Academic journal article Magistra

Interpersonal Relationships at la Ramée as Revealed in the Life of Ida the Gentle

Academic journal article Magistra

Interpersonal Relationships at la Ramée as Revealed in the Life of Ida the Gentle

Article excerpt


Setting in Time and Place

Contemporary with St. Francis in central Italy and with the Albigensians in southern France, there occurred another outburst of popular piety further north, in a swath from Cologne and the Rhineland to Brussels and bilingual Brabant. It got underway about 1180 and lingered until about 1280, enjoying in succession the pastoral support of several religious orders. There was no single hero, no Francis, to epitomize it and it had no single doctrinal trait as newsworthy as the dualism of the Albigensians. Its men were known simply for their love of monastic life and of Our Lady. Its women, the mulieres religiosae, were esteemed especially for their love of the Eucharist, expressed in many gestures of endearment and often by swooning at the moment of receiving communion.

This northern movement gave rise to quite a corpus of literature, almost all of it narrative, ranging from collections of short exempla to full-blown vitae. There are also a few largely biographical letters, poems and chronicles. Much of this literature has long been published in Latin,(2) but it has been studied almost exclusively by Belgian or German scholars, largely out of patriotic motives. Any foreign scholars who have studied the texts have usually been discouraged by what they consider a naive stress on the supernatural. Only recently have two key pieces become available in English, one representing the early years and the other extending into the late years of this movement. These are Margot King's translation of The Life of Marie d'Oignies(3) and Roger de Ganck's three-volume Beatrice of Nazareth.(4) My own work has been mainly in the more restricted corpus centered upon the Cistercian Abbey of Villers, most notably the trilogy written by its cantor, Goswin de Bossut.

Villers(5) became important to this movement in 1197, when it elected as its abbot a chivalrous prior of Heisterbach named Charles, who promptly attracted to its ranks a flood of gifted men. These included the dynamic Conrad of Urach, who was to succeed Charles in 1209. The new fervor and growing wealth of Villers were not lost on the many little bands of mulieres religiosae springing up all around it. While they got only minor attention from Charles and Conrad, the next abbot, Walter of Utrech (1214/15-1221), let these women flock to his guidance and protection and incorporated many of their houses into the Cistercian order.

Becoming Cistercian had two major advantages for these women. It regularized their otherwise precarious finances and it simplified their dealings with the clergy, especially as regarded frequent access to the Eucharist. On the other hand, Cistercian legislation surrounded their beloved Eucharist with a distractingly elaborate ceremonial designed for a masculine piety of a bygone era. Villers was a major leader in Brabant's spiritual movement throughout the time of Abbot Walter and also under his successor, William of Brussels, until the latter was promoted to Clairvaux in 1237. After that, the more populous and more learned abbeys of Clairvaux and Citeaux tried to provide the convents with paternal guidance and clergy. The real leadership, however, was slipping into the better attuned hands of a local, non-Cistercian abbey named Affligem and of the rising mendicant orders.

It appears that the women's house most influenced by Villers was La Ramée. It consisted primarily of a Teutonic-speaking group which had been practicing religious life within their language region at Kerkom. Abbot Walter resettled them in La Ramée, and combined them with a small group from nearby Nivelles, where French was the langauge spoken. The transfer and union was made possible by a local benefactor, who probably had family connections with one or both groups.(6)

One can visualize the geographic location of Villers and Le Ramée by starting at Brussels and coming nineteen miles due south to Nivelles, then passing ten miles due east to Villers and a further seventeen northeast to La Ramée. …

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