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The Politics of Mysticism: Elisabeth of Spalbeek in Context

  • Jesse Njus

Elisabeth of Spalbeek (fl. 1246–1304) was one of the mulieres religiosae who flourished in the Low Countries during the thirteenth century. Although she is known today almost exclusively for her stigmata and her performance of Christ's Passion, I will argue that she provides an exceptional example of the spiritual networking described by scholars such as John Coakley and Anneke Mulder-Bakker. As they have shown, medieval holy women—recluses and anchoresses included—functioned only within tightly woven spiritual networks that connected other mulieres religiosae, sympathetic clerics, and powerful nobles who provided economic and political support in return for the women's prayers and spiritual authority. No one has analyzed Elisabeth's network in this light in part because the chief source for her life—the text written by Abbot Philip of Clairvaux, who visited Elisabeth in 1266/7—omits the proper names of most people surrounding Elisabeth and fails to mention many of the people with whom she must have come in contact. In addition, major documents concerning Elisabeth have, until now, escaped any collective analysis, so we have been unable to place Elisabeth in any context. Through a painstaking review of all the pertinent documents, however, I have succeeded in uncovering Elisabeth's political and spiritual alliances, allowing me to study her in her milieu and to provide a detailed analysis of her possible secular and religious influence. I argue that she was actively engaged in building and extending her own network, and in my consideration of the evidence for this “politics of mysticism,” I offer a perspective on Elisabeth that has led me to reinterpret her role in the last recorded event of her life, the French court battle between Queen Marie of Brabant and the chamberlain Pierre de la Broce.

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1 These dates are uncertain. See Philip, Abbot of Clairvaux, “Vita Elizabeth Sanctimonialis in Erkenrode, Ordinis Cisterciensis, Leodiensis Dioecesis,” Catalogus Codicum Hagiographicorum Bibliothecae Regiae Bruxellensis, vol. I (Brussels, 1886), 362–378. All translations from this text are my own. Philip of Clairvaux visited Elisabeth in 1266/7 when, he writes, she was about twenty years old. Philip mentions the year 1266 in his text (“anno MCCLXVI” [376]), and it seems to be the year of—or the year before—his visit. Philip also writes that “it is said that now she has reached twenty years” (“nunc attigisse dicitur vicennalem” [364]), and Elisabeth's birth has consequently been deduced from Philip's evidence. For the year of Elisabeth's death, see Amandus Bussels, “Was Elisabeth Van Spalbeek Cisterciënserin in Herkenrode?” Cîteaux in de Nederlanden 2 (1951): 43–54, and Simone Roisin, L'hagiographie cistercienne dans le diocèse de Liège au XIIIe siècle (Louvain: Bibliothèque de l'Université, 1947), 71 n. 5.

2 John Coakley, “Friars as Confidants of Holy Women in Medieval Dominican Hagiography,” in Images of Sainthood in Medieval Europe, ed. R. Blumenfeld-Kosinski and T. K. Szell (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1991), 222–246; Anneke B. Mulder-Bakker, Lives of the Anchoresses: The Rise of the Urban Recluse in Medieval Europe, trans. M. H. Scholz (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005).

3 The suppression of proper names and a holy person's connections is not by any means uncommon in hagiographical writings, and the decision relies entirely on the needs or inclinations of the author (see note 17).

4 Excluding her fairly unique Passion performance, Elisabeth's spirituality—her ability to authenticate relics, to divine the spiritual state of others, her mystic knowledge of feast days—was similar to that of other women such as Marie d'Oignies (ca. 1177–1213), Elisabeth of Schönau (1129–1165), and Christina Mirabilis or the Astonishing of Sint-Truiden (1150–1224) who had lived in the same area as Elisabeth. Elisabeth was certainly aware of the spiritual legacy to which she aspired, and she was equally well aware of the contemporary community of women religious as my article demonstrates later in the discussion of Marie of Lille. Nonetheless, these topoi were common enough for holy women as well as their hagiographers to use and adapt continuously; I do not imply that Elisabeth was imitating any specific group of women, though I will provide possible evidence for such an act in the relic discussion below concerning Elisabeth of Schönau.

5 William of Ryckel's precise relationship to Elisabeth is uncertain. Though he may have been no more than a distant relative, he seems to have figured prominently in Elisabeth's life as a woman religious, and while the impact of his attention might be overstated, it nonetheless seems to have been considerable.

6 Henri Pirenne, ed., Le livre de l'abbé Guillaume de Ryckel (1249–1272), Polyptyque et comptes de l'abbé de Saint-Trond au milieu du XIIIe siècle (Brussels, 1896; reprint, Geneva: Megariotis, 1981), vii.

