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The Life Of Anne Catherine Emmerich

AS soon as Anne Catharine had regained her strength sufficiently to work as usual, she again used her utmost exertions to gain enough by her needlework to pay for some lessons upon the organ; and whilst by day the needle was never out of her hand, her evenings were spent at the spinning-wheel, so that she might have a few pieces of linen, at any rate, to take with her into a convent. The work prospered under her hands so rapidly that in course of one year she had made over twenty thalers by her sewing, and had laid by a considerable provision of fine linen. These twenty thalers appeared such an enormous sum in her eyes, that she would never have dared to keep them for her own use, had any other way of gaining admission into a convent been open to her.

So long as she remained with her parents, the latter renewed their old attempts to dissuade her from the religious life, her mother often asking her pitifully how she could ever expect to do the rough and menial tasks that would fall to her share on account of her poverty, always ailing and delicate as she was. “Oh! mother,” she would then answer, “no matter what they give me to do; let me suffer as I may; at any rate I shall be sheltered from the dangers and storms of the outside world!” Such reasoning her mother could not comprehend, for she had always seen her child keep so much aloof from the world, that she did not believe a greater retirement possible, and therefore her entreaties never ceased. Anne Catharine however reasoned and expostulated so gently and amiably that her mother could not find it in her heart to quarrel with her, or seriously to oppose her plan of engaging herself as servant in the house of the Cantor Sontgen in Coesfeld, with the arrangement that she should receive lessons upon the organ in lieu of wages.

This plan she soon put into execution, but had not been long in the house, before she discovered that, far from learning to play the organ, she had to be maid of all work, and moreover to deprive herself of actual necessaries in order to feed and clothe its owners. So great was their poverty and distress, that as usual Anne Catharine’s sympathies were aroused to their utmost, and she could not rest until she had devoted all her time and all her strength to their assistance. Her hardly earned savings went first, then all her beautiful provision of linen, and to quote her own words to Overberg: “As for organ-playing, there was none. I had to be servant and to work far too hard to learn the organ, for the moment I came into the house, I saw so much want and misery, I could not do otherwise than give all I had and work for them. The organ they never taught me: and oh! what hunger I endured in that house. Perhaps for a week together there was not a single loaf of bread in the house. People would not give the Sontgens credit for so much as sevenpence. I was their servant, and though I gave away all I had earned by my sewing, I was often starving with hunger. Even my clothes I parted with.

“My good mother came to see me one day, and was so sorry for me that she brought us some bread and butter, eggs and milk, upon which the others lived entirely. Once the poor thing said to me, ‘Thou hast given my heart a deep wound, but thou art my child all the same, and when I look at thy empty chair at home, my heart feels like to break.’ I answered her, ‘God will reward thee for it, dear mother. I have now nothing left, but it was His will that I should be the means of keeping these poor people alive. God will now take care of me Himself; I have given Him all I had, and He will know how best to provide for me.’ Then my good mother went away comforted. I often turned it over in my mind, how I should ever get into a convent now! everything seemed so against me and I so poor. I often used to say to God, ‘I know not what to do; I cannot help myself; Thou Thyself hast arranged it all, so Thou Thyself must manage it for me.’ ”

Whilst Anne Catharine was in this house, Clara, the daughter of Cantor Sontgen, became inspired, through her intercourse with the holy girl, to enter the religious life, and her father who was deeply touched with Anne Catharine’s uncalled for self-sacrifice to him and his, made her a promise, out of gratitude, that he would do all in his power to get her into a convent.

His daughter was of the same age as herself, and being a first rate musician, he knew that she would be gladly received by any Community, and therefore he determined to make it a condition of her entering a convent, that Anne Catharine should be taken in also. Care for his child had not a little to do with his resolve, for he had often said before Anne Catharine, “Clara shall never go into a convent; the rule now-a-days is not kept as it used to be. If only you were with her, I should not mind, for you would keep her in the right way.”

