University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
The History Collection

Eckenstein, Lina, d. 1931 / Woman under monasticism: chapters on saint-lore and convent life between A.D. 500 and A.D. 1500 (1896)

Previous Previous section

Next section Next



 

[chapter ii]

  [p. 45]  

CONVENTS AMONG THE FRANKS, A.D. 550--650.

'Sicut enim apis diversa genera forum congregabat, unde mella conficiat, sic illa ab his quos invitabat spirituales studebat carpere flosculos, unde boni opens fructum tam sibi quam suis sequacibus exhiberet.The nun Baudonivia on St Radegund (Vita, c. 13).

At the Frankish Invasion.[1*]

THE great interest of early monastic life among the Franks lies in the conversion of this hardy and ferocious people to Christianity just at the moment of their emergence from a state of barbarism. Fierce, warlike and progressive, the Franks were brought face to face with cultured Latinity. The clerical student who claimed direct descent from the Gallo-Roman rhetorician, and the bishop who was in possession of the municipal government of the town, found themselves confronted by shaggy-haired, impetuous men from forest wilds. At the outset an all but immeasurable distance separated the social and intellectual development of the Gallo Roman from that of these strangers. Compared with the cultivated man of letters and with the veteran, grown grey in imperial service, the German invader was little more than a savage; nevertheless he succeeded in holding his own. At first his standards of life and conduct gave way before those of the Gallo-Romans. The Jives of early Frankish princes, as their contemporary, the historian Gregory of Tours, depicts them, are marked by ceaseless quarrels and feuds, by numberless instances of murder, perjury and violence. The bonds of union among them were forcibly relaxed, as often happens in those periods of history when restraint and responsibility are broken through by a sudden and overwhelming inrush of new ideas. A prey to intemperance and greed, the descendants of the   [p. 46]   great Merovech dwindled away. But other men of the same race, stronger than they in mind and less prone to enervating luxury, pressed in from behind. And after the temporary mental and moral collapse which followed upon the occupation of Gaul by the Franks, the race rose to new and increased vigour. New standards of conduct were evolved and new conceptions of excellence arose, through the mingling of Latin and German elements. For the great Roman civilization, a subject of wonder and admiration to all ages, was in many of its developments realized, appropriated, and assimilated by the converted Germans. Three hundred years after their appearance in Gaul, the Franks were masters of the cultivated western world; they had grasped the essentials of a common nationality and had spread abroad a system of uniform government.

The Franks at first showed a marked deficiency in the virtues which pagan Rome had established, and to which Christianity had given a widened and spiritualized meaning. Temperance, habitual self-control and the absorption of self in the consciousness of a greater, formed no part of this people's character. . These virtues, together with peaceableness and a certain simplicity of taste, laid the groundwork of the monasticism which preceded the invasion. Persons who were vowed to religion were averse to war, because it disturbed study and industry, and they shrank from luxury of life, because it interrupted routine by exciting their appetites. An even tenor of life was the golden mean they set before themselves, and in some degree they had realized it in Roman Gaul before the barbarian invasion.

The Frank at first felt little tempted in the direction of monastic life. His fierce and warlike tendencies, love of personal predominance and glory, and impatience of every kind of restraint, were directly opposed to the uniform round of devotion and work to which the religious devotee conformed.

The attitude of Frankish men towards monasticism was at best passive; on the other hand convent life from the first found sympathy among Frankish women. Princesses of pure German blood and of undisputed German origin left the royal farms, which were the court residences of the period, and repaired to the religious houses, to devote themselves to religion and to the learning of cultured Latinity. Not one of the princes of the royal Frankish race entered a convent of his own accord, but their wives, widows, and daughters readily joined houses of religion.

Meekness and devotion, self-denial and subservience are not the   [p. 47]   most prominent features in the character of these women. The wives and daughters of men to whom Macaulay attributes all vices and no virtues, are of a temper which largely savours of the world. What distinguishes them is quick determination and clear-sighted appreciation of the possibilities opened out to them by the religious life. Fortunately the information which we have concerning them is not confined to the works of interested eulogists. Accounts of women whom posterity estimated as saints lay stress on those sides of their character which are in accord with virtues inculcated by the Church. But we have other accounts besides these about women who had taken the vows of religion, but whose behaviour called forth violent denunciations from their contemporaries. And over and above these, passages in profane literature are extant which curiously illustrate the worldly tone and temper of many women who had adopted religion as a profession.

These women were driven to resort to convents chiefly as the result of their contact with a great civilization, which threw open unknown and tempting possibilities to men, but raised many difficulties in the way of women.

The resources of the districts acquired by the Franks were immeasurably greater than those of the lands they had left. Wealth and intemperance readily join hands. The plurality of recognised and unrecognised wives in which the Frankish princes indulged resulted in great family difficulties. The royal farms and the ancient cities, where these petty kings resided, were the scenes of continual broils and squabbles in which royal wives and widows took the leading parts. From the chequered existence which this state of things implies, convent life alone afforded a permanent refuge. Sometimes a princess left home from a sense of the indignities she was made to suffer; sometimes a reverse of fortune caused her to accept, willingly or unwillingly, the dignified retirement of the cloister.

During the centuries preceding the Frankish conquest the development of religious and monastic life in Gaul had been considerable, for the Church had practically appropriated what was left of the Roman system of organization, and since this system had been chiefly municipal, the municipal bodies were largely composed of bishops and clerks.

The monastic life of men in Gaul had a number of independent centres in the western provinces, due to the enthusiastic zeal of St Martin of Tours († 400), to whom reference has been made.

  [p. 48]  

In the beginning of the 6th century a settlement of nuns was founded in the south, where monasteries already existed, perhaps as the result of direct contact with the east. A rule of life was drafted for this convent shortly after its foundation.

Caesarius, bishop of ArIes (501--573), had persuaded his sister Caesaria to leave Marseilles, where she dwelt in a convent associated with the name of Cassian. His plan was that she should join him at Aries, and preside over the women who had gathered there to live and work under his guidance.

Caesarius now marked out a scheme of life for his sister and those women whom she was prepared to direct. He arranged it, as he says himself, according to the teachings of the fathers of the Church and, after repeated modifications, he embodied it in a set of rules, which have come down to us.[2*] Great clearness and directness, a high moral tone, and much sensible advice are contained in these precepts of Caesarius. Since the Lord,' he says, addressing himself to the women, 'has willed to inspire us and help us to found a monastery for you, in order that you may abide in this monastery, we have culled spiritual and holy injunctions for you from the ancient fathers; with God's help may you be sheltered, and dwelling in the cells of your monastery, seeking in earnest prayer the presence of the Son of God, may you say in faith, "we have found him whom we sought." Thus may you be of the number of holy virgins devoted to God, who wait with tapers alight and a calm conscience, calling upon the Lord--Since you are aware that I have worked towards establishing this monastery for you, let me be one of you through the intercession of your prayer.

Caesarius goes on to stipulate that those who join the community, whether they be maidens or widows, shall enter the house once for all and renounce all claims to outside property. Several paragraphs of the rule are devoted to settling questions of property, a proof of its importance in the mind of Caesarius. There were to be in the house only those who of their own accord accepted the routine and were prepared to live on terms of strictest equality without property or servants of their own.

Children under the age of six or seven were not to be received   [p. 49]   at all, 'nor shall daughters of noble parentage or lowly-born girls be taken in readily to be brought up and educated.'

This latter injunction shows how the religious at this period wished to keep the advantages to be derived from artistic and intellectual training in their own community. They had no desire for the spread of education, which forms so characteristic a feature of the religious establishments of a later date.

After their safe housing the instruction of the nuns at Aries was the most important matter dealt with in the 'rule.' Considerable time and thought were devoted to the practice of chants and to choir-singing, for the art of music was considered especially fitted to celebrate God. In an appendix to the rule of Caesarius the system of singing is described as similar to that adopted in the ceonobite settlement at Lerins.[3*] Apparently following Keltic usage, the chant was taken up in turn by relays of the professed, who kept it up night and day all the year round in perpetual praise of the Divinity. At this period melody and pitch were the subjects of close study and much discussion. The great debt owed by the art of music to the enthusiasm of these early singers is often overlooked.

The women who joined the community at ArIes also learned reading and writing ('omnes litteras discant'). These arts were practised in classes, while domestic occupations, such as cooking, were performed in turns. Weaving, probably that of church hangings, was among the arts practised, and the women also spun wool and wove it into material with which they made garments for their own use.

There are further injunctions about tending the infirm, and stern advice about the hatefulness of quarrels. Intercourse with the outside world is restricted, but is not altogether cut off.

'Dinners and entertainments,' says the rule, 'shall not be provided for churchmen, laymen and friends, but women from other religious houses may be received and entertained.'

