A Parisian Love story: Heloise and Peter Abelard

Image Not My Own

Image Not My Own

Today is icky love day better known as St Valentines Day, yes there is a St and I am quite sure this over commercialism of the day would not impress him. This blog has been drafted in my note book for about 18 months but today it seems appropriate to post it. (See I am a romantic at heart.) This usually happy singleton wants to tell you all of Paris’ very own Romeo & Juliette; Heloise & Abelard.


The male anti hero Peter Abelard is worthy in his own name, an academic and teacher of note in Paris, he is more than a tragic lover. He was born on 21st April 1079 in NantesBrittany. He was the eldest son and was encouraged to study the arts of which he excelled at Philosophy.


He went on to travel around France engaging in academic life taking part in scholarly debates and eventually arriving n Paris in his late teens. He was a minor noble and therefore he went on to attend the Notre Dame de Paris School and was taught by many leading academics of the period including William of Champeaux who was an early pioneer of the theory of early realism. While at school he changed his name to Abelard and set up his own school.


Now to our heroine, Heloise d’Argateuil had a reputation of being an excellent scholar and with strong knowledge of Latin Greek and Hebrew. Education of any woman in basics at this time was a luxury but to have knowledge of these languages was exceptional for a woman. She was living with her Uncle, Fulbert as his ward the circumstances of why are unknown as is her age. Some academics feel she could have been as young as 17 others as old as 27 when she met Abelard. Personally I lean closer to 27 than seventeen for she shows great maturity and wouldn’t have had the time to develop a reputation for academic excellence if she was only 17. Women who wanted to study during this period were often nuns, as to why she was living a secular life and single is unknown.


The pair met in 1115 when Abelard a cannon like Fulbert asked if he could live with him while studying and pay his rent by tutoring his academic niece according to Abelard’s autobiography. The pair start a romantic relationship in secret which is only discovered when Heloise falls pregnant. She goes to Abelard’s sister in Brittany is brings forth a baby boy into the world whom she calls Astrolabe. The fate and life of this child is unknown he may not have even survived infancy.


Upon her return to Paris, Heloise reluctantly allows Abelard to persuade her to become his wife, however the marriage needs t be kept secret for the sake of his academic career and his place as a Canon. Heloise agrees however Fulbert who also agrees at the time changes his mind and seeks to destroy the man who seduced his niece under his roof. He starts rumours that they are married despite both man and wife denying it. Eventually Heloise goes to the convent of Argenteuil initially until the fuss and embarrassment dies down.


Fulbert now thinks that Abelard has just thrown his niece into a convent to get rid of her for his career and decides to reap his revenge in a most unpleasant way; he breaks into his rooms while sleeping and castrates Abelard.


Ashamed of his new self, Abelard takes monastic vow at St Denis Abbey in Paris. It now that Heloise also takes the veil in her convent. She would rise through the ranks of this life and eventually become both Prioress and Abbess.     


You would think that this is the end of the story for these tragic lovers so cruelly separated but no, they communicate with each other during their monastic life, their letters are full of religious and monastic talk not the passionate love letters however they remained friends.


Even in death the two come back together. Their bones were buried together and even left alone during the bloody French revolution and it is believed they were finally moved to rest in a mausoleum in the famed Pere Lachasie cemetery in Paris. This is disputed however those looking for answers to their problems in love come and pray and leave letters to the couple the same way people write to Juliet.


Even the City of Love has its tragic love stories and the fact that these two lovers rest together for eternity gives us all hope that love is eternal.

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