I Letter of St Colette to benefactors at Ghent regarding the monastery being built by them as a gift to the order
18 May 1438 or 1439
To my most Christian and most honoured Sirs, Jean de Hot Kerbech, Daniel de Varrenewiic, Jean Willaert, Jacques de Bassevelde, Jean de Oeure, Jean de Wevere and to several others.
Venerable and most honoured and very dear Sirs,
With the greatest humility of which I am capable, in the most perfect charity of our most merciful Redeemer, I recommend myself to you and to your holy prayers, so full of merit, and your intercession worthy of being heard. With all my heart I desire your good health and prosperity, spiritually and corporal, giving thanks most lovingly to God and to you for your very great love and charity you have for us and for our religious family, and especially for the great affection and diligence you have shown with regard to the convent, newly begun at Ghent, and for all assistance, goods and support that have come through you and by means of your goodness, and for the great care and good will that you have shown towards us several times, informing us by a special messenger of the state and progress of the said convent.
I humbly pray the most sweet, merciful and loving Jesus Christ to reward you a hundredfold in life everlasting for the goods you have given us here below, according to his fitting promise in the Gospels. May it please you to know that, with a view to arriving at this said convent (of Ghent), I have several times made the effort to reach the convent recently built in the town of Hesdin by my most venerable Lady of Burgundy, gathering together and assisting the Sisters to be brought there. But the advice of the nobles and merchants who are used to travelling in this country was that I would be putting them to great peril and risking their very lives because the situation is extremely dangerous and fraught with peril, even more for women and for religious than for others.
That is why I have had to make my excuse to the most venerable Duchess and Lady I have mentioned because it was not possible to go there at the present time. All the same, my intention is to go there with all haste as soon as the roads are safe, and indeed several of our brothers have already gone there to take possession of the convent. If I could only settle and accomplish the said journey and be at Hesdin. I could give you council and show you the way to bring to completion the said convent at Ghent. But presume as certain, and reflect upon, the dangers and perils of the present and the even greater and more difficult obstacles to come. Even if the convent were quite ready and assigned to them, I could not bring Sisters there because of the perils I have already mentioned, a situation which causes me great grief as much on account of the devotion and holy affection you have shown in constructing the said convent as over the failure to accomplish the good designs and holy intentions of the founders and benefactors of that same convent; which devotion and intention, both yours and theirs, will be rewarded by God, and for having a part in the prayers and suffrages of the Order, you neither will nor can be deprived of this offering. And, since I have been advised, in the face of the inconvenience already mentioned, present and future, and as I have no one able or suitable to be sent there at present, and also seeing that the site of the said convent has been given as an act of devotion to God and the benefactions have been made for love and reverence of God and his glorious Mother also finally in order that the said convent given to God should not fall with the passage of time into profane use, I ask you to take into consideration that all religious men and women are consecrated or deputed for the holy service of God, in order to honour him all the more and to carry on the good devotion and intention of those who have given towards the foundation.
So if it pleases you and the nobles of the town to agree together to place in this convent good and devout religious men or women with the due permission of those who have the right to decide such matters, so that they can live here observing their rule and serving God exactly and devoutly, then this would be greatly pleasing to me and I give my consent for it. For I have heard that already several wish this and are planning to bring it about, with whom I would not wish you to have any argument or dissension on account of the said convent. Given the inconveniences already cited, I see no way in which your good devotion could be speedily fulfilled, and no one knows what awaits us, whether death or life on this hand or that. So why should the said convent not be made over to those men or women who can the most surely keep it for God?
Very Christian and most honoured Sirs, I humbly beg the Holy Spirit to keep you in his grace and to lead you at the last to eternal life.
Written at Besancon, 18th May.
The most worthless handmaid of Jesus Christ and his useless petitioner,