In the year 506 Caesarius, the author of this rule, was present at the synod of Agde at which it was decreed that no nun however good in character should receive the veil, that is be permanently bound by a vow, before her fortieth year.[4*] This decree, taken together with the rule, proves the sober and serious spirit of   [p. 50]   these early settlements and the purpose which their founder set before him.

The teaching of Caesarius generally reflects the spirit of cautious reserve characteristic of the rule instituted by the great St Benedict of Nursia for the monks he had assembled together on Monte Casino in Central Italy. His efforts like those of Caesarius were directed to the creation of conditions favourable to the devoutly disposed, not to the leavening of the outside world by the spread of Christian doctrine.

It was part of the plan of Caesarius to secure independence to the communities he had founded; for in his capacity as bishop he addressed a letter to Pope Hormisda († 523) in which he asked the Pope's protection for his monasteries, one of which was for men and one for women, against possible interference from outside. He also begged that the Pope would confirm the grants of property which had already been made to these establishments. In his reply to this letter the Pope declared that the power of the bishop in regard to these settlements should be limited to visitation.[5*]

It must be borne in mind that Arles and the southern parts of Gaul were overrun by the Goths, who inclined to Arianism and opposed the Church of Rome. Fear of this heresy induced the prelates of the Church to favour Frankish rule. After the alliance of the Frankish kings with the Church the religious establishments in the land remained undisturbed, and numerous new monasteries were founded.

It is evident from what we know of the nuns at Arles, and of other bands of women whom the Church took under her protection, that they readily accepted life on the conditions proffered and were content to be controlled and protected by men. It is only when the untamed German element with its craving for self-assertion came in, that difficulties between the bishops and heads of nunneries arose, that women of barbarian origin like Radegund, Chrodield, and others, appealed to the authority of ruling princes against the bishop, and asserted an independence not always in accordance with the usual conceptions of Christian virtue and tolerance.

  [p. 51]  

St Radegund and the Nunnery at Poitiers

Certain settlements for women in northern France claim to have existed from a very early period, chiefly on the ground of their association with Genevive, patron saint of Paris, and with Chrothild (Clothilde, † 545), wife of the first Christian king of the Franks. The legend of St Genevive must be received with caution;[6*] while bands of women certainly dwelt at Paris and elsewhere previously to the Frankish invasion, under the protection of the Church, it is doubtful whether they owed their existence to Genevive.

A fictitious glamour of sanctity has been cast by legendary lore around the name and the doings of Queen Chrothild, because her union with King Clovis, advocated by the Gallo-Roman Church party, led to his conversion to Christianity.[7*] In the pages of Gregory's history the real Chrothild stands out imperious, revengeful and unscrupulous. It is quite credible that she did service for a time as deaconess (diacona) at the church of Tours, and that she founded a religious house for women at the royal farm Les Andelys near Rouen, but we can hardly believe that the life she lived there was that of a devout nun.

Radegund of Poitiers and Ingetrud of Tours are the first Frankish women who are known to have founded and ruled over; nunneries in France. Their activity belongs to the latter half of the 6th century, which is a date somewhat later than that of the official acceptance of Christianity, and one at which the overlordship of the Franks was already well established throughout France. The settlements they founded lay in close proximity to cities which were strongholds of Church government. Poitiers had become an important religious centre through the influence of St Hilary, and Tours, to which the shrine of St Martin attracted many travellers, was of such importance that it has been called the centre of religion and culture in France at this period.

The historian Gregory, afterwards bishop of Tours, to whom we are largely indebted for our knowledge of this period, was personally acquainted with the women at Tours and at Poitiers. He probably owed his appointment to the bishopric of Tours in 573 to the favour he had found with Radegund.[8*] He has treated   [p. 52]   of her in his history and has written an account of her burial at which he officiated,[9*] whilst a chapter of his book on the Glory of Martyrs praises the fragment of the Holy Cross,[10*] which had been sent to Radegund from Constantinople and from which the nunnery at Poitiers took its name.

Besides this information two drafts of the life of Radegund are extant, the one written by her devoted friend and admirer the Latin poet Fortunatus, afterwards bishop of Poitiers, the other by the nun Baudonivia, Radegund's pupil and an inmate of her nunnery.[11*] Fortunatus has moreover celebrated his intercourse with Radegund in a number of verses, which throw great light on their interesting personal relations.[12*]

A letter is also extant written by Radegund herself and preserved by Gregory in which she addresses a number of bishops on the objects of her nunnery. She begs the prelates of the Church to protect her institution after her death and, if need be, assist those who are carrying on life there in her spirit against hindrance from without and opposition from within. The letter is in the usual wordy style of the Latin of that day.

'Freed from the claims of a worldly life, with divine help and holy grace, I,' she says,'have willingly chosen the life of religion at the direction of Christ; turning my thoughts and powers towards helping others, the Lord assisting me that my good intentions towards them may be turned to their weal. With the assistance of gifts granted me by the noble lord and king Clothacar, I have founded a monastery (monasterium) for maidens (puellae); after founding it I made it a grant of all that royal liberality had bestowed on me; moreover to the band assembled by me with Christ's help, I have given the rule according to which the holy Caesaria lived, and which the holy president (antistes) Caesarius of Arles wisely compiled from the teachings of the holy fathers. With the consent of the noble bishop of this district and others, and at the desire of our congregation, I have accepted as abbess my sister, dame Agnes, whom from youth upwards I have loved and educated as a daughter; and next to God's will I have conformed   [p. 53]   to her authority. I myself, together with my sisters, have followed the apostolic example and have granted away by charter all our worldly possessions, in fearful remembrance of Ananias and Sapphira, retaining nought of our own. But since the events and duration of human life are uncertain, since also the world is drawing to its close (mundo in finem currente), many serving their own rather than the divine will, I myself, impelled by the love of God, submit to you this letter, which contains my request, begging you to carry it out in the name of Christ.'[13*]

Radegund was one of an unconquered German race. Her father was Hermafried, leader of the Thuringians, her mother a grandniece of the great Gothic king, Theodoric. She was captured as a child together with her brother in the forest wilds of Thuringen during one of the raids made into that district by the Frankish kings Theuderic (Thierry) of Metz, and Clothacar (Clothair) of Soissons. Clothacar appropriated the children as part of his share of the booty and sent Radegund to a 'villa' in the neighbourhood of Aties, in what became later the province of Picardie, where she was brought up and educated. 'Besides occupations usual to those of her sex,' her biographer says, 'she had a knowledge of letters' (litteris est erudita). From Aties she vainly tried to make her escape, and at the age of about twelve was taken to the royal farm near Soissons and there married to Clothacar.[14*] In the list of King Clothacar's seven recognised wives Radegund stands fifth.[15*]

From the first Radegund was averse to this union. She was wedded to an earthly bridegroom but not therefore divided from the heavenly one.[16*] Her behaviour towards her husband as described by her biographers can hardly be called becoming to her station as queen. She was so devoted to charitable work, we are told, that she often kept the king waiting at meals, a source of great annoyance to him, and under some pretext she frequently left him at night. If a man of learning came to the court she would devote herself to him, entirely neglecting her duty to the king.[17*] Quarrels between the couple were frequent, and the king declared that he was married to a nun rather than to a queen.[18*] The murder of her younger brother finally turned the   [p. 54]   balance of the queen's feelings against the king. With fearless determination she broke down all barriers. She was not lacking in personal courage, and had once calmly confronted a popular uproar caused by her having set fire to a sacred grove.[19*] Now, regardless of consequences, she left the court and went to Noyon, where she sought the protection of Bishop Medardus († 545), who was influential among the many powerful prelates of his day.[20*] But the bishop hesitated, his position was evidently not so assured that he could, by acceding to the queen's request, risk drawing on himself the king's anger.[21*] However Radegund's stern admonition prevailed: 'If you refuse to consecrate me,' she cried, 'a lamb will be lost to the flock.'[22*] Medardus so far consented as to consecrate her a deaconess, a term applied at the time to those who, without belonging to any special order, were under the protection of the Church.

In the oratory of St Jumer Radegund now offered up the embroidered clothes and jewelry she was wearing, her robe (indumentum), her precious stones (gemma), and her girdle weighty with gold. Both her biographers[23*] lay stress on this act of self-denial, which was the more noteworthy as love of gorgeous apparel and jewelry was characteristic of early Frankish royalty. Kings and queens were content to live in rural dwellings which were little more than barns; life in cities was altogether uncongenial to them, but they made up for this by a display of sumptuous clothes as a mark of their rank. Already during her life with the king Radegund is described as longing for a hair-cloth garment as a sign of unworldliness. She now definitely adopted the raiment of a nun, a dress made of undyed wool.

