says, “The Lord has heard the poor people’s yearnings, his eyes look to the poor. The generous comforter of all troubled hearts has looked upon his poor maiden, who directed her sighs to him, and thus he comforted her in her sorrow.”
At one time our Lord Jesus Christ appeared to her. She saw him with corporeal eyes and spiritual eyes as a great and mighty Lord with five wounds, each as wide as a man’s hand would span. And our Lord said to her, “Look into my wounds. Are they not wide enough to conceal your discomfort in me? Here you will find medicine against all adversity.” This vision so startled her that she was enraptured beyond her understanding. In this rapture God gave her the assurance that henceforth she should never again be touched by temptation of flesh; this she told me herself. And as she was praising God the Lord with all her heart, our dear Lord said to her soul (although she was not learned, she understood Latin very well in her soul), “Whenever you wish to pray, go to your chamber and secretly pray to your Father, keeping the door locked. And your Father shall hear you and reward you.” There she was taught in her understanding to turn at all times to prayer, to speak only with God, and to avoid all idle speech.
From The Life of Christina of Hane by Christina of Hane. Published by Yale University Press in 2020. Reproduced with permission.
Christina of Hane (ca. 1269–92) is the only known medieval female mystic of the Premonstratensian order. Racha Kirakosian is professor of medieval German at Albert-Ludwigs-University Freiburg. She previously taught at Harvard University and the University of Oxford.