French Scholar and Abbess
1101 – 1164 A.D.
Héloïse, a French scholar and abbess, famous for her connection with Peter Abelard, the distinguished teacher and theologian. When eighteen years of age, living under the care of her uncle, the canon Fulbert, she was placed as a pupil with Abelard, then almost forty. Fair, but still more remarkable for her knowledge, which extended beyond Latin to Greek and Hebrew, she awoke a feeling of love in the breast of Abelard, and gave her heart and herself to the great scholar. Later she was carried off by her lover to Brittany, where she gave birth to a son. To appease her furious uncle, Abelard now proposed a marriage, under the condition that it should be kept secret, in order not to mar his prospects of advancement in the Church; but of marriage, whether public or secret, Héloïse would hear nothing. She appealed to him not only to sacrifice for her in the independence of his life, nor did she finally yield to the arrangement, without the darkest forebodings.
The secret of the marriage was not kept by Fulbert; and when Héloïse, true to her purpose, boldly denied it, life was made so unsupportable to her that she sought refuge in the convent of Argentevil. Immediately Fulbert, believing that her husband, who aided in the flight, designed to be rid of her, conceived a dire revenge. He and some others broke into Abelard’s chamber by night, and perpetrated on him the most brutal mutilation. Thus cast down from his pinnacle of greatness into an abyss of shame and misery, there was left to the brilliant master only the life of a monk and teacher.
Héloïse, not yet twenty, consummated her work of self-sacrifice, and took the veil. Later she became abbess of a nunnery, and lived amid universal esteem for her knowledge and character, uttering no word under the doom that had fallen upon her youth, but finally expressing all the pent-up emotions of her soul in her celebrated Letters to Abelard, which remain an unsurpassed utterance of human passion and womanly devotion.
On the death of Abelard in 1142 his remains were carried off in secrecy and given over to the tender care of Héloïse, who in time came herself to rest beside them in 1164. The ashes of the ill-fated pair made immortal by their love, were shifted more than once afterwards, but they were marvelously preserved even through the vicissitudes of the French Revolution, and now they lie united beneath a beautiful marble monument in the Parisian cemetery of Pére-la-Chaise.
Reference: Famous Women; An Outline of Feminine Achievement Through the Ages With Life Stories of Five Hundred Noted Women By Joseph Adelman. Copyright, 1926 by Ellis M. Lonow Company.