She subsequently wandered westwards from Noyon and came into the district between Tours and Poitiers, where she settled for some time at a 'villa' her husband had given her called Sais.[24*] She entered into friendly relations with the recluse Jean of Chinon (Johannes Monasteriensis[25*] ), a native of Brittany, who with many   [p. 55]   other recluses like himself enjoyed the reputation of great holiness. Jean of Chinon is represented as strengthening Radegund in her resolution to devote herself to religion, and it is probable that he helped her with practical advice.

Radegund now devoted herself to the relief of distress of every kind, her practical turn of mind leading her to offer help in physical as well as in mental cases. Her biographer tells us how--like a new Martha, with a love of active life--she shrank from no disease, not even from leprosy.[26*]

When she saw how many men and women sought her relief the wish to provide permanently for them arose. She owned property outside Poitiers which she devoted to founding a settlement for women; in all probability she also had a house for men near it.[27*] Various references to the settlement show that it extended over a considerable area. Like other country residences or 'villae,' it was surrounded by walls and had the look of a fortress, although situated in a peaceful district. As many as two hundred nuns lived here at the time of Radegunds death.[28*] When the house was ready to receive its inmates, they entered it in a procession starting from Poitiers. We hear that by this time the doings of Radegund 'had so far increased her reputation that crowds collected on the roofs to see them pass.

King Clothacar, however, did not calmly submit to being deserted by his wife; he determined to go to Poitiers with his son to find her and to take her back. But the queen, firm in her resolve, declared she would sooner die than return to her husband. She notified this resolution to Bishop Germanus of Paris, who besought the king not to go to Poitiers. His entreaties were successful. Clothacar left his wife unmolested, and seems to have come to some kind of agreement with her. In her letter to the bishops, Radegund speaks of him as the noble lord, King Clothacar, not as her husband.

Radegund did not herself preside over the women in her nunnery. With their consent the youthful Agnes, the pupil of Radegund, but by no means her intellectual equal, was appointed abbess. Difficulties very soon occurred between Radegund and the bishop of Poitiers, who was probably jealous of her attracting   [p. 56]   religious women from himself. Radegund is said to have gone to Aries in order to learn about the life of the women gathered together there. Against the accuracy of this statement it is urged[29*] that a written copy of the rule, together with an eloquent exhortation to religious perfection and virtue, was forwarded from Aries by the Abbess Caesaria († c. 560), the second of that name.

The rule was established in Poitiers in 559. In the previous year King Clothacar, Radegund's husband, through the death of his brothers and their sons, had become sole king of France.[30*] His monarchy thus included the whole of what is now called France, the contiguous districts of Burgundy and Thuringen, and the lands which had been taken from the Goths in Italy and Spain. This great kingdom remained united for a few years only. In 561 Clothacar died arid his realm was divided by his four sons, with whose reigns a tempestuous period begins in the history of the Franks. During more than forty years the rivalry and jealousy of the monarchs, aggravated by the mutual hatred of the queens Brunihild and Fredegund, overwhelmed the country with plots, counterplots, and unceasing warfare.

An eloquent appeal to the kings was called forth from the historian Gregory by the contemplation of this state of things. It is contained in the preface to the fifth book of his history. Calling upon them to desist from the complications of civil war, he thus addresses them:

'What are you bent on? What do you ask for? Have you not all in plenty? There is luxury in your homes; in your storehouses wine, corn, and oil abound; gold and silver are heaped up in your treasuries. One thing only you lack; while you have not peace, you have not the grace of God. Why must the one snatch things from the other? Why must the one covet the other's goods?'

Living at Poitiers Radegund was close to the scene of these turmoils. The cities of Tours and Poitiers had fallen to the share of Charibert. When he died in 562 his kingdom was divided between his three brothers by cities rather than by districts. Tours and Poitiers fell to Sigebert of Rheims, who was comparatively peace-loving among these brothers. But his brother Chilperic of Soissons, dissatisfied with his own share, invaded Touraine and Poitou and forced Poitiers to submit to him. He was subsequently   [p. 57]   made to give way to Sigebert, but this did not bring their feuds to an end. In 575 Sigebert was raised on the shield and proclaimed king of Neustria (the western part of France), but on being lifted down from the shield he was forthwith assassinated. New complications resulted and new factions were formed. In the interest of her son, Brunihild, the powerful widow of Sigebert, pursued with inveterate hatred Chilperic and his wife, the renowned Fredegund, for she looked upon Fredegund as the assassin of Sigebert her husband and of Galesuith her sister.

Radegund had close relations with these impetuous, headstrong and combative persons. King Sigebert was throughout well disposed towards her.

'In order to show his love and affection for her,' says Gregory,[31*] 'he sent a deputation of ecclesiastics to the Emperor Justinus II and his wife Sophia at Constantinople.' The Franks entertained friendly relations with the imperial court, and the surviving members of Radegund's family had found a refuge there. In due course gifts were sent to Radegund,--a fragment of the Holy Cross set in gold and jewels, together with other relics of apostles and martyrs. These relics arrived at Tours some time between 566 and 573.[32*] It was Radegund's wish that they should be fetched from Tours to her nunnery by a procession headed by the bishop of Poitiers. But Bishop Maroveus, who was always ready to thwart the queen, forthwith left for his country seat when he heard of her request.[33*] Radegund, much incensed, applied in her difficulty to King Sigebert, and Eufronius, bishop of Tours, was ordered to conduct the translation.

Radegund's adoption of the religious profession in no way diminished her intercourse with the outside world or the influence she had had as queen. We find her described as living on terms of friendship with Queen Brunihild 'whom she loved dearly.' Even Queen Fredegund, Brunihild's rival and enemy, seems to have had some kind of intimacy with her Fortunatus in one of his poems suggests that Fredegund had begged Radegund to offer prayers for the prosperity of her husband Chilperic.

It seems that Radegund's word was generally esteemed, for in a family feud when a certain Gundovald claimed to be the son of Clothacar and aspired to the succession, we find him coupling   [p. 58]   the name of Radegund with that of Ingetrud in asseveration of his statements.

'If you would have the truth of what I declare proven,' Gundovald exclaimed, 'go and enquire of Radegund of Poitiers and of Ingetrud of Tours; they will tell you that what I maintain is the truth.'[34*]

In an age of endless entanglements, Radegund evidently did her best to mediate between contending parties. 'She was always favourable to peace and interested in the weal of the realm whatever changes befell,' writes the nun Baudonivia.[35*] 'She esteemed the kings and prayed for their welfare, and taught us nuns always to pray for their safety. If she heard that they had fallen out she felt troubled: and she appealed in writing, sometimes to one, sometimes to another, in order that they should not fight and war together, but keep peaceful, so that the country might rest securely. Similarly she exhorted the leaders to help the great princes with sensible advice, in order that the common people and the lands under their rule might prosper.

What is here said of her peace-loving disposition is corroborated by traits in her character mentioned by Gregory and Fortunatus. The friendly intercourse between Radegund and Fortunatus necessitates a few remarks on the life and doings of this latter-day Roman poet before he came to Poitiers and entered the Church.

For years Fortunatus had lived the life of a fashionable man of letters at Ravenna, but about the year 568 the occupation of that city by the Langobards forced him to leave Italy. He wandered north from court to court, from city to city, staying sometimes with a barbarian prince, sometimes with a Church-prelate, who, one and the other, were equally ready to entertain the cultivated southerner. In return for the hospitality so liberally bestowed on him he celebrated his personal relations to his benefactors in complimentary verses. He has good wishes for prelates on the occasion of their appointment, flattering words for kings, and pleasant greetings for friends. In some of his poems he gives interesting descriptions of the districts through which he has travelled, his account of a part of the Rhine valley being specially graphic.[36*] He glorifies the saints of the Church in terms formerly used for celebrating classic divinities, and addresses Bishop Me   [p. 59]   dardus of Noyon as the possessor of Olympus.[37*] He even brings in Venus to celebrate a royal wedding, and lets her utter praises of the queen Brunihild.[38*]

Besides these poetical writings Fortunatus has left prose accounts of several of his contemporaries. An easy-going man of pleasant disposition, he combined in a curious way the traditions of cultured Latinity with the theological bent peculiar to the Christian literature of the day. His poems, though somewhat wanting in ideas, show a ready power of versification and a great facility in putting things politely and pleasantly. He wrote some hymns for church celebration which became widely known. The one beginning 'Pange, lingua, gloriosi' was adopted into the Roman Liturgy for the adoration of the Cross on Good Friday, and it was repeatedly modified and re-written during the Middle Ages. Another hymn written by him is the celebrated 'Vexilla regis prodeunt,' the words of which are comparatively poor, but the tune, the authorship of which is unknown, has secured it world-wide fame.[39*]

The relic of the Holy Cross kept at Poitiers may have inspired Fortunatus with the idea of composing these hymns; in a flattering epistle, written obviously at Radegund's request, he thanks Justinus and Sophia of Constantinople for the splendour of their gift to her.[40*]

Fortunatus had come to Tours on a pilgrimage to the shrine of St Martin, to whose intercession he attributed the restoration of his eyesight. Passing through Poitiers he made the acquaintance of Radegund, who at once acquired a great influence over him.