7 Henry became Duke Henry III in 1248, when Duke Henry II died. Henry II had also supported William II, although Henry II's wife (mother of Henry III) was the first cousin of Frederick II, William's rival.

8 Pirenne, Le livre de l'abbé Guillaume de Ryckel, vii–xi.

9 The cartulary of Sint-Truiden testifies to the fact that William of Ryckel maintained his connection to William of Holland, for several documents appear from the Holy Roman Emperor to Abbot William. See Charles Piot, ed., Cartulaire de L'abbaye de Saint-Trond. 2 vols. (Brussels: F. Hayez, 1870–74), 250–251. On Abbot William's continued connection to Henry of Guelders, see Alain Marchandisse, La fonction épiscopale à Liège aux XIIIe et XIVe siècles: étude de politologie historique (Geneva: Diffusion Librairie Droz, 1998), 371–372.

10 Henry of Guelders did not necessarily endear himself to his diocese or to the religious with whom he interacted. He had several disputes with Teobaldo Visconti, who was the archdeacon of Liège (Marchandisse 152), and when Teobaldo Visconti became Pope Gregory X, he managed to remove Henry from office (Marchandisse 150). On the history of animosity between Henry and Teobaldo and the friendship between Teobaldo and Henry's successor—Jean d'Enghien—see Marchandisse 150–155 and 243 n. 136. Although Henry may not have been as evil as he has been painted (see note 16), Richard Southern uses Henry as an example of the quintessential corrupt cleric. See R. W. Southern, Western Society and the Church in the Middle Ages (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1970), 199–202; 212.

11 Pirenne, Le livre de l'abbé Guillaume de Ryckel, xi.

12 Communication between Innocent IV and the abbot of Sint-Truiden had already been established, however, for there was a bull from Innocent IV on 28 April 1249 that in essence forgave the debts of the abbey. Several bulls followed that allowed Sint-Truiden to escape the payment of debts or required the return payment of money or land to Sint-Truiden (Piot 231–241). William's ability to network was obviously among the qualities that ensured that he was well-suited to his position, and it explains his ability to rebuild the finances of his abbey. On 27 July 1252, Pope Innocent IV issued a bull that granted indulgences to all pilgrims visiting the abbey within the octave of the feast of Sint-Truiden, an occurrence that no doubt helped bring in revenue and may help explain William's interest in expanding Sint-Truiden's collection of relics (Piot 257).

13 Pirenne, Le livre de l'abbé Guillaume de Ryckel, x–xi.

14 Juliana was forced to flee from her community in Liège but was eventually reinstated by Robert de Thourote who was elected bishop of Liège in 1240. However, upon his death and the election of Henry of Guelders in 1247, the deposed prior who had forced Juliana to flee was reinstated, forcing Juliana to begin her final flight from the diocese. See Ernest W. McDonnell, The Beguines and Beghards in Medieval Culture, with Special Emphasis on the Belgian Scene (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1954), 301–303.

15 Walter Simons, Cities of Ladies: Beguine Communities in the Medieval Low Countries, 1200–1565 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001), 296 n. 94.

16 While it is true that Henry of Guelders did concern himself with beguines, primarily with administrative affairs, the evidence of Juliana of Mont-Cornillon suggests that Henry was not fond of religious women whose spirituality provided them with any form of authority that might potentially challenge or question his. In fact, Henry does not seem to have dealt well with anyone who may have questioned his authority (see note 10). For an overview of Henry of Guelders's dealings with beguines, see McDonnell, The Beguines and Beghards, 162, 164, 167–68, 171, 174, 176, 180–81, 186 (business also involving William of Ryckel), 272–73 n. 21, 411.

17 “Abbati scilicet Sancti Trudonis, de Ordine S. Benedicti, ejusdem virginis, vicinae suae et secundum carnem cognatae, dudum fuit a loci Diocesano cura sive custodia commendata” (373). Philip never names the bishop—Henry of Guelders—or the abbot, William of Ryckel. Philip names himself almost immediately and rarely states that he is withholding names for purposes of people's privacy; there is no way of knowing whether the immediate audience for his text would have been familiar with the abbot of Sint-Truiden or the prince-bishop of Liège (see note 3).

18 Philip 364.

19 Barbara Newman, “What Did It Mean to Say ‘I Saw’?: The Clash between Theory and Practice in Medieval Visionary Culture,” Speculum 80:1 (January 2005): 1–43; 9.

20 See Mulder-Bakker, Lives of the Anchoresses, 78–147.

21 For the somewhat unlikely possibility that Hadewijch of Brabant knew Elisabeth, as demonstrated through a dubious portion of Hadewijch's “list of the perfect,” see G. Hendrix, “Hadewijch benaderd vanuit de tekst over de 22e volmaakte,” Leuvense Bijdragen 67:2 (Spring 1978): 129–145.

