1. As we prepare to write the life of that illustrious virgin of Christ Christina, let us begin by quoting the venerable James, Bishop of Acre and later Cardinal of the Roman Curia, who relates the following of Christina in his Life of Blessed Marie d'Oignies: "I saw another woman (understand Christina) in whom God performed remarkable works. When she had been dead for some time, but before her body was buried in the ground, her soul returned to her body and she was restored to life. And the Lord granted her request, that she be allowed, while living in body in the world, to suffer the pains of purgatory. And so for a long time she was remarkably afflicted by the Lord, so that at times she wallowed in fire, and in winter remained for a long time in icy waters, and sometimes was even compelled to enter the tombs of the dead. After performing this penance she lived in such serenity and obtained such grace from the Lord that many times, seized in the spirit, she led the souls of the departed to purgatory without injury to herself, or escorted them through purgatory all the way to the kingdom of heaven."
2. This account of her, as we have said, was related by the venerable Bishop James. The rest I myself have written, an unworthy brother of the Order of Preachers, for the edification of my readers and especially for the glory of Christ. Though my writing is crude, I am at least certain of the truthfulness of the account that has been told me. And I can with good reason say that I am certain, since for many of the events I have described I have as many witnesses as there were people living at that time in the town of St. Trond. Nor did these events take place in seclusion, but in clear public view. Nor has so much time passed that these events have been forgotten, for as I write this no more than eight years have passed since her death. As for the other things which no one could know save her alone, these have been personally told to me by people who have sworn that they heard them from Christina herself.
3. And let him who reads of these events know that I have believed such witnesses, who would never stray from the truth even at the risk of their lives. We acknowledge what is true, that our tale surpasses all human understanding, since these things could in no way happen in the course of nature, and yet they are possible for the Creator. Nor would I in any way have presumed to write of these things, had not the venerable Bishop James already given his testimony on a great number of these matters. Let us then begin our task, and tell first of her upbringing, and then set forth the rest of her deeds, as we have learned of them by a most reliable and accurate narration.
4. So then the illustrious virgin of Christ Christina was born in the town of St. Trond in Hesbaye to honest parents. When her parents died she was left with two older sisters. Thereupon her sisters, desiring to pursue a religious way of life, decided that the elder sister should devote herself to prayer, the middle one should tend to the house, and the younger sister Christina should watch over the flocks as they went to graze. This was immediately done: and Christ the consoler did not forsake the one who was assigned the humbler and viler task. Nay, he grants to her the grace of inner sweetness, and he visited her often and made her privy to heavenly secrets. And yet she remained unknown to all, known to God alone, all the better known for being more secret: Whence He exalts saying through Isaiah: "My secret is mine, my secret is mine." For He is a bashful lover.
5. It happened then that her body grew weak from the inward practice of contemplation and she departed this life. Her lifeless body was then placed on view by her friends, and she was greatly mourned by her sisters. When morning came she was carried to the church. And when an offering of Masses was being made for her burial, her body suddenly stirred and rose up on the bier, and straightway she ascended upward like a bird to the rafters. Then all who were present fled save her oldest sister, who remained there in terror, and Christina stayed motionless in the rafters until the end of the Mass, constrained by the priest with the sacrament, and then she was compelled to descend; for, as some say, the subtlety of her spirit abhorred the odor of human bodies. Then she returned home with her sisters and was given food to restore her strength. Afterward her spiritual friends came to her and asked her to tell them what she had seen and experienced.
6. "As soon as I died," she said, "ministers of light, who are angels of God, received my spirit, and led me to a dark and horrible place that was filled with the souls of men. The torments that I saw in that place were so cruel and extreme that no tongue could suffice to describe them. And I saw there many departed whom I had known before in the flesh. Feeling great pity for these wretched souls I asked what place this was. I was thinking that it was hell. And my guides answered me: "This place is purgatory, in which repentant souls suffer punishment for their sins in life." Then they led me to the torments of hell, and I recognized there too some whom I had known when they were alive.
7. "Next I was brought to the throne of divine majesty in Paradise. And when I saw the Lord rejoicing and congratulating me, I was happy beyond all measure, thinking that I would remain thereafter with the Lord forever. And the Lord immediately responded to my desire: 'Truly, my dearest,' he said, 'you shall abide here with me; but now I give you two choices. You may either remain now here with me, or return to your body, and there through your mortal body undergo the punishments of the immortal soul without any harm to the body, and by these punishments rescue all those souls which you pitied in purgatory. In this way, by the example of your life and penance, the living might be converted to me and turn away from sin; and when all this is accomplished you may at last return to me and be rewarded with blessings in great abundance.' I answered without any hesitation that I chose to return under the condition that he had proposed.