'Radegund wished me to stay, so I stayed,' he writes from Poitiers to some friends,[41*] and he enlarges on the superiority, intellectual and otherwise, of the queen, whose plain clothing and simple mode of life greatly impressed him. Naming Eustachia, Fabiola, Melania, and all the other holy women he can think of, he describes how she surpasses them all. 'She exemplifies whatever is praiseworthy in them,' he says; 'I come across deeds in her such as I only read about before. Her spirit is clothed with flesh that has been overcome, and which while yet abiding in her body holds all things cheap as dross. Dwelling on earth, she has entered heaven, and freed from the shackles of sense, seeks companionship in the   [p. 60]   realms above. All pious teaching is food to her; whether taught by Gregory or Basil, by bold Athanasius or gentle Hilary (two who were companions in the light of one cause); whether thundered by Ambrose or flashed forth by Jerome; whether poured forth by Augustine in unceasing flow, by gentle Sedulius or subtle Orosius. It is as though the rule of Caesarius had been written for her. She feeds herself with food such as this and refuses to take meat unless her mind be first satisfied. I will not say more of what by God's witness is manifest. Let everyone who can send her poems by religious writers; they will be esteemed as great gifts though the books be small. For he who gives holy writings to her may hold himself as giving to the accepted temples (templa) of God.'

Judging from this passage, Nisard, the modern editor of Fortunatus, thinks it probable that Radegund was acquainted with Greek as well as with Latin,[42*] a statement which one cannot endorse.

The queen was much interested in the poet's writings. 'For many years,' he writes in one poem, 'I have been here composing verses at your order; accept these in which I address you in the terms you merit.'[43*]

Radegund too wrote verses under Fortunatus' guidance. 'You have sent me great verses on small tablets,' he writes. 'You succeed in giving back honey to dead wax; on festal days you prepare grand entertainments, but I hunger more for your words than for your food. The little poems you send are full of pleasing earnestness; you charm our thoughts by these words.'[44*]

Among the poems of Fortunatus are found two which modern criticism no longer hesitates in attributing to Radegund. They are epistles in verse written in the form of elegies, and were sent by the queen to some of her relatives at Constantinople. Judging by internal evidence a third poem, telling the story of Galesuith, Queen Brunihild's sister, who was murdered shortly after her marriage to King Chilperic, was composed by her also; though Nisard claims for her not the form of the poem but only its inspiration.[45*] 'The cry,' he says, 'which sounds through these lines, is the cry of a woman. Not of a German woman only, who has in her the expression of tender and fiery passion, but a suggestion of the strength of a woman of all countries and for all time.' The lament in this poem is intoned by several women in turn. Whoever may   [p. 61]   have composed it, the depth of feeling which it displays is certainly most remarkable.

One of these poems written by Radegund is addressed to her cousin Hermalafred, who had fled from Thüringen when Radegund was captured, and who had afterwards taken service in the imperial army of Justinian.[46*] Hermalafred was endeared to Radegund by the recollections of her childhood, and in vivid remembrance of events which had made her a captive she begins her letter[47*] in the following strain:

'Sad is condition of war! Jealous is fate of human things! How proud kingdoms are shattered by a sudden fall! Those long-prosperous heights (culmina) lie fallen, destroyed by fire in the great onset. Flickering tongues of flame lapped round the dwelling which before rose in royal splendour. Grey ashes cover the glittering roof which rose on high shining with burnished metal. Its rulers are captive in the enemy's power, its chosen bands have fallen to lowly estate. The crowd of comely servants all dwelling, together were smitten to the dust in one day; the brilliant circle, the multitude of powerful dependents, no grave contains them, they lack the honours of death. More brilliant than the fire shone the gold of her hair, that of my father's sister, who lay felled to the ground, white as milk. Alas, for the corpses unburied that cover the battle-field, a whole people collected together in one burial place. Not Troy alone bewails her destruction, the land of Thüringen has experienced a like carnage. Here a matron in fetters is dragged away by her streaming hair, unable to bid a sad farewell to her household gods. The captive is not allowed to press his lips to the threshold, nor turn his face towards what he will never more behold. Bare feet in their tread trample in the blood of a husband, the loving sister passes over her brother's corpse. The child still hangs on its mother's lips though snatched from her embrace; in funeral wail no tear is shed. Less sad is the fate of the child who loses its life, the gasping mother has lost even the power of tears. Barbarian though I am, I could not surpass the weeping though my tears flowed for ever. Each had his sorrow, I had it all, my private grief was also the public grief. Fate was kind to those whom the enemy cut down; I alone survive to weep over the many. But not only do I sorrow for my dead relatives, those too I deplore whom life has preserved. Often my   [p. 62]   tear-stained face is at variance with my eyes; my murmurs are silenced, but my grief is astir. I look and long for the winds to bring me a message, from none of them comes there a sign. Hard fate has snatched from my embrace the kinsman by whose loving presence I once was cheered. Ah, though so far away, does not my solicitude pursue thee? has the bitterness of misfortune taken away thy sweet love? Recall what from thy earliest age upwards, o Hermalafred, I, Radegund, was ever to thee. How much thou didst love me when I was but an infant; 0 son of my father's brother, O most beloved among those of my kin! Thou didst supply for me the place of my dead father, of my esteemed mother, of a sister and of a brother. Held by thy gentle hand, hanging on thy sweet kisses, as a child I was soothed by thy tender speech. Scarce a time there was when the hour did not bring thee, now ages go by and I hear not a word from thee! I wrestle with the wild anguish that is hidden in my bosom; oh, that I could call thee back, friend, whenever or wherever it might be. If father, or mother, or royal office has hitherto held thee, though thou didst hasten now to me, thy coming is late. Perhaps 'tis a sign of fate that I shall soon miss thee altogether, dearest, for unrequited affection cannot long continue. I used to be anxious when one house did not shelter us; when thou wast absent, I thought thee gone for ever. Now the east holds thee as the west holds me; the ocean's waters restrain me, and thou art kept away from me by the sea reddened by the beams of the sun (unda rubri). The earth's expanse stretches between those who are dear to each other, a world divides those whom no distance separated before.'

She goes on to speculate where her cousin may be, and she says if she were not held by her monastery she would go to him; storm and wind and the thought of shipwreck would be nothing to her. The fear of incriminating her, she says, was the cause of the death of her murdered brother. Would that she had died instead of him! She beseeches Hermalafred to send news of himself and of his sisters, and ends her letter with these words: 'May Christ grant my prayer, may this letter reach those beloved ones, so that a letter indited with sweet messages may come to me in return! May the sufferings wrought by languishing hope be alleviated by the swift advent of sure tidings!'

This poem expresses great and lasting affection for her race. But her relatives were a source of continued grief to the queen. She received no reply to her letter to Hermalafred, and later she   [p. 63]   heard of his death. She received this news from his nephew Artachis, who sent her at the same time a present of silk, and Radegund then wrote another letter[48*] which is addressed to Artachis and is even sadder in tone. In it she deplores the death of Hermalafred, and asks the boy Artachis to let her have frequent news of himself sent to her monastery.

It is pleasant to turn from the sad side of Radegund's life which these poems exhibit to her friendly intercourse with Fortunatus, which was no doubt a source of great comfort to her during the last years of her life. With the exception of short intervals for journeys, the Latin poet lived entirely at Poitiers, where he adopted the religious profession, and dwelt in constant communication with Radegund and the abbess Agnes, in whose society he learned to forget the land of his birth. The numerous poems and verses which he has addressed to these ladies throw a strong light on his attitude towards them and their great affection for him.

Radegund was wont to decorate the altar of her' church with a profusion of flowers.[49*] Again and again the poet sends her flowers, accompanying his gift with a few lines. With a basket of violets he sends the following:[50*]

'If the time of year had given me white lilies, or had offered me roses laden with perfume, I had culled them as usual in the open or in the ground of my small garden, and had sent them, small gifts to great ladies. But since I am short of the first and wanting in the second, he who offers violets must in love be held to bring roses. Among the odorous herbs which I send, these purple violets have a nobleness of their own. They shine tinted with purple which is regal, and unite in their petals both perfume and beauty. What they represent may you both exemplify, that by association a transient gift may gain lasting worth.'