22 For more on spiritual friendship, see Coakley, “Friars as Confidants.”

23 Bussels, “Was Elisabeth”; Roisin, L'hagiographie cistercienne, 71 n. 5. Herkenrode certainly took an interest in Elisabeth. The nuns mentioned her to Philip of Clairvaux when he arrived on visitation (see note 44 and the sentence it follows in the text), and Herkenrode may have acquired the land on which Elisabeth's chapel stands, probably becoming responsible for its continued preservation. The relationship between Elisabeth and the abbey makes it likely that she joined them when her protectors had died, but whether she simply took refuge there or actually became a nun is complete speculation. She may even have remained at her chapel under their auspices.

24 Elisabeth's local feast is 19 November, but elsewhere her feast is celebrated on 19 October. See Bussels, “Was Elisabeth,” 53; and Walter Simons, “Reading a Saint's Body: Rapture and Bodily Movement in the Vitae of Thirteenth-Century Beguines,” in Framing Medieval Bodies, ed. Sarah Kay and Miri Rubin (Manchester, U.K.: Manchester University Press, 1994), 10–23; 10, 20 n. 3. On the evolution of Elisabeth's cult, see Walter Simons and Joanna E. Ziegler, “Phenomenal Religion in the Thirteenth Century and Its Image: Elisabeth of Spalbeek and the Passion Cult,” Studies in Church History 27 (1990): 117–126.

25 Dyan Elliott, Proving Woman: Female Spirituality and Inquisitional Culture in the Later Middle Ages (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2004), 3–4, 18, 236.

26 Philip 366.

27 The list is in MS 366 at the Bibliothèque de l'Université de Liège. For a nearly complete transcription, see Ursmer Berlière, “Guillaume de Ryckel, Abbé de Saint-Trond, et les reliques des Saints de Cologne,” Revue Benedictine 16 (1899): 270–277. For a discussion of the relics, see Maurice Coens, “Les saints particulièrement honorés a l'abbaye de Saint-Trond,” Analecta Bollandiana 72 (1954): 397–426; and Philippe George, “A Saint-Trond, un import-export de reliques des Onze Mille Vierges au XIIIe siecle,” Bulletin de la Société Royale Le Vieux-Liège (1991): 209–228.

28 J. de Gaulle, “Documents historiques,” Bulletin de la société de l'histoire de France 1 (1844): 87–100; Guillaume de Nangis, “Gesta Philippi Tertii Francorum Regis,” vol. 20 of Recueil des historiens des Gaules et de la France, ed. J. Naudet, P. C. F. Daunou, and Martin Bouquet (Paris, 1840), 502, with facing page anonymous Old French translation, 503. For an analysis of Elisabeth and her connection to the French court scandal, see Remco Sleiderink, “Een Straf van God: Elisabeth Van Spalbeek en de Dood van de Franse Kroonprins,” Madoc 11 (1997): 42–53. Sleiderink focuses on the homophobic aspect of the scandal; for more on his argument, see the final section of my paper. My thanks to Mr. Sleiderink for bringing his article to my attention.

29 Simons and Ziegler, “Phenomenal Religion,” 120. The frescoes are of the trinity, a pieta, and a number of saints tangentially related to Elisabeth. For more on the frescoes, see Dany Jaspers, Elisabeth van Spalbeek en de Onze-Lieve-Vrouw van Lourdeskapel (Hasselt: Erfgoedcel Hasselt, 2006). My thanks to Mr. Jaspers for showing me Herkenrode and Elisabeth's chapel.

30 Susan Rodgers and Joanna E. Ziegler, “Elisabeth of Spalbeek's Trance Dance of Faith: A Performance Theory Interpretation from Anthropological and Art Historical Perspectives,” in Performance and Transformation: New Approaches to Late Medieval Spirituality, ed. Mary A. Suydam and Joanna E. Ziegler (New York: St. Martin's, 1999), 299–355. Also see Joanna E. Ziegler, “On the Artistic Nature of Elisabeth of Spalbeek's Ecstasy: The Southern Low Countries Do Matter,” in The Texture of Society: Medieval Women in the Southern Low Countries, ed. Ellen E. Kittell and Mary A. Suydam (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 181–202.

31 Simons, “Reading.”

32 Carl Horstmann, ed., “Prosalegenden: die Legenden des Ms. Douce 114,” Anglia VIII (1885): 102–196. Life of Elisabeth of Spalbeek 107–118, Middle English version.

