Robert of Arbrissel: A Medieval Religious Life
Bouchard, Constance B., The Catholic Historical Review
Robert of Arbrissel: A Medieval Religious Life. Translated and annotated by Bruce L. Venarde. [Medieval Texts in Translation.] (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press. 2003. Pp. xxxv, 156. $21.95 paperback.)
The preacher Robert of Arbrissel is well known to medievalists as the founder of the monastery of Fontevraud, in Anjou in western France, around the year 1100. Although this religious house included both men and women, Robert established the rule of an abbess over all. Fontevraud became a powerful and wealthy house, where Eleanor of Aquitaine was later buried, and it continued to be headed by able abbesses for the next seven centuries. Bruce Venarde, who first studied Fontevraud in the context of a history of medieval nuns,1 here provides for the first time a translation into English (or for that matter into any modern language) of the principal sources for Robert's life. These include the two vitae written within a few years of Robert's death, respectively by Bishop Baudri of Dol and by the chaplain Andreas of Fontevraud, some letters and charters others wrote to Robert, and Robert's own few letters and treatises. All the translations are accompanied by useful annotations, and an introduction puts Robert into his social and cultural context.
This volume should immediately find a place in the classroom, both for courses on the history of monasticism or of medieval Christianity more broadly defined, and also for courses on medieval women. Scholars who know in a general way about Robert of Arbrissel and want to learn more will also find much of value in this very readable translation with its map, notes, and commentary-although they may consider the introduction a bit elementary. The general reader will also find this window into medieval religious life intriguing. …