The interchange of gifts between the poet and the ladies was mutual, the nuns of Ste Croix lacked not the good things of this world and were generous in giving. Fortunatus thanks them for gifts of milk, prunes, eggs, and tempting dishes.[51*] On one occasion they send him a meal of several courses, vegetables and meat, almost too much for one servant to carry, and he describes his greedy (gulosus) enjoyment of it in graphic terms.[52*]   [p. 64]   Are we to take the lines literally which tell us that when they entertained him at dinner the table was scarcely visible for the roses with which it was strewn, and that the foliage and flowers spread about made the room into a bower of greenery?[53*]

Sometimes a fit of indigestion was the result of the too liberal enjoyment of what his friends so freely provided.[54*] The poet was evidently fond of the pleasures of the table, and accentuates the material rather than the spiritual side of things. Once addressing Agnes he tells her that she shines in the blending of two things, she provides refreshment for the poet's mind and excellent food for his body.[55*]

But the 6th century poet is generally somewhat plain-spoken on delicate topics. In a poem addressed to Radegund and Agnes he openly defends himself against the imputation that the tone of his relations to them is other than is signified by the terms mother and sister by which he is wont to address them.[56*] Still these platonic relations do not preclude the use of expressions which border tn the amorous, for he tells them that they each possess one half of him,[57*] and he calls Radegund the light of his eyes.[58*]

'My dear mother, my sweet sister,' he writes, 'what shall I say, left alone in the absence of the love of my heart?...[59*] ' And again,[60*] 'May a good night enfold my mother and my sister; this brings them the good wishes of a son and a brother. May the choir of angels visit your hearts and hold sweet converse with your thoughts. The time of night forces me to be brief in my greetings; I am sending only six lines of verse for you both!'

The vocabulary used to denote the different kinds of human affection contains, no doubt, many terms common to all, and if the poems of Fortunatus sometimes suggest the lover, it must be remembered that as poems of friendship they are among the earliest of their kind. They are throughout elegant, graceful, and characterized by a playful tenderness which a translator must despair of rendering.

Radegund died in the year 587, and her death was a terrible loss to the inmates of her settlement. Gregory, bishop of Tours, who officiated at the burial, gives a detailed description of it, telling   [p. 65]   how some two hundred women crowded round the bier, bewailing her death in such words as these:[61*]

To whom, mother, hast thou left us orphans? To whom then shall we turn in our distress? We left our parents, our relatives and our homes, and we followed thee. What have we before us now, but tears unceasing, and grief that never can end? Verily, this monastery is to us more than the greatness of village and city.... The earth is now darkened to us, this place has been straitened since we no longer behold thy countenance. Woe unto us who are left by our holy mother! Happy those who left this world whilst thou wast still alive...

The nun Baudonivia says that she cannot speak of the death of Radegund without sobs choking her. Her account was written some time after Radegunds death during the rule of the abbess Didimia to whom it is dedicated; Didimia probably succeeded Leubover, who witnessed the serious outbreak of the nuns at Poitiers. This outbreak throws an interesting light on the temper of professed religious women at this period, and illustrates how needful it was that a religious establishment should be ruled by a woman of character and determination at a time when the monastic system was only in its infancy.

The Revolt of the Nuns at Poitiers.[62*] Convent Life in the North.

The revolt of the nuns at Poitiers, which happened within a few years of the death of Radegund, shows more than anything else the imperious and the unbridled passions that were to be found at this period in a nunnery. Evidently the adoption of the religious profession did not deter women from openly rebelling against the authority of the ministers of the Church, and from carrying out their purpose by force of arms. The outbreak at Poitiers, of which Gregory has given a description, shows what proud, vindictive, and unrelenting characters the Frankish convent of the 6th century harboured.

Already during Radegund's lifetime difficulties had arisen. King Chilperic had placed his daughter Basina in the nunnery, and after a time he asked that she should leave to be married. Radegund refused and her authority prevailed, but we shall find   [p. 66]   this Basina taking an active part in the rebellion. Other incidents show how difficult it was for Radegund even to uphold discipline. A nun escaped through a window by aid of a rope and, taking refuge in the basilica of St Hilary, made accusations which Gregory, who was summoned to enquire into the matter, declared to be unfounded. The fugitive repented and was permitted to return to the nunnery; she was hoisted up by means of ropes so that she might enter by the way she had gone out. She asked to be confined in a cell apart from the community, and there she remained in seclusion till the news of the rebellion encouraged her to again break loose.

Agnes the abbess appointed by Radegund died in 589. The convent chose a certain Leubover to succeed her, but this appointment roused the ire of Chrodield, another inmate of the nunnery.

Chrodield held herself to be the daughter of King Charibert, and relying on her near connection with royalty persuaded forty nuns to take an oath that they would help her to remove the hated Leubover and would appoint her, Chrodield, as abbess in her stead. Led by Chrodield who had been joined by her cousin Basina, the daughter of Chilperic mentioned above, the whole party left the nunnery. 'I am going to my royal relatives,' Chrodield said, 'to inform them of the contumely we have experienced. Not as daughters of kings are we treated but as though we were lowly born.'[63*]

Leaving Poitiers the women came to Tours where Chrodield applied for assistance to the bishop and historian Gregory. In vain he admonished her, promising to speak to Bishop Maroveus of Poitiers in her behalf, and urging her to abide by his decision, as the penalty might be excommunication.

The feeling of indignation in the women must have been strong, since nothing he could say dissuaded them from their purpose. 'Nothing shall prevent us from appealing to the kings,' said Chrodield, 'to them we are nearly related.'

The women had come on foot from Poitiers to Tours, regardless of hardships. They had had no food and arrived at a time of year when the roads were deep in mud. Gregory at last persuaded them to postpone their departure for the court till the summer.

Then Chrodield, leaving the nuns under the care of Basina, continued her journey to her uncle, King Guntchram of Orleans,   [p. 67]   who at the time was residing at Chalons-sur-Saone. She was well received by him and came back to Tours there to await the convocation of bishops who were to enquire into the rights of her case. But she found on her return that many of her followers had disbanded, and some had married. The arrival too of the bishops was delayed, so that she felt it expedient to return with her followers to Poitiers where they took possession of the basilica of St Hilary.

They now prepared for open hostility. 'We are queens,' they said, 'and we shall not return to the monastery unless the abbess is deposed.'

At this juncture they were joined by other dissatisfied spirits, 'murderers, adulterers, law-breakers and other wrong-doers,' as Gregory puts it[64*] . The nun too who had previously escaped and been taken back, now broke loose from her cell and returned to the basilica of Hilary.

The bishop of Bordeaux and his suffragan bishops of Angoulame, Perigueux, and Poitiers, now assembled by order of the king (Guntchram), and called upon the women to come into the monastery, and on their refusal the prelates entered the basilica of St Hilary in a body urging them to obey. The women refused, and the ban of excommunication was pronounced, upon which they and their followers attacked the prelates. In great fear the bishops and clergy made off helter-skelter, not even pausing to bid each other farewell. One deacon was so terrified that in his eagerness to get away he did not even ride down to the ford, but plunged with his horse straight into the river.

King Childebert († 596), the son and successor of King Sigebert, now ordered Count Macco to put an end to the rebellion by force of arms, while Gondegisel, bishop of Bordeaux, sent a circular letter to his brethren, describing the indignity to which he had been exposed. Chrodield's chance of success was evidently dwindling, when she determined to carry her point by a bold assault, the account of which may fitly stand in the words of Gregory.[65*]

'The vexations,' he says, 'which sown by the devil had sprung up in the monastery at Poitiers, daily increased in troublesomeness. For Chrodield, having collected about her, as mentioned above, a band of murderers, wrong-doers, law-breakers, and vagrants of all kinds, dwelt in open revolt and ordered her followers to break into the nunnery at night and forcibly to bear off the abbess. But   [p. 68]   the abbess, on hearing the noise of their approach, asked to be carried in front of the shrine of the Holy Cross, for she was suffering from a gouty foot, and thought that the Holy Cross would serve her as a protection in danger. The armed bands rushed in, ran about the monastery by the light of a torch in search of the abbess, and entering the oratory found her extended on the ground in front of the shrine of the Holy Cross. Then one of them, more audacious than the rest, while about to commit the impious deed of cutting her down with his sword, was stabbed by another, through the intercession I believe of Divine Providence. He fell in his own blood and did not carry out the intention he had impiously formed. Meanwhile the prioress Justina, together with other sisters, spread the altar-cover, which lay before the cross, over the abbess, and extinguished the altar candles. But those who rushed in with bared swords and lances tore her clothes, almost lacerated the hands of the nuns, and carried off the prioress whom they mistook for the abbess in the darkness, and, with her cloak dragged off and her hair coming down, they would have given her into custody at the basilica of St Hilary. But as they drew near the church, and the sky grew somewhat lighter, they saw she was not the abbess and told her to go back to the monastery. Coming back themselves they secured the real abbess, dragged her away, and placed her in custody near the basilica of St Hilary in a place where Basina was living, and placed a watch over her by the door that no one should come to her rescue. Then in the dark of night they returned to the monastery and not being able to find a light, set fire to a barrel which they took from the larder and which had been painted with tar and was now dry. By the light of the bonfire they kindled, they plundered the monastery of all its contents, leaving nothing but what they could not carry off. This happened seven days before Easter.'

