Saint Matilda was daughter of Count Dietric (Theodoric) of Westphalia and Reinhild of Denmark. At a very early age her parents placed her under the care of her grandmother, Maud, abbess of Eufurt monastery, who had renounced the world upon her widowhood. Matilda relished the life of prayer and spiritual reading. Like all young ladies she learned the refined skill of needlework. She remained in the convent until her parents married her to Henry, son of Duke Otto of Saxony, in 909 (some vitae push all the dates for marriage and crowning by several years).
It was her delight to visit and comfort the sick and the afflicted, to serve and instruct the poor, and to show charity to prisoners, procuring their freedom if justice would permit it or easing their suffering by liberal alms. Her husband, edified by her example, concurred with her in every pious undertaking.
After twenty-seven years of marriage, Matilda and Henry were separated by his death in 936. During his last illness, Matilda went to the church to pour forth her soul in prayer for him at the foot of the altar. As soon as she understood, by the tears and cries of the people, that he had expired, she called for a priest that was fasting, to offer the holy sacrifice for his soul; and at the same time cut off the jewels which she wore, and gave them to the priest as a pledge that she renounced from that moment the pomp of the world.
She had three sons (one source says five); Otto, afterwards emperor; Henry, duke of Bavaria who is known as "the Quarrelsome"; and Saint Bruno, archbishop of Cologne. Henry was the better suited to succeed his father, but Otto, the eldest, was elected. Otto was crowned king of Germany in 937. Matilda, in the contest between her two elder sons for the elected crown, favored her middle son, Henry, a fault she expiated by severe afflictions and penance. When Otto (the Great) was elected, she persuaded him to name Henry duke of Bavaria after he had led an unsuccessful revolt.
These two sons conspired to strip her of her dowry, on the unjust charge that she had squandered away the revenues of the state on the poor. This persecution was long and cruel, especially because it came at the hands of her precious sons. She retired to her country home but was later recalled to the court at the insistence of Otto's wife, Edith. The errant princes were reconciled to her and restored her all they had taken. She then became more liberal in her alms than ever.
When Henry again revolted, Otto put down the insurrection in 941 with great cruelty. Matilda censured Henry when he began another revolt against Otto in 953 and for his ruthlessness in suppressing a revolt by his own subjects; at that time she prophesied his imminent death. Yet, the testimony of her son Henry is powerful. He told her: "Oh, my very dear one, in all things you have given us excellent advice: how many times have you changed iniquity to justice."
After Henry's death in 955, she devoted herself to building many churches and four religious houses, including Engern, Pöhlde in Brunswick (where she maintained 3,000 monks), Quedlinburg in Saxony (where she buried her husband), and Nordhausen, where she retired in her later years. When she had finished the buildings, Quedlinburg became her usual retreat. After his victories over the Bohemians and Lombards, Matilda governed the kingdom when Otto went to Rome in 962 to be crowned emperor, which is often regarded as the beginning of the Holy Roman Empire.
During the last of her 32 years of widowhood, Matilda entered one of the convents she had founded at Nordhausen. She applied herself totally to her devotions, and to works of mercy. It was her greatest pleasure to teach the poor and ignorant how to pray, as she had formerly taught her servants. In her last sickness she made her confession to her grandson William, the archbishop of Mentz, who yet died twelve days before her, on his road home. She again made a public confession before the priests and monks of the place, received a second time the last sacraments, and lying on a sackcloth with ashes on her head. Her body remains at Quedlinburg, where she is buried beside her husband. The Benedictines venerate her as one of their oblates.