33 Rebecca Clouse, “The Virgin above the Writing in the First Vita of Douce 114,” Essays in Medieval Studies 11 (1994): 87–102; Ellen M. Ross, The Grief of God: Images of the Suffering Jesus in Late Medieval England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 110–117; Elliott Visconsi, “‘She Represents the Person of Our Lord’: the Performance of Mysticism in the Vita of Elisabeth of Spalbeek and The Book of Margery Kempe,” Comitatus 28 (1997): 76–89; Sandra L. Zimdars-Swartz, “The Stigmata of Elisabeth of Spalbeek: A Case Study in the Construction of a Religious Experience,” Magistra 10:1 (Summer 2004): 3–35.

34 Jennifer N. Brown, “Elizabeth of Spalbeek's Body: Performatio Christi,” Magistra 11:2 (Winter 2005): 70–88.

35 Marie d'Oignies had stigmata-like marks that may have been self-inflicted. See Jacques de Vitry, The Life of Marie d'Oignies, trans. Margot H. King (Saskatoon, Canada: Peregrina, 1987), 63, 146.

36 Gilbert of Tournai, “Collectio de Scandalis Ecclesiae,” Archivum Franciscanum Historicum 24 (1931): 33–62. “Inter huiusmodi mulierculas una est et fama surrexit iam quasi publica, quod ipsa est Christi stigmatibus insignita. Quod si verum est, non foveat latebras sed apertius hoc sciatur; si vero non est, hypocrisis et simulatio confundatur” (Gilbert 62). Translation by Barbara Newman.

37 Saint Francis was not the first to suffer wounds for the sake of Christ, but the concept of stigmata as the sharing of Christ's own wounds—a favor bestowed by Christ himself—formalized around Saint Francis, and he remains the only person whose stigmata have been formally confirmed by the Church.

38 “Illa etiam divini flagelli ab infantiae quinquennalis innocentia usque ad hanc quam nunc attigisse dicitur vicennalem continuata castigatio et sic propriae carnis mortificatio” (Philip 364).

39 Philip says “not long before we arrived” (“dudum fuit” [Philip 373]). It is highly speculative, but nonetheless worth mentioning, that Pope Urban IV sent two bulls protecting beguines to Liège in 1262 and that this may have been a catalyst for William's actions. In any case, William had already founded the beguinage of Saint Agnes in 1258, and the building of Elisabeth's chapel several years later was both a promotion of her spirituality and a continuation of his spiritual program.

40 For the history of this chapel, see Simons and Ziegler, “Phenomenal Religion,” and Jaspers, Elisabeth van Spalbeek. For Philip's description of the chapel, see 373.

41 The date of Elisabeth's death is speculative. See Bussels, “Was Elisabeth,” 53; Roisin, L'hagiographie cistercienne, 71 n. 5. See note 1 for more on the uncertainty of Elisabeth's dates; see note 23 and the sentence it follows in the text for further speculation on whether or not she entered Herkenrode.

42 William of Ryckel died in 1272, Henry of Guelders was deposed in 1273 about the time of the second council of Lyon, and Philip of Clairvaux's abbacy ended in 1272/3 owing to his death. The Gallia Christiana states that Philip was abbot from 1262–1272, dying at the beginning of 1273 while abroad from Clairvaux. However, he was apparently buried at Clairvaux, and it seems that he died abroad during visitations and not because he left Clairvaux. Gallia Christiana, vol. IV (Paris: 1728; reprint, Gregg International, 1970), 807–808. Most scholars follow this dating of Philip's abbacy, but Roisin dates his abbacy as 1261 to 1269 or 1270 (70). She cites a list of abbots of Clairvaux originating at the abbey, but the list is highly ambiguous and seldom gives dates, instead providing the number of years a particular abbacy lasted. The edited list, cited by Roisin, is in Marie-Henri d'Arbois de Jubainville, Etudes sur l'état intérieur des Abbayes cisterciennes et principalement de Clairvaux, au XIIe et au XIIIe siècle (New York: Georg Olms Verlag, 1976), 353–355. However, Jubainville's own work, to which the list is an appendix, gives the date of Philip's abbacy as 1262–1273, citing Gallia Christiana, 807. Jubainville gives no explanation as to the discrepancy between the common dating of Philip's tenure and the list in the appendix. Given the evidence, I use the 1272/3 date as the most likely end of Philip's term as abbot.

43 Perhaps she stopped performing about the time Gilbert was writing, sometime between 1273 and 1277, although her decision to cease her performances was apparently unconnected to his complaint. There is no reason for it to have been connected to the French court incident either, since Elisabeth emerged from the affair with her reputation solid enough for rumors to spread that Queen Marie thanked Elisabeth for her help by founding a convent in her honor. In fact, the queen only founded an infirmary at the convent; see the discussion below for more. Nonetheless, the silence of the historical record after 1277 is open to interpretation. The reason for thinking that Elisabeth may have ceased performing is that the French court documents refer to her only as a prophetess.