The bishop of Poitiers made one more attempt to interfere. He sent to Chrodield and asked her to set the abbess free on pain of his refusing to celebrate the Easter festival. 'If you do not release her,' he said, 'I shall bring her help with the assembled citizens.' But Chrodield emboldened by her success said to her followers: 'If anyone dare come to her rescue, slay her.'

She seems now to have been in possession of the monastery; still we find defection among her party. Basina, who throughout had shown a changeable disposition, repented and went to the imprisoned Leubover, who received her with open arms. The   [p. 69]   bishops, mindful of the treatment they had received, still refused to assemble in Poitiers while the state of affairs continued. But Count Macco with his armed bands made an attack on the women and their followers, causing 'some to be beaten down, others struck down by spears, and those who made most strenuous opposition to be cut down by the sword.'

Chrodield came forth from the nunnery holding on high the relic of the Cross; 'Do not, I charge you, use force of arms against me,' she cried, 'I am a queen, daughter to one king and cousin to another. Do not attack me, a time may come when I will take my revenge. But no one took any notice of her. Her followers were dragged from the monastery and severely chastised. The bishops assembled and instituted a long enquiry into the grievances of Chrodield, and the accusations brought against Leubover by her. They seem to have been unfounded or insignificant. Leubover justified herself and returned to the monastery. Chrodield and Basina left Poitiers and went to the court of King Childebert.

At the next Church convocation the king tendered a request that these women should be freed from the ban of excommunication. Basina asked forgiveness and was allowed to return to the monastery. But the proud Chrodield declared that she would not set foot there while the abbess Leubover remained in authority. She maintained her independence and went to live in a 'villa' which the king had granted her, and from that time she passes from the stage of history.

The revolt of the nuns at Poitiers, which for two years defied the efforts of churchmen and laymen, is the more noteworthy in that it does not stand alone. Within a year we find a similar outbreak threatening the nunnery at Tours where a certain Berthegund, similarly disappointed of becoming abbess, collected malefactors and others about her and resorted to violent measures. The circumstances, which are also described by Gregory, differ in some respects from those of the insurrection at Ste Croix.[66*]

Ingetrud, the mother of Berthegund, had founded a nunnery at Tours close to the church of St Martin, and she urged her daughter, who was married, to come and live with her. When Berthegund did so, her husband appealed to Gregory, who threatened her with excommunication if she persisted in her resolve. She returned to her husband, but subsequently left him   [p. 70]   again and sent for advice to her brother who was bishop of Bordeaux. He decreed that she need not live with her husband if she preferred convent life. But when this bishop of Bordeaux died, his sister Berthegund and her mother Ingetrud quarrelled as to the inheritance of his property, and Ingetrud, much incensed against her daughter, determined at least to keep from Berthegund her own possessions at the nunnery and succession to her position there. She therefore appointed a niece of hers to succeed her as abbess after her death. When she died the convent of nuns looked upon this appointment as an infringement of their rights, but Gregory persuaded them to keep quiet and abide by the decision of their late abbess. Berthegund however would not agree to it. Against the advice of the bishop she appealed to the authority of King Childebert, who admitted her claim to the property. 'Furnished with his letter she came to the monastery and carried off all the moveable property leaving nothing but its bare walls,' Gregory says. Afterwards she settled at Poitiers, where she spoke evil of her cousin the abbess of Tours, and altogether 'she did so much evil it were difficult to tell of it all.'

From the consideration of these events in central France we turn to the religious foundations for women in the northern districts. With the beginning of the 7th century a change which directly influenced convent life becomes apparent in the relations between the Frankish rulers and the representatives of Christianity. Influential posts at court were more and more frequently occupied by prelates of the Church, and kings and queens acted more directly as patrons of churches and monasteries. Hitherto the centres of religious influence had been in southern and central France, where the Gallo-Frankish population and influence predominated, and where monasteries flourished close to cities which had been strongholds of the Roman system of administration. New religious settlements now grew up north of the rivers Seine and Maine, where the pure Frankish element prevailed and where Christianity regained its foothold owing to the patronage of ruling princes.

Whatever had survived of Latin culture and civilisation in these districts had disappeared before the influence of the heathen invaders; the men whose work it was to re-evangelise these districts found few traces of Christianity. Vedast (St Vaast, †540), who was sent by bishop Remigius (St Remy) of Rheims († 532) into the marshy districts of Flanders, found no Christians at Arras about the year 500,   [p. 71]   and only the ruins of one ancient church, which he rebuilt.[67*] The author of the life of Vedast gives the ravages made in these districts by the Huns as the reason for the disappearance of Latin culture and of Christianity. But the author of the life of Eleutherius, bishop of Tournai († 531), holds that the Christians had fled from these districts to escape from the inroads of the heathen Franks.[68*]

It was chiefly by the foundation of monasteries in these districts that Christianity gained ground during the 7th century. 'Through the establishment of monasteries,' says Gérard,[69*] 'the new social order gained a foothold in the old Salic lands.' Among the names of those who took an active part in this movement stand the following: Wandregisil (St Vandrille, † 665) founder of the abbey of Fontenelle; Waneng († c. 688) founder of Fecamp; Filibert († 684) founder of Jumiges; Eligius bishop of Noyon † 658) and Audoenus (St Guen, † 683) archbishop of Rouen. These men were in direct contact with the court and were much patronised by the ruling princes, especially by the holy queen Balthild. Early and reliable accounts concerning most of them are extant.[70*]

With regard to political events the 7th century is the most obscure period of Frankish history, for the history of Gregory of Tours comes to an end in 591. Feuds and quarrels as violent as those he depicts continued, and important constitutional changes took place as their result. The vast dominions brought under Frankish rule showed signs of definitely crystallising into Austrasia which included the purely Frankish districts of the north, and Burgundy and Neustria where Gallo-Frankish elements were prevalent.

The latter half of the life of the famous Queen Brunihild[71*] takes its colouring from the rivalry between these kingdoms; during fifty years she was one of the chief actors in the drama of Frankish history. At one time she ruled conjointly with her son Childebert, and then as regent for her grandsons, over whom she domineered greatly. In the year 613, when she was over eighty years old, she was put to a cruel death by the nobles of Austrasia.

The judgments passed on this queen are curiously contradictory. Pope Gregory († 604) writes to her praising her great zeal in   [p. 72]   the cause of religion, and thanks her for the protection she has afforded to Augustine on his passage through France, which he considers a means to the conversion of England.[72*] On the other hand the author of the life of St Columban,[73*] whom she expelled from Burgundy, calls her a very Jezebel;[74*] and the author of the life of Desiderius, who was murdered in 608, goes so far as to accuse her of incestuous practices because of her marriage with her husband's nephew.[75*] Indirect evidence is in favour of the conclusion that Queen Brunihild disliked monasticism; she was by birth of course a princess of the Gothic dynasty of Spain who had accepted Christianity in its Arian form.

During the reign of Brunihild's nephew Clothacar II († 628), under whose rule the different provinces were for a time united, a comprehensive and most interesting edict was issued, which affords an insight into the efforts made to give stability to the relations between princes and the representatives of religion. In this edict, under heading 18, we are told that 'no maidens, holy widows or religious persons who are vowed to God, whether they stay at home or live in monasteries, shall be enticed away, or appropriated, or taken in marriage by making use of a special royal permit (praeceptum). And if anyone surreptitiously gets hold of a permit, it shall have no force. And should anyone by violent or other means carry off any such woman and take her to wife, let him be put to death. And if he be married in church and the woman who is appropriated, or who is on the point of being appropriated, seems to be a consenting party, they shall be separated, sent into exile, and their possessions given to their natural heirs.[76*]

From these injunctions it can be gathered that the re-adjustment of social and moral relations was still in progress; women who were vowed to a religious life did not necessarily dwell in a religious settlement, and even if they did so they were not necessarily safe from being captured and thrown into subjection. Clothacar II had three wives at the same time and concubines innumerable; plurality of wives was indeed a prerogative of these Frankish kings.

  [p. 73]  

Monastic life in northern France at this period was also in process of development. It has been mentioned how Radegund adopted the rule of life framed and put into writing by Caesarius at Arles. The rule contemporaneously instituted by Benedict at Nursia in central Italy spread Further and further northwards, and was advocated by prelates of the Romish Church. It served as the model on which to reform the life of existing settlements.[77*]

During the first few centuries religious houses and communities had been founded here and there independently of each other, the mode of life and the routine observed depending in each case directly on the founder. Many and great were the attempts made by the advocates of convent life to formulate the type of an ideal existence outside the pale of social duties and family relations, in which piety, work and benevolence should be blended in just proportions. The questions how far the prelates of the Church should claim authority over the monastery, and what the respective positions of abbot or abbess and bishop should be, led to much discussion.

