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)

View all of CONVENTS AMONG THE FRANKS, A.D. 550--650.

Previous Previous subsection

Next subsection Next


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;[1*] 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.[2*] 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.[3*] He has treated   [p. 52]   of her in his history and has written an account of her burial at which he officiated,[4*] whilst a chapter of his book on the Glory of Martyrs praises the fragment of the Holy Cross,[5*] 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.[6*] Fortunatus has moreover celebrated his intercourse with Radegund in a number of verses, which throw great light on their interesting personal relations.[7*]

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.'[8*]

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.[9*] In the list of King Clothacar's seven recognised wives Radegund stands fifth.[10*]

From the first Radegund was averse to this union. She was wedded to an earthly bridegroom but not therefore divided from the heavenly one.[11*] 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.[12*] Quarrels between the couple were frequent, and the king declared that he was married to a nun rather than to a queen.[13*] 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.[14*] 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.[15*] 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.[16*] However Radegund's stern admonition prevailed: 'If you refuse to consecrate me,' she cried, 'a lamb will be lost to the flock.'[17*] 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[18*] 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.[19*] She entered into friendly relations with the recluse Jean of Chinon (Johannes Monasteriensis[20*] ), 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.[21*]

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.[22*] 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.[23*] 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[24*] 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.[25*] 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,[26*] '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.[27*] 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.[28*] 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.'[29*]

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.[30*] '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.[31*] 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.[32*] He even brings in Venus to celebrate a royal wedding, and lets her utter praises of the queen Brunihild.[33*]

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.[34*]

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.[35*]

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,[36*] 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,[37*] 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.'[38*]

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.'[39*]

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.[40*] '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.[41*] 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[42*] 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[43*] 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.[44*] Again and again the poet sends her flowers, accompanying his gift with a few lines. With a basket of violets he sends the following:[45*]

'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.[46*] 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.[47*]   [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?[48*]

Sometimes a fit of indigestion was the result of the too liberal enjoyment of what his friends so freely provided.[49*] 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.[50*]

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.[51*] 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,[52*] and he calls Radegund the light of his eyes.[53*]

'My dear mother, my sweet sister,' he writes, 'what shall I say, left alone in the absence of the love of my heart?...[54*] ' And again,[55*] '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:[56*]

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.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[11*] Fortunatus, Vitach. 3.

[12*] Ibid., ch. 10.

[13*] Ibid., ch. 5.

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

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

[16*] 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[39*] Ibid., nr 31.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Previous Previous subsection

Next subsection Next

Go up to Top of Page