44 Philip states that “in provincia Leodiensi prope quoddam famosum et solemne monasterium virginum, filiarum beati Bernardi primi Claraevallensis abbatis, quod vocatur Erkenrode, per sex aut septem leucarum distantiam a Leodiensi civitate remotum, est quaedam puella nomine Elizabeth” (Philip 363). He goes on to say that he heard of her when “circa partes illas officium visitationis exercens” (Philip 363). His obvious implication is that he first heard of Elisabeth when visiting Herkenrode. For more, see notes 48 and 51.

45 Nancy Caciola, Discerning Spirits: Divine and Demonic Possession in the Middle Ages (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2003), 113–124; Dyan Elliott, Proving Woman, 186–189. See also Remco Sleiderink, “Een Straf van God.”

46 Caciola, Discerning Spirits, 123–124.

47 Gallia Christiana, vol. IV, 807–808.

48 “Quae quidem mirabilia Domini opera cum audissem, ego frater Philippus de Claravalle, circa partes illas officium visitationis exercens, non credebam narrantibus, donec ipse veni et vidi oculis meis, et probavi quod dimidia pars mihi non fuerat nuntiata” (Philip 363). See Elliott's translation and use of this quote in Elliott, Proving Woman, 186.

49 Elliott, Proving Woman, 3, 18.

50 Ibid., 18.

51 Richard Kieckhefer, “The Office of Inquisition and Medieval Heresy: The Transition from Personal to Institutional Jurisdiction,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 46:1 (January 1995): 36–61; 47. Kieckhefer has argued convincingly, in this article and elsewhere, that “a centralised, curial inquisitorial authority did not come into existence until 1542” although “the idea was at least put forward as early as the thirteenth century,” citing Pope Urban IV in 1262 (57). Nonetheless, Kieckhefer maintains that in practice, inquisitors remained more or less on their own throughout the medieval period, to act or not as they saw fit, often without papal and at times without episcopal oversight. Given this, I by no means intend to imply that Philip was an appointed inquisitor on any level but simply that he took some aspect of this function upon himself in his visit to Elisabeth. In fact, Philip makes clear in the above quote (notes 44 and 48) that he did not hear of Elisabeth until after he reached the nearby abbey of Herkenrode while “performing the office of visitation.” He did not travel to the area intending to perform an inquiry, and the alteration between the “officium visitationis,” his duty as abbot of Clairvaux, and “probavi,” a term more in keeping with the “officium inquisitionis”—which Kieckhefer comments “referred to the function or jurisdiction entrusted to inquisitors” (47)—is notable.

52 “Enfin, la Vita Elisabeth est la rapport de l'enquête faite par l'abbé Philippe de Clairvaux sur la stigmatisée de Spalbeek, rapport consigné par l'enquêteur lui-même” (Roisin, L'hagiographie cistercienne, 72).

53 Elliott, Proving Woman, 3.

54 Philippine Porcellet, The Life of Saint Douceline, a Beguine of Provence, ed. and trans. Kathleen E. Garay and Madeleine Jeay (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2001), 51–52.

55 “In hoc etiam raptu et in aliis inter os et nares vel levissimus flatus exiret, statim plumam ejiceret: quae tamen ita stabat immota per totum illius extasis intervallum, nisi forte eam aliquis antea removeret” (Philip 366).

56 Elliott, Proving Woman, 5.

57 Anneke B. Mulder-Bakker, “The Invention of Saintliness: Texts and Contexts” and “Saints without a Past: Sacred Places and Intercessory Power in Saints' Lives from the Low Countries,” in The Invention of Saintliness, ed. Anneke B. Mulder-Bakker (London: Routledge, 2002), 3–23, 38–57; 13.

58 Urban IV's ties to Philip are not extensive, but they are nonetheless potentially suggestive. Shortly after becoming pope in 1262, Urban IV sent two bulls to Liège in order to protect unaffiliated women such as beguines, recluses, and anchoresses (McDonnell, The Beguines and Beghards, 65). Prior to becoming Pope Urban IV, Jacques Pantaléon had been the archdeacon of Liège, and as Pope Urban IV he seems to have retained an attachment to the religious women of the area. Perhaps the most famous example of this connection is his support of Juliana of Mont-Cornillon and his institution, on her behalf, of the feast of Corpus Christi. It is impossible to know if the pope had heard of Elisabeth, in part because Jacques Pantaléon was no longer archdeacon by the time of the elections of William of Ryckel and Henry of Guelders, and any connection between the men is purely speculative.

59 Louis Julius Lekai, The Cistercians: Ideals and Reality (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1977), 70–71.

60 Philip certainly stayed for a few months, but the precise length of his stay is impossible to determine from his text.