8. "The Lord immediately praised me for my answer and bid that my soul be returned to its body. And behold how swift the angels are at the command of the Lord! For at the moment when the refrain, 'Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world,' was first recited at the Mass celebrated for me, my soul stood before the throne of divine majesty. But when 'Lamb of God' was said the third time, I was restored to my body by the swift angels. This was the manner of my departure and return, and I was granted new life for the reform of men. Now be not disturbed at those things you will see in me, because those things that God will ordain with me are beyond understanding. For such sights have not been seen among mortals." Hearing these things her friends were struck with wonder and waited in amazement to see what would transpire.
9. After this, then, Christina fled in wondrous terror from the presence of men, and took refuge in the wilderness, in trees, and atop towers or churches or other high places. They thought that she was possessed by demons, and after great effort they finally captured her and bound her in iron chains. Then she suffered many punishments and afflictions, being especially distressed by the odor of humans. One night, by the aid of God, the chains and fetters were loosened and she escaped, fleeing to the remote forests of the wilderness, where she lived in the trees like the birds. And when she was in need of food (for though her body was of a most subtle nature she could not live without nourishment) and was tormented by the sharpest hunger, she nevertheless chose not to return, but to remain alone with the Lord in the remote wilderness. And so uttering a prayer to God, she humbly asked that he look with compassion upon her anguish. Immediately she looked down and saw, contrary to the very laws of nature, her dry, virginal breasts dripping with sweet milk. A wondrous thing, and unheard of in all ages since the time of the incomparable Virgin Mother of Christ. Consuming then the flowing liquid for food, for nine weeks she was nursed on her own virginal milk. In the meanwhile she was sought by her people, who found her and seized her, and just as before bound her in iron chains; but in vain.
10. For she was set free by the Lord and came to the city of Liège. Craving the sacred flesh of the immaculate Paschal Lamb, she begged the priest of St. Christopher's to fortify her for her many sufferings with Holy Communion. And when the priest had promised to administer it, but said he was not free to do so for another hour, she could not suffer the delay and went to the priest of another church and begged for the body of Christ. He assented to her prayers and gave her communion. Then seized by a certain impulse, she suddenly fled and departed the city. The priest was astonished by her flight and ran after her. He was joined by the other priest, the priest of St. Christopher's, and they pursued her all the way to the river Meuse. Rejoicing that the water blocked her way and that they would be able to capture her, they are dumbstruck as they behold the woman, in a real body yet one that seemed a phantom's, enter the deep, swirling waters and emerge unharmed on the farther bank.
11. Then Christina began to perform those acts for which she had been sent by the Lord. She used to enter the fiery ovens in which bread was about to be baked, and was tormented by the flames just as one of us would be, so that she cried out horribly in pain, and yet when she emerged from the oven there were no outer signs of injury. When ovens were not available, she would throw herself into a large fire in a person's house, or place only her hands or feet in it, and hold them there for so long that it was only by a divine miracle they were not burned to ashes. She also climbed into cauldrons of boiling water that reached her chest, or her waist, depending on the size of the cauldron, and poured scalding water over the parts of her body that were not immersed, and shrieked like a woman in labor, but when she emerged there was no sign of injury.
12. In times of icy cold she would often remain beneath the waters of the Meuse River for a long time, even for six days or more. But the priest who was responsible for her care would come, and standing on the riverbank he would entreat her in the name of Christ, and then she was compelled to return. In winter too she used to stand beneath the mill wheel and let the water run over her head and limbs. Sometimes she used to float in the water and fall with the water upon the rotating wheel, and yet her body showed no sign of injury.
13. On the wheels that were once used to torture pirates, she used to bend her arms and legs the way that a torturer would, and yet when she descended her limbs were not broken. She used to go to the gibbet too, and hang herself with a noose among the robbers who were hanging there, and she would hang there suspended for one or two days. She also often entered the tombs of the dead and bewailed the sins of men.
