The Nuns of Chartres, At Last

Going down my top 10 charters last time, I mentioned that I would finally get round to telling the story of the nuns of Chartres, and so here goes. These particular charters having been bothering me for a while, and I still haven’t worked out what’s going on here. First, a translation of the act, which was charter no. 6 in the list:

I, in the name of God Liutgard, most devoted and faithful of the servants of God. Be it known to all the faithful of the orthodox and catholic Church that I myself and another Deo sacrata, named Godeleva, joined to me both in body and soul [michi tam corpore quam anima conjuncta], having made an agreement, bought a certain allod from a certain man named Otbert, wholly and entirely, whatever was left to him by both his grandfather and his great-grandfather, in the villa which is generally known as Prasville, for an agreed-upon and suitable price, to wit, in the county of Chartres; on the condition that from this day until the end of the world, it might past from his right and person into our dominion and power. This purchase was made in accordance with this condition and vow, that as long as we live, it should remain at our disposition; but after our death, it should pass and go into the power and dominion of Saint Peter, established in the suburbs of Chartres, and the brothers serving God therein, in its entirety, and without calumniation from anyone. That this charter might be believed more firmly and truly, we had it strengthened by our own hand and the hands of the faithful of God’s holy Church.

Acted publicly at Chartres.

Count Odo. Conan, count of Brittany. Landric. Arduin. Robert. Erchambald the cleric. Teduin.

Given on the 15th kalends of September [i.e. 16th August], in the 25th year of the reign of King Lothar.

That ‘joined to me both in body and soul’ is a puzzler, isn’t it? If that were Liutgard and, I don’t know, Hucbert, I’d read it as a poetic description of marriage, but here I think it’s unlikely for two reasons. First, the ‘Count Odo’ in the witness list is actually Liutgard’s son by Count Theobald the Trickster, who we’ve met before. Both these men had lots of enemies, and given how despised same-sex relations were at this time, it seems unlikely that his enemies would pass up the opportunity to criticise Liutgard were she in a prominent-enough same-sex relationship to be putting it in her charters.

The other reason is that Godeleva actually appears elsewhere at around the same time, also donating to Saint-Père de Chartres: ‘Illuminated by [Biblical precepts about the joy of giving] and other proofs of good instruction, and the flame of the Holy Spirit, I, Godeleva, and my mate [compar, a Latin word as ambiguous as ‘mate’ in English] Clementia give… a certain church which we bought… from a canon… named Gerald… to Saint Peter’. So we’re unlikely to be dealing with an elderly nun free love commune.

Saint-Père de Chartres in the Early Modern Period. Source.

Still, this is some very strong language. Fassler says that phrases such as ‘joined in both body and soul’ indicate a kinship link, and I used to think she must be right, but now I wonder whether or not something a little more interesting is going on. Liutgard describes herself and Godeleva as Deo sacrata, a type of religious women who were not strictly speaking nuns, but rather women, often high-ranking widows, who chose to live lives dedicated to God. This seems to be the case here: certainly between them Liutgard, Godeleva and Clementia have cash to throw around and spend on their own salvation.

More than this, though, Godeleva’s language in that second document seems to imply that she perceived herself as perhaps a visionary, ‘illuminated by the flame of the Holy Spirit’. Equally, the use of terms like compar suggests a closeness between the women here which is hard to parallel from other charters in this region. So I wonder if we are not perhaps dealing a semi-communal but non-formalised small female religious community within Chartres: a group of high-status religious women bound together by an unusually intense piety to do acts of charitable giving.

There is another option: these charters are preserved in the cartulary of Saint-Père de Chartres, which was written in the twelfth century by a monk named Paul, who was not above forging documents to better establish his abbey’s claims to land. This does not necessarily make things less odd: instead of a tenth-century property-magnate prayer group, we could be dealing with a twelfth-century monk’s imagining of same…

Anyway, this whole knot still puzzles me somewhat. What do you all think?


Top 10 Charters: The House Selection, pt. 1

Well, my list of the #top10charters has now come to an end, so here and in an upcoming post I’ll list them for posterity, and for those of you not following me on Twitter. It was a fun little experiment. What makes a charter top ten material is wildly subjective: some of them show interesting things about the way documents were used, others about specific historical moments, others about longer-term trends; some were the most elevated of politics, and others snapshots of individual life. Into this latter category falls:

No. 10: Adalelm the knight donates some land and a silver crucifix to the abbey of Fleury, 975.