61 Barbara Newman, “Preface: Goswin of Villers and the Visionary Network,” in Goswin of Villers, Send Me God: The Lives of Ida the Compassionate of Nivelles, Nun of La Ramée, Arnulf, Lay Brother of Villers, and Abundus, Monk of Villers, ed. and trans. M. Cawley (Turnhout: Brepols, 2003), xxix–xlvii; xlvi.

62 “Servientes nostri, videlicet pedites qui custodiunt equos nostros, semel assistebant, orationum suarum suffragia petituri. … Cum vero diligentius intueretur eosdem, unum ex eis, juniorem, simplicem et satis elegantam et bonae indolis adolescentem, fecit ad se specialiter accersiri, et ipsi per interpretem, dici fecit ut quam citius posset conversus fieret Claraevallis, vel alterius domus Ordinis nostri, in qua suae conversationis locum invenire valeret. Et hoc ipsi modis omnibus consulebat. Cujus consilio idem adolescens libenter acquiescere se promisit. Quod et factum est: quia non multo post, ad preces ipsius puellae, eumdem puerum misimus ad domum nostram et eum fecimus conversorum nostrorum collegio sociari” (Philip 375).

63 “Respondit quoniam ipsum in statu salvandorum esse cognoverat, et, si tunc discederet, cito sibi pateret patriae coelestis ingressus. Et propter hoc desiderabat ejusdem pueri statum religionis remedio et religiosorum consortio roborari” (Philip 375).

64 Jacques de Vitry, Marie d'Oignies, 113, 121–122; see also 92, 111.

65 “Altera autem die quidam nobilis et potens vir theutonicus, eidem puellae et omnibus de domo prorsus ignotus, cum sua familia virginis domum intravit. Ad cujus ingressum virgo turbata eidem militi et assistenti sibi turbae sic ait: ‘Domini, pro Deo, si est aliquis inter vos excommunicatus, recedat et non loquatur nobiscum ne forte sui periculi nos participes efficiat.’ Dum autem haec diceret, ad eum nobilem oculos dirigebat. Quibus auditis, idem nobilis, confuses et absque responsionis aut cujuscumque sermonis prolatione, recessit. De cujus excommunicatione per familliam ejusdem nobilis constitit in instanti. … Hoc autem fideliter nobis retulit idem abbas, quod nec ipse noverat nobilem praenominatum”: Philip, 376–377.

66 “Ego et socii mei, abbates et monachi”: Philip, 371.

67 “Ab interprete nostro, Claraevallensi monacho theutonico sibi noto”: Philip, 377.

68 “Noster extitit paedagogus, et puellarium sermonum fidelis et certus interpres”: Philip, 373.

69 “Quidam socius et coabbas noster de Valle Clara coclear lacte plenum applicuit ori ejus”: Philip, 378.

70 Philip, 376, see below.

71 Presumably Saint Louis (Louis IX), who ruled 1226–1270.

72 My emphasis. “Quadam vero die, petente eodem abbate ab ipsa quomodo seu qua virtute tot et tam gravissimas poenas poterat sustinere, respondit: ‘Parum patior respecta cujusdam virginis cujus nomen Maria, quae manet in quadam villa Flandriae quae dicitur Insula. Ipsa enim longe acrius et vehementius flagellatur quam ego.’ Et tunc incepit dictae Mariae describere passiones, ac si ipsam vidisset pluries in angustia tormentorum: quam tamen nunquam viderat, nec de ipsa quidquam audierat ab aliquo mortali, ut creditur. Nec etiam abbas aliquid de dicta Maria sciebat, nec ad illas partes super hoc aliquis rumor ascenderat, quia loca dictarum virginum ab invicem multum distant. Adjecit etiam de illa Maria quod frequenter concurrentibus earum raptibus mutuo se videbant, et quod optime cognoscebat eamdem, dicens quod illa erat sapientissima puella et quod ipsa habebat spiritum sapientiae et consilii. Et multum de ipsius patientia et sapientia revelavit: quae cognovimus esse vera. Nam et ipsam frequenter visitavimus, per eam villam Insulam causa visitationum nostrarum transitum faciendo. Dominus autem rex Franciae ipsam aliquotiens visitavit, et ipsi valde honestam fabricari fecit capellam” (Philip 376).

73 Jacques de Vitry, Marie d'Oignies, 129.

74 Goswin of Villers, Send Me God, 75.

75 Hadewijch, “Women of the Middle Ages: The List of the Perfect,” trans. Helen Rolfson, OSF., Vox Benedictina 5:4 (Winter 1988): 277–287.

