Abelard and Heloise (12th Century France)
The story of Heloise and Abelard remains one of the world's most celebrated and tragic love affairs.
Abelard was a well-respected, 12th-century Parisian scholar and teacher, and Heloise was his talented young student.
The two relate their story through a set of letters to one another and intimate acquaintances. Their ardor is unmistakable; as Abelard writes to his love, "So intense were the fires of lust which bound me to you that I set those wretched, obscene pleasures, which we blush even to name, above God as above myself..."
This forbidden lust resulted in a pregnancy and secret marriage, and when their union could no longer withstand the challenges in its path, each lover sought refuge in the church-
Abelard became a monk and Heloise an abbess. Their correspondence continued as both achieved success in their new careers but continued to struggle with their feelings for one another; the set of letters powerfully articulates the wide range of emotions they experienced. So timeless is their love story that--after eight centuries--their passion, their devotion, and their struggle still resonate with readers.In his writings, Abélard tells the story of his seduction of Héloïse and their subsequent illicit relationship, which they continued until Héloïse bore him a son, whom Héloïse named Astrolabius (Astrolabe). Abélard secretly married Héloïse, but both of them tried to conceal this fact in order not to damage Abélard's career. Fulbert's ensuing violence against Heloïse caused Abélard to place her in the convent of Argenteuil.
The accepted view is that Fulbert believed Abélard, (Fulbert was her guardian) abandoned Héloïse, and, in his anger, wreaked vengeance upon Abélard by having him attacked while asleep and castrated. An alternative view is that Fulbert divulged the secret of the marriage and her family sought vengeance, ordering the castration of Abélard. After castration, Abélard became a monk.
At the convent in Argenteuil, Héloïse took the habit and eventually became prioress. She and the other nuns were turned out when the convent was taken over by the abbey at which Abélard had first taken his monastic vows. At this point Abélard arranged for them to enter the Oratory of the Paraclete, an abbey he had established, where Héloïse became abbess.