Skip to main contentAccessibility feedback

Henry of Nordlingen

A Bavarian secular priest, of the fourteenth century

Click to enlarge

Henry of Nordlingen, a Bavarian secular priest, of the fourteenth century, date of death unknown; the spiritual adviser of Margaretha Ebner (d. 1351), the mystic of Medingen. Henry’s many acquaintances, his travels, his influence as a director of souls, as preacher and confessor, excite a special interest because of the light they cast upon the immense development of mysticism, and the religious state of Germany at the time of Louis of Bavaria. Among the laity of both sexes, the nobility, and in monasteries of men and women, from the Low Countries across the Rhenish Provinces, Bavaria, etc., to Northern Italy, we find the mystics, the Gottesfreunde, coming into intercourse with one another; Henry is often the connecting link. He writes to, or visits, Margaretha Ebner, Tauler, Christina Ebner, Suso, Rulman Merswin, etc.; he translates into High German the book of Mechtilde of Magdeburg and urges other mystics, as Margaretha Ebner, to write their visions; his visits and instructions are received by the Cistercians of Kaisheim, etc., the Dominican nuns of Engelthal, Medingen, etc., the Bernardines of Zimmern, etc., and by the Benedictine nuns of Hohewart, etc.; to his correspondents he sends books now of theology (St. Thomas), now of mysticism, with relics, etc. But, as in the case of many other mystics of his time, the life of Henry is unhappily unknown to us save from his correspondence and the writings of the Ebners during the period between 1332 and 1351. Of these nineteen years, the first three were spent in or about Nordlingen, where Henry was the beloved director of a group of mystics which included his mother. In 1335 he set out for Avignon on a voluntary exile in consequence of the dispute between the pope and the emperor. In 1339, a short while after his return to Nordlingen, his fidelity in abiding by the interdict brought him into a critical position, and he went by way of Augsburg and Constance to Basle, where he found Tauler and whither several of the Gottesfreunde followed him from Bavaria.

At Basle (January, 1339), which he now made the center of his activity, his success in the confessional and pulpit brought crowds to him, especially in 1345. Letters to Margaretha Ebner give an idea of his work, fears, and hopes; in 1346-7 he made several trips to Cologne, Bamberg, etc.; then he left Basle, much regretted by the Gottesfreunde, and after a wandering life of preaching in Alsace (1348-9), while the black pest was raging in Germany, he returned to his country (1350), a little before the death of Margaretha Ebner. We then find him in communication with the aged Christina Ebner of Engelthal, but after 1352 nothing more is heard of him.

His works consist of a collection of fifty-eight letters, of which but one manuscript remains (British Museum). It is the first collection of letters, properly so called, in German literature, as the letters of Henry Suso, which are an earlier composition, are practically sermons, a title which they bear in many manuscripts. We remark in these letters the tender sympathetic soul of Henry, impressionable and burning with zeal for the practice of the interior life and union with God; they are not speculative, or deep meditations on mysticism; but rather with him all was sentiment. Of Henry’s preaching in Basle and Alsace nothing has been handed down to us, if indeed anything was ever written. To his letters must be joined the translation from Low German into High German of the work of Mechtilde, now at Einsiedeln; but for him, this precious jewel of German literature would have been preserved to us only in a Latin translation, inaccurate and incomplete.


Did you like this content? Please help keep us ad-free
Enjoying this content?  Please support our mission!