76 Coens, “Les saints,” 409; Berlière, “Guillaume de Ryckel,” 275.

77 In particular, William collected the relics of Saint Ursula and the Eleven Thousand Virgins.

78 “Soror Hawidis de Susato, sanctimonialis apud Sanctos Machabeos in Colonia” (Coens 409 and Berlière 272, my translation). For Ermentrude, who is named but not described, see George, “A Saint-Trond,” 221–223 and Coens “Les saints,” 410. Cologne is the city where the relics of Saint Ursula and the Eleven Thousand Virgins were uncovered.

79 George, “A Saint-Trond,” 222 and Berlière, “Guillaume de Ryckel,” 277.

80 The recipients included Cistercians from Val Dieu, Vauclair, Signy, Epinlieu, Valroy, Cherlieu, Igny, and even the Jewish convert Catherine, the abbess of Parc-les-Dames. Relics were also sent to the abbess of Prémy, to Alem-sur-Meuse, to Aalburg sur la Meuse, to Borloo, and to Ter Beek (George, “A Saint-Trond,” 222–223). Also see Berlière, “Guillaume de Ryckel.” It is interesting to note that no relics were sent to Philip of Clairvaux by name.

81 Mulder-Bakker, “The Invention of Saintliness,” 9.

82 Philip, 375.

83 Coens, “Les saints,” 411, especially note 3. See also George, “A Saint-Trond,” 221.

84 Elisabeth of Schönau, The Complete Works, trans. A. L. Clark (New York: Paulist Press, 2000), 213–233.

85 Coens, “Les saints,” 409. Saint Ursula and her eleven thousand virgins, together with several men who were supposedly among their retinue, make up a large portion of the relics sent to William from Cologne. This is not surprising, since the bones of—reportedly—Ursula and her virgins were discovered at Cologne in the twelfth century. William's connections with Cologne had begun during his days serving William II of Holland, since Conrad, the archbishop of Cologne, supported William as Holy Roman Emperor and helped crown William at Aix-la-Chapelle in 1248 with the blessing of Pope Innocent IV. In addition, the cartulary of Sint-Truiden contains five documents that Conrad wrote generally demonstrating strong support for the new abbot and his monastery (Piot 243–248). William of Ryckel had other connections in Cologne as well, for Coens and George speculate that, upon a visit to Cologne, William brought back some relics which he gave “around 1265” to the beguinage of Saint Agnes that he had founded in 1258 (George 221). It is possible that William brought back relics from Cologne as early as 1258, when he technically founded the beguinage through a gift of the land. See Simons, Cities, 31, 105, 296 n. 94, and George, “A Saint-Trond,” 221.

86 Marie d'Oignies also authenticated relics, but, like Elisabeth of Schönau, she did not participate directly in their exchange. She did, however, use her connection with relics to great advantage; for more on her manipulation of relics, see Brenda Bolton, “Mary of Oignies: the undervalued ‘pearl,’” in Mary of Oignies: Mother of Salvation, ed. Anneke Mulder-Bakker (Turnhout: Brepols, 2007), 1–25.

87 “S. Andreas […] S. Elyzabeth […] Huius Andree et huius Elyzabeth capita dedi domino Petro abbati Igniacensi, et etiam Eliyzabeth, filia nostra, dedit et caput parvum beate Ude” (Coens 411 and Berlière 275). Elisabeth received the head of Saint Andrew from a prior of Val Dieu in May, 1272, though from William's records it is difficult to tell if the Saint Andrew he sends to the abbot is Elisabeth's—but sent as a joint gift—or if it is another Andrew. Philip records Elisabeth's reception of the relic of Uda as follows: “9 July 1272, head of Saint Ude (sic) to Elisabeth of Spalbeek” (George 223). Since William apparently did not record a sender, it is possible that he sent her this relic himself.

88 “S. Litbertus[…], S. Gertridis[…], S. Martha[…], S. Conrardus[…], S. Merswendis[…] quam habet Maria de Turri apud Insulas in Flandria[…] Istam misi Marie de Turri LXXIo in die beati Bernardi” (Berlière 275).

89 “S. Egidius[…], S. Iohannes[…] Istum Iohannem misi per dominam ducissam Brabantie fratri[…] et toti conventui fratrum Predicatorum apud Diion” (Berlière 276). See also George, “A Saint-Trond,” 223.

90 Marie of Brabant married King Philip III of France in 1274, after the 1271 death of Philip's first wife, Isabella of Aragon.

91 As we have seen, Henry III of Brabant was one of the three first cousins to whom William of Ryckel was so closely joined—the other two being William II of Holland and Henry of Guelders.

92 For more on Pierre de Benais, see Richard Kay, “Martin IV and the Fugitive Bishop of Bayeux,” Speculum 40:3 (July 1965): 460–483.

93 For more on Pierre de la Broce, see William Chester Jordan, “The Struggle for Influence at the Court of Philip III: Pierre de la Broce and the French Aristocracy,” French Historical Studies 24:3 (Summer 2001): 439–468.