“… I offer to our Lord and Saviour… an exquisite silver cross… with the wish and desire that He who, by his death hanging on the wood of the Cross, destroyed death and defeated the Devil might deign to wipe out the weight of my crimes…”

It goes without saying that the Cross has always been important for Christians, and this was no less true for tenth-century Christians. The abbots of Saint-Martin of Tours – who, by 975, had also been the Robertian rulers of Neustria for almost a century, and whose contemporary representative Hugh Capet was Adelelm’s lord and hosted the assembly at which this gift was made – had as one of the key visual representations of their authority the fact that they signed their documents, explicitly, with the sign of the Holy Cross. Nonetheless, Adalelm is doing something interesting here. He’s participating in a renewed Cross-focused spirituality, and he’s also picking up on an artistic trend for making large, monumental crucifixes, which at this time were becoming more common in the Ottonian empire. This was quite important for the Church in the area around Orléans – this 975 charter is actually the first evidence for monumental crucifixes in the Orleanais. And it was pretty substantial – thanks to a later description of it, it seems likely that this cross was made of about ten kilos of silver.

In light of the solemnity of the occasion, the charter offers a meditation on the role of the Cross in the salvation of mankind, and it’s this which makes it worthy of a spot on this list. The role of charters was to communicate information, but this information wasn’t just legal. A charter was as much a sermon as a notification of donation – in the charter, Adalelm communicates to the audience not just that he’s given Fleury some holy bling and land near Sens, but why he’s done it and how the sacrifice of Jesus works for him and the whole world.

No. 9: Albert III of Habsburg donates a hunting horn to the abbey of Muri, 1199.

“Let everyone who sees this horn know that Count Albert… enriched this horn with sacred relics…”

Photo by author.

As the picture indicates, this is not a single sheet of parchment, or a cartulary copy of a text. This is in fact an ivory horn. But it is no less a charter – the text inscribed on it uses the formulae of charters, albeit in this case of a short charter. What’s particularly interesting about this one is that the donation and the text recording it are identical. This isn’t how we use documents nowadays, but it was much more common in the earlier medieval period. At least in some cases, the issuance of a (parchment) charter text served itself as a symbol of the donation, aiding in the performance of handing over property from one party to another. This horn is probably the epitome of this way of using the written word.

No. 8: Robert of Neustria donates land to the abbey of Saint-Denis, 923.

“…by divine clemency, because the situation made it necessary, with the support of all the princes, We took up the sceptre of royal majesty to steer the ship of the kingdom…”

This is the only charter on this list that isn’t important to me because of work I’ve done on it, but rather because, if it weren’t for Geoffrey Koziol’s work on this charter, I’d never have worked on any of the others. We’ve mentioned here before how Robert of Neustria rose in rebellion against Charles the Simple; and, as Koziol, demonstrates very clearly, this document is not simply a donation, but a manifesto very specifically justifying Robert’s actions and his claim to the throne. I don’t agree with everything Koziol says, but his article is fantastic.


No. 7: Geoffrey Grisegonelle confirms his reformation of Saint-Aubin d’Angers, 966.

“…so that the mercy of the pious Redeemer might be well-disposed to concede His help and aid to me, Geoffrey, caught up in the whirlwinds of worldly wars…”

I’m going to be a bit less fulsome with these last two. Here, it’s because I wrote about this charter for my thesis and when that eventually becomes a book, this document is going to feature prominently; so, you know, spoiler warning…

What I will say about it is, whatever my own very particular theories, this charter commemorates what may be the single most cynical ‘reform’ of a monastery in the tenth century. Saint-Aubin had been ruled by Geoffrey’s ancestors as count of Anjou as lay abbots, but by the 960s it was under the rule of his brother Guy, who might have been a cleric but probably wasn’t a monk. A very strange charter exists in which Guy appears to say that he tried and failed to be a good abbot, and so turned it over to monks out of Saint-Remi de Rheims. However, Geoffrey appears to have used the opportunity to assert his control over the abbey, and Geoffrey’s son Fulk Nerra even more so: the counts of Anjou appear to have disposed of Saint-Aubin’s land to reward their own followers. This lack of interest in reform for its own sake comes through in the document itself: ‘Supposedly,’ Geoffrey says,  ‘monasticism flourished in the monastery once upon a time; but because there’s no obvious proof, We don’t care whether it flourished or not’.

No. 6: Liutgard of Vermandois and Godeleva make a bequest of land to the abbey of Saint-Père de Chartres, 979.

“I myself, and another woman dedicated to God, Godeleva by name, joined to me in both body and soul…”

This one I won’t say anything about at all, because I have promised a whole blog post about the Lesbian Nun Property Magnate Commune of Chartres before, and by thunder, a whole blog post you will get… Possibly soon, although not this week. The week after is a possibility, though. Also, I’ll be posting part 2 of this countdown soon, outside my normal schedule for posts – so stay tuned!