Robert of Arbrissel

Robert of Arbrissel: Sex, Sin, and Salvation in the Middle Ages

Translated with an introduction and notes by BRUCE L. VENARDE
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 223
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  • Book Info
    Robert of Arbrissel
    Book Description:

    This book tells the fascinating story of Robert of Arbrissel (ca. 1045-1116). Robert was a parish priest, longtime student, reformer, hermit, wandering preacher, and, most famously, founder of the abbey of Fontevraud

    eISBN: 978-0-8132-1599-0
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. TWENTY YEARS AFTER: A New Preface by Jacques Dalarun
    (pp. vii-xvi)
    Jacques Dalarun
  4. ROBERT OF ARBRISSEL AND HIS HISTORIANS: An Introduction by Bruce L. Venarde
    (pp. xvii-xxx)

    This book traces the strange odyssey of Robert of Arbrissel (ca. 1045–1116). Born in eastern Brittany, the son of the village priest, it is likely Robert succeeded his father in that post. As a young man eager for more advanced education than his local environment could offer and yielding to the wanderlust that would characterize the rest of his life, Robert left his native territory. He went east to Paris, where he studied for some years. He returned at the behest of Bishop Sylvester de La Guerche to his home diocese of Rennes in Brittany, where he served for...

    (pp. xxxi-xxxiii)
  6. Map
    (pp. xxxiv-xxxiv)
    (pp. 1-9)

    Religious orders usually boast about their founders. The Order of Fontevraud kept obstinately silent about its own. This strange monastic federation—in which men were subordinated to women; which included some 150 priories in France, England, and Spain; and whose least exalted abbess was still the cousin of a prince or a king—preferred to forget Robert of Arbrissel, the medieval hermit to whom it owed its existence.

    Fontevraud lies near the confluence of the Loire and Vienne Rivers, a few miles to the south. From a distance, the abbey displays its splendor: the largest ensemble of religious architecture from...

    (pp. 10-40)

    Robert of Arbrissel was born around 1045—or at least historians say so, on slender evidence. Did he himself know the date of his birth? Probably not, and this kind of detail, furthermore, did not interest hagiographers at all.¹ The true birth of a saint is at the other end of the story; the day of his death, of the return to his Father, of his deliverance, becomes the saint’s feast day. What we call being born was, in medieval spirituality, nothing but the beginning of an earthly exile, a night always too long.

    On the other hand, we know...

    (pp. 41-80)

    Yet he dreamed of nothing but escape. Devoting himself to a handful of canons meant neglecting the multitudes; sharing a stable life with these converts was to turn his back on lost sheep. Why preach to the converted? Baudri of Bourgueil, a little embarrassed, painstakingly recounts Robert’s desertion, specifying that his hero did not act without the counsel of the bishop of Angers or the permission of his companions, and, at the base of it all, that Robert obeyed the command of Urban II that he preach far and wide.

    He left, not without tears on both sides. In the...

  10. 4 FACES
    (pp. 81-118)

    The women were dreams that took on bodily form. That is to say they lack the essential: faces, the play of looks that peer at each other, defining, more than any outline or list of traits, the irreplaceable individuality of each being. From the two vitae we have with some effort extracted only three female first names: Hersende, Petronilla, and Agnes. The rest of the women who crowded around at the master’s call remain anonymous masses, fuel for the ordeal’s bonfire and recruits for the nuns’ brigade.

    So we must have recourse to the lesser known pieces of the dossier...

    (pp. 119-160)

    Many years passed as Robert preached, converted, and founded new communities at Beaugency, Redon, Rouen, Angers, Bourges, Menat, Agen, and Toulouse. The wandering apostle did not take good care of himself. “‘Robert’ means ‘strong as an oak,’” explains his hagiographer.¹ Finally, though, his strength deserted him and he felt it. In the summer of 1115, he was quite elderly, seventy or more. What was wrong with him, exactly? Nobody knew and nobody worried much about it, noting only that “new ailments were added to old ones”—fevers, disabilities. That is what mattered. In the account of Brother Andreas that will...

    (pp. 161-168)

    The Life of a saint does not end with his death or even his burial. At this point, in the great hagiographical tradition, there follow the praises of men, imperfect echoes of a choir of angels. Then come in succession the miracles accomplished through the intercession of the dead saint, particularly those blossoming around his tomb, sprouting most densely over the fertile corpse.

    Remembrance of a saint is not limited to the writing of his vita. Even before that project was begun, a messenger was sent out to allied abbeys, neighboring cathedrals, chapters, and schools. He carried a long roll...

    (pp. 169-170)
    (pp. 171-178)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 179-188)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 189-189)