Because rail travel in Belgium is (at least to an English mind/wallet) very cheap, I decided I may as well try and see more of the country than the flat, the office, and the library (to which I now finally have access! All I need now is for the mutualité to actually respond to me and the administration will be done…). To start with, I thought something simple, and close; so a couple of Saturdays ago I set off from Bruxelles-Central to a town called Nivelles.
Nivelles is mostly known for its collegiate church of Saint-Gertrude. The church was founded in the seventh century, and became important under the Carolingians – it was a major nunnery, and there are a number of royal diplomas in favour of the house.
The current church building is Romanesque, dating from the eleventh through to the thirteenth centuries.
Unfortunately, there was a wedding going on, so I didn’t get much of a look at the inside, but I did get to see the inside of the cloister, which now houses the town hall.
As you can see, the church rather dominates what is otherwise a small town (it reminded me faintly of High Wycombe or Amersham). It towers over the town square and is easily visible from most of the town centre.
In terms of its late Carolingian history, Nivelles – and female monasticism generally, actually – is a bit out of my wheelhouse. It’s not that there weren’t female monasteries in the West Frankish kingdom, but the evidence for them is basically non-existent. This includes some cases, such as Chelles or Sainte-Radegonde in Poitiers, where more evidence would be really useful.
However, Nivelles does show up at least once in my research proper. In 907, Charles the Simple got married, to a woman named Frederuna. It seems to have been a happy marriage and there are a number of diplomas from around the time of wedding which give an idea of what was there. One in particular features a kind of ‘family portrait’ of some of the biggest court names: ‘Our beloved wife Frederuna, and the beloved Abbess Gisla, and the venerable Count Robert and Countess Adele, and Counts Altmar and Erchengar, and Robert beloved to us…’ Abbess Gisla there is in fact abbess of Nivelles and she’s Charles’ second cousin, a daughter of King Lothar II. It would seem that she’s the bridegroom’s party. (I say that largely because if there was a political context, there’s not enough information to sort it out, at least not without going and reading around and thereby taking time away from the mounds of Church councils I have to read for the Ghent paper in November…)
Charles and Frederuna probably deserve a longer post, actually. On the grounds that that will be easy to write on the train to Luxembourg next week, that can be next week’s effort, and then after that the last thought on the Tübingen conference. Sound good?