The two girls set forth and knocked at many a convent door together, imploring to be received within the walls, but always in vain; sometimes the dowry they brought was too scanty, sometimes the nuns would only agree to take in Clara. Cantor Sontgen, however, stood firm, and when the Augustinians at Dulmen, who were in great want of an organist, begged that Clara might come to them, he insisted that Anne Catharine should accompany her, and gained his point.

Before quitting this abode of so much toil and endurance, but which had yet been the stepping stone to the realization of all Anne Catharine’s hopes, we will listen to her friend’s description of her, after three years of close, familiar intercourse. “We slept in the same room,” Clara says, “and I noticed that instead of linen she always wore a rough woollen shift next her skin, and bound a thick knotted girdle of rope round her waist, so tightly that it often cut deep into the flesh. Her confessor found this out, and forbade her to wear it any longer. She told me afterwards though, that from the time she was forbidden to wear this girdle, she discovered that a red mark had appeared round her body, under the skin; and, when she came in from her evening prayers, I often saw her whole body covered with the marks of having been torn by nails, for before going to bed she used generally to go out of doors to pray. Sometimes when she came in her skin was swollen and covered with white blains, and when I pointed this out to her, she was forced to confess that she had flogged herself with nettles; and she also told me that whilst praying thus, a horrible black beast would come and peer into her face, with its head over her shoulders, and as she never ceased praying, would suddenly vanish.

“We were often disturbed at our prayers when praying together, either by a violent knocking, or by having our faces suddenly buried in our pillows, until we were nearly smothered. Anne Catharine used to get up and look round the house and garden to see if she could find anything, but she never did, and these alarming occurrences sometimes lasted till past midnight. We often used to say ‘Our Fathers’ together for the holy souls, when we were in bed, and one night as we were praying, a bright light appeared before the bed. Anne in the greatest delight, exclaimed ‘Look there, how beautiful!’ but I was alarmed, and could not look at it.”

Anne Catharine having at last completed her bridal treasure by practices of humiliation, poverty, and utter immolation of self, her Heavenly Bridegroom Himself supplied the most precious jewel which was to adorn her at the ceremony of her espousals with Him. This jewel was nothing less than the crown which He had designed to wear on His own Sacred Head when on earth. During the last year of her residence with the Sontgens, it so happened that she was kneeling one day in the Jesuits’ church at Coesfeld, absorbed in her devotions, up in the organ gallery before a crucifix, when she suddenly felt a soft warmth, which made her look up, and she beheld her Heavenly Bridegroom come forth from the tabernacle in the form of a radiant youth. In His left hand He held a garland of flowers, in His right a crown of thorns, and bade her choose between the two. Anne Catharine, without hesitation, stretched out her hands for the thorny crown, which He placed upon her head, and she then pressed it down herself with both hands. It gave her indescribable pains, which never quitted her henceforth. The apparition disappeared, and when Anne Catharine awoke out of her vision, she heard the rattle of the keys, with which the sacristan was about to lock up the church; so she went quietly home with her companion, Clara Sontgen, who had no suspicion of what had happened. Feeling great pain in her head above her eyes and round her temples, she asked her friend whether she could see anything the matter with her head, to which Clara replied in the negative. Some days after this, however, her brow and temples began to swell enormously, but as yet there were no signs of blood stains. These did not appear until she was in the convent, where she strove carefully to conceal them from the knowledge of any of her sisters. She succeeded for several years, one person alone discovering her secret, who kept it faithfully.

This crown of thorns was visibly present to Anne Catharine on the days of the Passion, in the same manner as St. Teresa’s jewels, ring, and belt, with which she had been adorned in an ecstasy, were present to her ocular senses when she came to herself. Anne Catharine described it as consisting of three species of thorns twisted together; one strand was of hawthorn, upon which blossomed several small white flowers; the second strand had the same blossom upon it, with much broader leaves, and the third looked like the bough of a wild rose bush. She used frequently to press this crown tightly down upon her head, when absorbed in prayer, and distinctly felt each thorn pierce deeper and deeper through the skin.

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