14. Sometimes in the middle of the night she would arise and set all the dogs in the town of St. Trond to barking, and would run ahead of them like a fleeing animal, and the dogs would pursue her, and chase her through the woods and the thorny thickets, so that no part of her body was not torn, and yet when she had washed off the blood there was not a trace of a wound. She used to cut herself too with thorns and briars, so that her whole body seemed drenched with blood. Whence the many people who beheld this frequent sight marvelled at how there could be such an abundance of blood in a single body. Besides shedding her blood in these ways, she would also quite often draw a great deal of blood from a vein.
15. Her body was so thin and light that she could walk in high, steep places, and perch in the trees like a sparrow on the thinnest of branches.
16. When she wanted to pray she was compelled to retreat to the tops of trees or towers or other high places, so that isolated from others she might find rest for her spirit. At times too when she prayed, and the divine spirit of contemplation descended upon her, she curled her body up into a ball, as if she were made of warm wax, so that she was unrecognizable and seemed only a round mass. And then like a hedgehog her curled up body sprang back to its proper shape and her limbs were extended, which had previously been a shapeless blob. And she frequently stood erect atop hedge posts, where she would sing the Divine Office. It was clearly very painful for her at these times to touch the earth.
17. Because of this and similar behavior, her sisters and friends were embarrassed not a little, because men thought that she was full of demons. And so they met with a very strong and wicked man, whom they paid him to pursue and capture her, and bind her in iron chains. And that wicked man pursued her through the wilderness and was unable to grab her with his hands, and when he was finally able to lay a hand on her, he broke her shinbone with a club. She was carried home and her sisters engaged a physician to treat her broken shinbone. She was therefore taken to Liège in a wagon.
18. The physician, aware of her strength, shut her up in a cellar secured on all sides and she was bound fast with chains to a pillar and the doors were bolted. And when the physician had bound her shinbone with medicinal bandages and departed, Christina removed the bandages that had been applied, thinking it unworthy for her wounds to be treated by any physician other than our saviour Jesus Christ. Nor was her faith in the Almighty unrewarded. For one night, when the spirit of the divine had rushed into her, the chains with which she had been bound were loosened and she was healed of all discomfort. She walked about the floor of the cellar, dancing and praising and blessing Him for whom alone she had chosen to live and die. Her spirit, feeling itself cramped by the confines of the cellar, snatched up a rock from the floor and with a violent effort made a hole in the wall; and if I may be permitted to use a comparison, just as an arrow flies more swiftly the more tightly it is pulled back on the bow, so too, it is said, her spirit which was so tightly confined flew like a bird through the empty air along with her fleshly body.
19. Yet not even then did her sisters and friends cease to pursue her. For when she returned and they were able to capture her, they bound her fast with chains to a wooden stake. And she was fed like a dog on only water and a little bread. So that Christ then might reveal his miraculous power in her, he allowed her for a time to be subdued and to suffer tribulations. So then her buttocks and shoulders were chafed by the hardness of the wood and began to putrefy, and the pain of her wounds made her listless and she was unable to eat her bread. As there was no one who showed compassion for her sufferings, the Lord showed her pity in a miraculous way, and accomplished a wondrous miracle in her that was unknown to all previous generations. For her virginal breasts began to flow with the clearest oil. She used this as a seasoning for her dry bread, and as an ointment, and she rubbed it on the festering wounds of her body. When her sisters and friends saw this they began to weep, and offering no further resistance to the will of God in the miracles he performed in Christina, they freed her from her bonds, and throwing themselves on the ground they begged pardon for the wrong they had done her, and they sent her away free.
20. Having then the liberty to do as she pleased, she suffered punishments for the sins of men, as we have described above. And when many came every day from regions near and far to see the miraculous workings of God in Christina, the religious men and women who lived in the town were fearful lest the supreme wondrousness of the miracles might surpass human understanding, and the divine deeds turn the bestial minds of men to evil works. They were thinking especially of when in fleeing the presence of men she ascended high places like a bird, and remained for a long time in the water like a fish. They therefore beseeched the Lord with earnest prayers that he might temper his miracles in Christina and bring them more into accord with the human condition. Nor did the Lord spurn their prayers and pious tears.
21. It happened one day that she was violently agitated in the spirit, and fled to a certain church in the town of Wellen, and finding there a sacred baptismal font that was uncovered, she plunged herself into it. When this was done, it is said that from that time forward her manner of life was more in accord with the ways of men, and she was calmer, and could better endure the odors of humans, and could dwell among men.