94 De Gaulle, “Documents historiques,” 88. This episode bears a striking resemblance to the folkloric motif of the “calumniated wife,” discussed in Barbara Newman, “The Heretic Saint: Guglielma of Bohemia, Milan, and Brunate,” Church History 74:1 (March 2005): 1–38; 24–26. A variation of tales like Chaucer's Patient Griselda, the motif often includes the wrongful conviction of a mother-substitute—such as a nursemaid or governess—for the death of a child in her care.

95 De Gaulle, “Documents historiques,” 89.

96 De Gaulle, “Documents historiques,” 89. Simon records the two women as: 1) Alice, a leper, and 2) “Ysabel of Sparbeke.” Surprisingly, no one has suggested a connection between the leprous Alice of Schaerbeek and the “Alice the Leper” in the French court intrigue. This is probably because the current dating of Alice of Schaerbeek's life places her death about 1250, but it is possible that some memory of her reputation remained with Simon, causing him to confuse the actual location of Elisabeth—Spalbeek—and possibly even the precise identity of the other woman, who is not mentioned again anywhere in the text. Nameche and others have realized that “Sparbeke” could be “Schaerbeek,” but almost all have decided against this emendation, taking “Sparbeke” as an alternate form of “Spalbeek” with a confusion of the liquids “l” and “r.” This seems the best explanation, for Simon was not native to the area, and his mistaken recollection might have been due in part to some local fame belonging to Alice of Schaerbeek. Since Jean d'Enghien—bishop and resident of the diocese—terms Elisabeth “Lizebeth de Spalbeke,” this designation must stand as the most reliable (de Gaulle, “Documents historiques,” 96). See A. J. Namèche, “Marie de Brabant et la béguine de Nivelles,” Revue Catholique 12 (1855): 598–608.

97 De Gaulle, “Documents historiques,” 91 (French “honnestes”).

98 Arnoul de Wisemale, a knight templar, was also part of this stage of the investigation.

99 de Gaulle, “Documents historiques,” 93.

100 Kay, “Martin IV and the Fugitive Bishop of Bayeux,” 474. See also de Gaulle, “Documents historiques,” 96.

101 Kay, “Martin IV,” 474; de Gaulle, “Documents historiques,” 96–97.

102 de Gaulle, “Documents historiques,” 97: “She began to laugh and said, ‘What are you saying? That I will deny what I said?’”

103 In all fairness, Pierre de la Broce's downfall may have been overdue, and other factors contributed as well. See Jordan, “The Struggle for Influence.”

104 Caciola, Discerning Spirits, 121–122.

105 While modern scholars have recently tended to look more favorably upon Marie, Langlois was suspicious of her; see Charles Victor Langlois, Le règne de Philippe III le Hardi (Paris: 1887), 13–32; and “Le temps de Philippe III de 1270 à 1285,” in Histoire de France depuis les origines jusqu'à la révolution, ed. E. Lavisse (New York: AMS, 1969), 103–106. For the apparently widespread contemporaneous speculation, see Dante, La Divina Commedia: Purgatorio, ed. L. Magugliani (Milan: Biblioteca Universale Rizzoli, 1995), VI:19–24. Also Dante, Pugatorio, trans. J. Ciardi (New York: Penguin, 1957), VI:19–24. Dante writes:

Vidi conte Orso; e l'anima divisa

I saw Count Orso; and the shade of one

dal corpo suo per astio e per inveggia,

torn from its flesh, it said, by hate and envy,

com'e' dicea, non per colpa commisa:

and not for any evil it had done—

Pier dalla Broccia, dico; e qui provveggia,

Pierre de la Brosse, I mean: and of this word

Mentr'è di qua, la donna di Brabante,

may the Lady of Brabant take heed while here,

sì che però non sia di peggior greggia.

Lest, there, she find herself in a worse herd.

106 Sleiderink, “Een Straf van God,” 44.

107 Ibid., 49.

108 Caciola, Discerning Spirits, 122.

109 Cited above, see note 93.

110 Jean d'Enghien, bishop of Liége, first authorized the work in 1281. Marie's involvement is not documented until 1284, but “ducal letters … attribute foundation of the hospital to the queen” (McDonnell 67 n. 56). See McDonnell, The Beguines and Beghards, 66–68; and Simons, Cities, 293 n. 81.

111 Simons, Cities, 293 n. 81.

112 McDonnell, The Beguines and Beghards, 66.

113 Philip, 373.

114 “Adhuc super praelibata materia multa scribenda supersunt; sed necessitas occupationum et propria corporis imbecillitas necessario claudit stilum” (Philip, 378).

Jesse Njus is a graduate student in the Interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Theater and Drama at Northwestern University.

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