The story told by Margaretha Ebner is a fascinating one – an intimate experience with the Baby Jesus. In her own words, she describes powerful visions of being with the infant, and even breastfeeding him.
Margaretha Ebner was about fourteen years old when she entered a German nunnery. Her early years there were a very difficult experience, as an unknown illnesses ravaged her and left her bedridden for long periods. She described how at times she could barely move, or that “when it took hold of me in my head, then laughed or wept for four days or more without ceasing.”
Slowly Margaretha’s health returned, and she would have powerful mystical experiences. By the year 1344 she was writing down a kind of diary describing what she saw and felt. This includes her narrating about moments where she encountered Jesus Christ as an infant:
I have an image of the Child, our Lord in a cradle. I was so powerfully compelled by my Lord with great sweetness, longing and desire and also by His request, because it was said to me by my Lord: “If you do not give me to suckle, then I will take myself away at the moment you love me the most.” So I took the image out of the cradle and laid it on my bare breast with great longing and sweetness and felt then the strongest presence of the Lord. Afterward I wondered how our blessed Lady (the Virgin Mary) could ever endure the incessant presence of God…But my longing and desire is in giving suck, so that through His pure humanity I might be purified and set afire by Him with His burning love, and His presence and sweet grace pour through me so that I would be motivated by the true enjoyment of His divine essence together with all loving souls who have lived in truth.
Margaretha also explains how she wore an image of Jesus around her neck, and would press it against her body:
I have a large crucifix and was compelled by great love and the presence of God to press the same cross to my heart and to press it there with all my might. From the longing and sweet grace which I have for this purpose, I might never feel it and press still so strongly, so that death-marks appear on my chest and body. My Lord often speaks to me lovingly and sweetly saying, “Spare yourself and allow us to be together in another way. This I desire out of true love for you.”
Margaretha noted that these events were physically challenging for her, frequently leaving her unable to sleep at night. She relates another story:
One night I lay sleeping and Matins was called, I was constrained by the usual vow of silence and thought that I could not get up. Then my most beloved Lord spoke to me: “Stand up and come to me in the choir, I want to do you as nicely as I have done before.” Then I stood up with great joy and said Matins and went into the choir. Then the great desire came to me for the Baby of our Lord and I took the image and pressed it to my bare breast with all my power and strength. Then I felt a human touch from His mouth on my bare breast. Then I received a great godly dread, so that I sat for a while and could not do anything. The fear was taken away from me with great joy and mercy and I completed my prayers.
At first she did not reveal what had happened, even to her fellow nuns, but one sister wrote to her about a dream she had:
“I offered to you last night in a dream your child and that was a living child and you took it from me with great longing and you put it to your breast and wanted to suckle it and this amazed me, that you were so unhesitant, that you were unashamed.”
After reading this, Margaretha responded by revealing her experiences, “which so strongly affected me internally.” This includes this vision of her watching the infant Jesus in his cradle:
And one night Child granted to me that I saw Him play in the cradle with joy and full of life. Then I spoke to Him: “Why don’t you be quiet and let me get some sleep? I have laid you to sleep very nicely.” Then the Child spoke: “I don’t want to sleep, you must take me to you.” And so I took Him with longing and joy out of the cradle and put Him in my lap. He was a loving child. Then I spoke: “Kiss me, so that I can forget that you have disturbed my sleep.” Then He embraced me with His arms and held me and kissed me. Then I had a longing from Him for the holy Circumcision, which was for me not forthcoming from Him. From this vision I received great grace and sweetness.
You can read more of the nun’s experiences in the article “Two Selections from Margaretha Ebner’s Offenbarungen”, translated by Rosemary Hale, which can be found in Vox Benedictina: Women and Monastic Spirituality, Vol.4 No.4 (1987) pp.321-337.
Top Image: Detail from a scene of the Nativity in the Scrovegni Chapel by Giotto