During the period under consideration the rules drafted by different leaders of monastic thought were not looked upon as mutually exclusive. We are told in the life of Filibert (t 684), written by a contemporary,[78*] that he made selections from 'the graces of St Basil, the rule of Macanus, the decrees of Benedict and the holy institutions of Columban.' Eligius, bishop of Noyon, says in a charter which he drafted for the monastery founded by him at Solemny that the inmates of the settlement shall follow the rules of St Benedict and of St Columban.[79*]

Towards the close of the 6th century Columban came from Ireland into France and northern Italy and founded a number of religious settlements. What rule of life the inmates of these houses followed is not quite clear, probably that drafted by Columban. The convents in Elsass, Switzerland and Germany, which considered that they owed their foundation to Irish monks, were numerous and later became obnoxious to the Church in many ways. For in after years, when the feud arose between the Romish and the Irish Churches and the latter insisted on her independence, the houses founded by Irishmen also claimed freedom   [p. 74]   and remained separate from those which accepted the rule of St Benedict.

The property granted to religious foundations in northern France went on increasing throughout the 7th century. The amount of land settled on churches and monasteries by princes of the Merovech dynasty was so great that on Roth's computation two-thirds of the soil of France was at one time in the hands of the representatives of religion.[80*] Under the will of Dagobert, who first became king of Austrasia in 628 and afterwards of the whole of France, large tracts were given away. Through the gifts of this king the abbey of St Denis became the richest in France, and his great liberality on the one hand towards the Church, on the other towards the poor and pilgrims, is emphasized by his biographer. His son Chlodwig II, king of Neustria and Burgundy, followed in his footsteps. He was a prince of feeble intellect and his reign is remarkable for the power increasingly usurped by the house-mayor, who grasped more and more at the substance of royal authority while dispensing with its show.

Chlodwig II was married to Balthild, who is esteemed a saint on the strength of the monastery she founded and of the gifts she made to the Church. There are tvo accounts of her works; the second is probably a re-written amplification of the first, which was drafted within a short period of her death.[81*] As these accounts were written from the religious standpoint, they give scant information on the political activity and influence of the queen, which were considerable. They dwell chiefly on her gifts, and concern the latter part of her life when she was in constant communication with her nunnery.

Balthild was of Anglo-Saxon origin, and her personality and activity form the connecting link between the women of France and England. It is supposed that she was descended from one of the noble families of Wessex, and she favoured all those religious settlements which were in direct connection with princesses of the Anglo-Saxon race.

She had been captured on the north coast of France and had been brought to Paris as a slave by the house-mayor Erchinoald, who would have married her, but she escaped and hid herself Her beauty and attractions are described as remarkable, and she found favour in the eyes of King Chlodwig II who made her his   [p. 75]   wife. The excesses of this king were so great that he became imbecile. Baithild with Erchinoald's help governed the kingdom during the remainder of her husband's life and after his death in the interest of her little sons. From a political point of view she is described as 'administering the affairs of the kingdom masculine wise and with great strength of mind.' She was especially energetic in opposing slavery and forbade the sale of Christians in any part of France. No doubt this was due to her own sad experience. She also abolished the poll-tax, which had been instituted by the Romans. The Frankish kings had carried it on and depended on it for part of their income. Its abolition is referred to as a most important and beneficial change.[82*]

During the lifetime of Chlodwig and for some years after his death the rule of Balthild seems to have been comparatively peaceful. The house-mayor Erchinoald died in 658 and was succeeded by Ebruin, a man whose unbounded personal ambition again plunged the realm into endless quarrels. In his own interest Ebruin advocated the appointment of a separate king to the province Austrasia, and the second of Balthild's little sons was sent there with the house-mayor Wulfoald. But the rivalry between the two kingdoms soon added another dramatic chapter to the pages of Frankish history. At one time we find Ebruin ruling supreme and condemning his rival Leodgar, bishop of Autun, to seclusion in the monastery of Luxeuil. An insurrection broke out and Ebruin himself was tonsured and cast into Luxeuil. But his chief antagonist Leodgar was murdered. Ebruin was then set free and again became house-mayor to one of the shadow kings, rois faineants, the unworthy successors of the great Merovech. His career throughout reflected the tumultuous temper of the age; he was finally assassinated in the year 680.

Queen Balthild had retired from political life long before this. She left the court in consequence of an insurrection in Paris which led to the assassination of Bishop Sigoberrand, and went to live at a palace near the convent of Chelles, which she had founded and which she frequently visited. In the account of her life we read of her doing many pious deeds.[83*] 'A fond mother, she loved the nuns like her own daughters and obeyed as her mother the holy abbess whom she had herself appointed; and in every respect she did her duty not like a mistress but like a faithful servant. Also   [p. 76]   with the humility of a strong mind she served as an example; she did service herself as cook to the nuns, she looked after cleanliness, --and, what can I say more,--the purest of pearls, with her own hands she removed filth's impurities....

At various times of her life Balthild had been in friendly intercourse with many of the chief prelates and religious dignitaries of the day. She had taken a special interest in Eligius, bishop of Noyon, who was a Frank by birth and the friend and adviser of King Dagobert.

We hear how Eligius took a special interest in monastic life; how at Paris he collected together three hundred women, some of whom were slaves, others of noble origin; how he placed them under the guidance of one Aurea; and how at Noyon also he gathered together many women.[84*]

On receiving the news that Eligius was dying, Balthild hurried with her sons to Noyon, but they came too late to see him. So great was her love for him, that she would have borne away his body to Chelles, her favourite settlement, but her wish was miraculously frustrated. The writer of the life of Eligius tells that the holy man's body became so heavy that it was impossible to move it.

When Eligius appointed Aurea as president of his convent at Paris she was living in a settlement at Pavilly which had been founded by Filibert, an ecclesiastic also associated with Queen Balthild. On one occasion she sent him as an offering her royal girdle, which is described as a mass of gold and jewels.[85*] It was on land granted to him by Balthild and her sons that Filibert founded Jumiges, where he collected together as many as nine hundred monks. At his foundation at Pavilly over three hundred women lived together under the abbess Ansterbert.[86*]

It is recorded that Ansterbert and her mother Framehild were among the women of northern France who came under the influence of Irish teachers. The same is said of Fara († 657),[87*] the reputed founder of a house at Brie, which was known as Faremoutiers, another settlement indebted to Queen Balthild's munificence. Similarly Agilbert and Theodohild[88*] († c. 660) are supposed to have been taught by Irish teachers who had collected women about them at Jouarre on the Maine. This house at Jouarre   [p. 77]   attained a high standard of excellence in regard to education, for we are informed that Baithild summoned Berthild[89*] from here, a woman renowned for her learning, and appointed her abbess over the house at Chelles.

Yet another ecclesiastic must be mentioned in connection with Baithild, viz. Waneng, a Frank by birth. He was counsellor for some time to the queen who gave the cantle of Normandy, the so-called Pays de Caux, into his charge. He again founded a settlement for religious women at Fecamp which was presided over by Hildemarque.

The foundation and growth of so many religious settlements within so short a period and situated in a comparatively small district shows that the taste for monastic life was rapidly developing among the Franks.

'At this period in the provinces of Gaul,' says a contemporary writer, 'large communities of monks and of virgins were formed, not only in cultivated districts, in villages, cities and strongholds, but also in uncultivated solitudes, for the purpose of living together according to the rule of the holy fathers Benedict and Columban.[90*]

This statement is taken from the life of Salaberg, a well written composition which conveys the impression of truthfulness. Salaberg had brought up her daughter Anstrud for the religious life. Her husband had joined the monastery at Luxeuil and she and other women were about to settle near it when the rumour of impending warfare drove them north towards Laon where they dwelt on the Mons Clavatus. This event belongs to the period of Queen Balthild's regency. It was while Anstrud was abbess at Laon that the settlement was attacked and barely escaped destruction in one of the wars waged by the house-mayor Ebruin. This event is described in a contemporary life of Anstrud.[91*]

It is interesting to find a connection growing up at this period between the religious houses of northern France and the women of Anglo-Saxon England. We learn from the reliable information supplied by Bede that Englishwomen frequently went abroad and sometimes settled entirely in Frankish convents. We shall return to this subject later in connection with the princesses of Kent and East Anglia, some of whom went to France and there became abbesses. The house at Brie was ruled successively by Saethrith   [p. 78]   (St Syre), and Aethelburg (St Aubierge), daughters of kings of East Anglia, and Earcongotha, a daughter of the king of Kent. About the same time Hereswith, a princess of Northumbria, came to reside at Chelles.[92*]

We do not know how far the immigration of these women was due to Baithild's connection with the land of her origin, nor do we hear whether she found solace in the society of her countrywomen during the last years of her life. Her death is conjectured to have taken place in 680.

With it closes the period which has given the relatively largest number of women-saints to France, for all the women who by founding nunneries worked in the interests of religion have a place in the assembly of the saints. They were held as benefactors in the districts which witnessed their efforts, and the day of their death was inscribed in the local calendar. They have never been officially canonised, but they all figure in the Roman Martyrology, and the accounts which tell of their doings have been incorporated in the Acts of the Saints.


Notes

[1*] Fustel de Colulanges, L'invasion germanique, 1891; Gérard, P.A.F. Histoire de Francs d'Austrasie,1864; Ozanam,Civilisation chretienne chez les Francs,1855.

[2*] A.SS.Boll.St. Caesaria, Jan.12, Regula,pp. 730-737; alsoA. SS. Boll.,St. Caesarius episcopus, Aug.27.

[3*] A. SS. Boll., St Caesaria, Jan. 12 Regula, c. 66.

[4*] Guette, Histoire de l'èglise de France, 1847, vol. 2, 46; Labbe, Sacr. Conc. Collectio, Conc. Agathense, canon nr. 19.

[5*] Guettee, Histoire de l'èglise de France,1847, vol. 2, p. 109.

[6*] Keller, Ch., Etude critique sur le texte de la vie de Ste Genevieve, 1881; also A. SS. Boll., St. Genovefa, Jan.3.

[7*] Darboy, Mgr, Sainte Clothilde, 1865; also A. SS. Boll., St. Chrothildis, June 3.

[8*] Giesehrecht, W., Fränkische Geschichte de Gregorius,1851, Eienleitung xviii.

[9*] Gregorius Tur., De Gloria Confessorum, ch. 106 (in Migne, Patrol. Cursus Completus, vol. 71).

[10*] Gregorius Tur., De Gloria Martyrum, ch. 5 (in Migne, Patrol. Cursus Campl., vol. 71).

[11*] A. SS. Boll., St Radegundis, Aug. 13 (contains both these accounts).

[12*] Fortunatus, Opera poetica, edit. Nisard, 1887.

[13*] Gregorius Tur., Hist. Franc. bk 9, ch. 42.

[14*] Gregorius Tur., Hist. Franc. bk 3, ch. 7; Fortunatus, Vita, ch. 2-4.

[15*] Giesebrecht, W., Fränkische Geschichte des Gregorius, 1851, appendix.

[16*] Fortunatus, Vitach. 3.

[17*] Ibid., ch. 10.

[18*] Ibid., ch. 5.

[19*] Baudonivia, Vita, ch. 2.

[20*] A. SS. Boll., St. Medardus, June 8.

[21*] Commentators are much exercised by this summary breaking of the marriage tie; some urge that Radegund's union had not been blessed by the Church. In the A. SS. it is argued that the Gallic bishop Medardus in pronouncing her divorce acted in ignorance of certain canons of the Church.

[22*] Fortunatus, Vita, c.10.

[23*] Ibid., ch. II; Baudonivia, Vita, ch. 6.

[24*] Ibid., Vita, ch. 12.

[25*] Stadler und Heim, Vollstädndiges Heiligenlexicon, Johannes, nr 52; Gregorius Tur., De Gloria Confessorurn, ch. 23.

[26*] Fortunatus, Vita, ch. 26.

[27*] Lucchi, Vie de Venantius Forunatus, ch. 85 (in Fortunatus, Opera poetica, edit. Nisard, 1887).

[28*] Gregorius Tur., De Gloria Confessorum, ch. 106.

[29*] Fortunatus, Opera poetica, edit. Nisard, 1887, note III, 3, p. 214.

[30*] Gérard, P.A.F. Histoire des Francs d'Austrasie,1864, vol. I, p. 272.

[31*] Gregorius Tur., Hist. Franc. bk 9, ch. 40.

[32*] Fortunatus Opera poetica, edit. Nisard, 1887, note II, I, p. 76.

[33*] Gregorius Tur., Hist. Franc. bk 8, ch. 40.

[34*] Gregorius Tur., Hist. Franc. bk 7, ch. 36.

[35*] Baudonivia, Vita, c. II.

[36*] Fortunatus, Opera poetica, edit. Nisard, 1887, bk 10, nr 9.

[37*] Fortunatus, Opera poetica, edit. Nisard, bk 2, nr 16.

[38*] Ibid., bk 6, nr 1.

[39*] Mone, F. J., Lateinische Hynmen des Mittelalters, 1853-5, Vol. 1, 101; Fortnunatus, Opera poetica, edit. Nisard, note, p. 76.

[40*] Fortunatus, Opera poetica, Appendix, nr 2.

[41*] Ibid., bk 8, nr I.

[42*] Fortunatus, Opera poetica, note 9, p. 213.

[43*] Ibid., Appendix, nr 16.

[44*] Ibid., nr 31.

[45*] Nisard, Ch., Des poesies de Radegonde attribuees jusqu'ici a Fortunat, 1889, p. 5.

[46*] Fortunatus,Opera poetica, Nisard, 1887, note III, 2,3,etc. P. 284.

[47*] Ibid., 'De Excidio Thoringiae,' Appendix, nr. I.

[48*] Fortunatus, Opera poetica,Appendix, nr. 3.

[49*] Ibid., bk. 8, nr. 6.

[50*] Ibid., bk. II. nr. 9.

[51*] Ibid. bk.8, nr. 8.

[52*] Ibid., bk. II, nr. 10.

[53*] Fortunatus,Opera poetica, bk II, nr 8.

[54*] Ibid., bk II, nr 8

[55*] Ibid., Appendix, nr 21.

[56*] Ibid., bk II. nr 7.

[57*] Ibid., bk II, nr 22.

[58*] Ibid;, bk. II. nr. 6.

[59*] Ibid;, bk. II. nr. 2.

[60*] Ibid., Appendix, nr 15.

[61*] Gregorius Tur., De Gloria Confessorum, ch. 106.

[62*] Gregorius Tur., Hist. Franc., bk 9, chs. 39--44; bk 10, chs. 15-17, 20.

[63*] Gregorius Tur., Hist. Franc.,bk.9,ch.39.

[64*] Gregorius Tur., Hist. Franc., bk 9, ch. 41.

[65*] Ibid., bk 10, ch.15.

[66*] Gregorius Tur., Hist. Franc., bk 9, ch. 33; bk 10, ch. 12.

[67*] A. SS. Boll., St Vedastus, Feb. 6.

[68*] A. SS. Boll., St Eleutherius, Feb. 20, Vita,I. ch. 3 (Potthast, Wegweiser: 'Vita auctore anonymo sed antiquo').

[69*] Gérard, P. A. F., Histoire des Francs d'Austrasie, 1864, vol. I,p. 384.

[70*] Comp. throughout A. SS. Boll.,St. Wandregisilus, July 22; St Waningus, Jan. 9, etc.

[71*] Drapeyron, L., La reine Brunekilde, 1867.

[72*] Gregorius, Papa, Epistolae, liber 9, epist. 109 (in Migne, Patrol. Cursus Compl. vol. 77).

[73*] St Columban who went abroad and died in 615 should be kept distinct from St Columba who died in 597, sometimes also called Columban. Both of them wrote rules for monks (cf. Dictionary of Nat. Biography).

[74*] Bouquet, Recueil Hist., vol. 3, p. 478.

[75*] A. SS. Boll., St Desiderius, May 23.

[76*] Guettee, Histoire de l'Eglise de France, vol. 1 p. 317.

[77*] Opinions differ as to the original form of the rule of St Benedict. Comp. Benedictus, Opera, pp. 204 ff. (in Migne, Patrologiae Cursus Complet, vol. 66).

[78*] A. SS. Boll., St Filibertus, Aug. 20.

[79*] Roth, P., Geschichte des Beneficiawesens, 1850 Appendix, gives the Charter.

[80*] Roth, P., Geschichte des Beneficialwesens, 1850, p. 249.

[81*] A. SS. Boll.,St. Bathildis, Jan. 26 (contains both accounts).

[82*] Roth, P., Geschichte des Beneficialwesens, 1850, p. 86.

[83*] A. SS. Boll.,St. Bathildis, Jan. 26; Vita II., ch. 14.

[84*] A. SS. Boll., ibid., St Aurea, Oct. 4.

[85*] Ibid., St Filibertus, Aug. 20, Vita, ch. 5.

[86*] Ibid., St. Austreberta, Feb. 10.

[87*] Regnault, Vie de Ste Fare, 1626.

[88*] A. SS. Boll.,St. Teclechildis, Oct. 10.

[89*] A. SS. Boll., St Bertilia, Jan. 3.

[90*] Ibid., St Salaberga, Sept. 22, Vita, ch. 8.

[91*] Ibid., St Austrudis, Oct. 17.

[92*] Bede, Hist. Eccles., bk 3, ch.8; bk 4, ch.23. Comp. below. ch. 3, S. I.

Previous Previous section

Next section Next




Go up to Top of Page