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Archive for November, 2019

Anstrude – Abbess of Laon

On this blog we can barely do justice for the thousands of women who served in God’s kingdom during Medieval times. Women prayed, taught, preached, went on pilgrimages, reigned over kingdoms, founded monasteries, and took care of the poor. Like their female forebears in the Patristic Era these women contributed greatly to the Kingdom of God, not so they could be remembered, but so they could serve the Lord Jesus by serving others.[1]

We relate here only of few of the many stories of women throughout history who were called and gifted by God to serve Him. We began by looking at women in the Patristic Era, then we moved on to a journey through the Middle Ages with stories of women in the 5thand 6thcenturies – Genovefa of Paris (423-502), Clothilde, the Queen of the Franks (470-545), Brigid of Kildare (451-523), Empress Theodora (497-548), and Queen Radegund (520-587).

We then turned to the 7thand 8thcenturies to talk about Queen Bathilde (630-680) – the last of the rulers of the Merovingian Era (480-751 AD).

Things really changed for women in the 6thand 7thcenturies, so we took a look at how women began to be barred from the freedom of ministry that they exercised in the Patristic Era and Early Medieval Era. We saw that ideas about women changed. For a number of worldly or unbiblical reasons women’s status was continually lowered until men saw them as impure, sinful, and unable to function in church service.

Thankfully, the poor treatment did not entirely stop women from finding ways to serve Christ by serving others. In the monasteries, women would be able to pray, teach, preach, serve communion, study, support themselves and take care of the poor. Throughout history, even with restrictions placed against them, women have and always will find ways to serve their Savior.

One of the chief ways that women were able to serve was in the cloister. We continue with our accounts of women in Medieval times with the stories of godly abbesses. Last time we related the story of Gertrude, Abbess of Nivelles. This week we will recount the story of a distant relative of Gertrude’s – Anstrude of Laon.

 

Anstrude, Abbess of Laon (c. 645 – date of death unknown)

Anstrude was the daughter of Blandinus (Also known as Baso) and the sainted Sadalberga. Growing up in this godly home, Anstrude was nurtured in the Christian religion. She was a bright and gifted child and learned how to read while very young. Anstrude amazed everyone with her ability to recite Scriptures and portions of other books, but her holiness in mind and demeanor is what really impressed those around her. She was “so full of grace that the ways of her maturity could be discerned in her first years.”[2]

Like Gertrude of Nivelles and many other medieval women, Anstrude chose to give her life fully to Christ rather than get married. Her mother Sadalberga had founded a convent at Laon after her husband Blandinus’s death. It was only fitting that Anstrude should go with her mother to the convent. Anstrude took her vows at age 12. She spent her time in fasting and prayer. Because she was so gifted with administrative skills, she was able to assist her mother. When Sadalberga died, Anstrude was chosen to be the abbess of Laon. She was only twenty years old, but the other nuns chose her by acclamation because she was wise and able.

Anstrude accomplished many good things while abbess of Laon. She loved to care for the poor. She gave away many of her possessions. She was hospitable to guests; her doors were always open for pilgrims. She tended those in prison or held in chains. She never tired of giving alms to widows and orphans, food to the hungry or drink to the thirsty. She was always available to share in the sorrows of those who were bereaved. Anstrude herself helped the loved ones to bury their dead.

Anstrude was a bringer of peace. Besides comforting the sick, she offered wise counsel to those who were troubled in any way. She stood as guide and arbiter to those who were having disputes, bringing reconciliation to both parties. Her fame as a wise peacemaker spread far and wide. Even the kings among the Franks honored her.

In spite of the recognition given her, Anstrude always gave the credit to God for His goodness.

Her life was not without troubles and temptations however. There were those who were either jealous of her or just hated her because of her goodness. A treacherous group of people carried out a plot to kill her brother, Baldwin. Falsely posing as friends, several men asked Baldwin to come to an assembly at a villa in Laon. When Baldwin arrived on what he thought was a peaceful mission, the deceivers stabbed him to death with their swords. Anstrude was heartbroken. She asked God to give her the strength to bear up under her sorrow. She felt partly to blame for Baldwins’ death since he was helping her with her work. All of the nuns and the townspeople mourned for Baldwin who was as tireless in charitable works as his sister.

Another attack came against Anstrude personally. The Mayor of the Palace, Ebroin, believed some malicious lies about Anstrude. He went to the convent with the intent to have her banished. He angrily spoke abusive words to Anstrude, but she replied with a calm and charitable spirit. In the meantime, the sisters were praying for her. After a time, Ebroin realized his error. He asked Anstrude to forgive him. For the rest of his life, Ebroin remained a supporter of Anstrude and the convent.

On another occasion a certain man named Cariveus attacked Anstrude. He chased her into a church and drew his sword to kill her. Anstrude stood near the altar with her arms outstretched praying to God for protection. Cariveus was suddenly struck with the fear of divine retribution and begged Anstrude for forgiveness. She forgave him with her heart. Later when he died, Anstrude saw to it that he was buried at that church, showing that she had completely forgiven him and never sought to return evil for evil (Romans 12:17).

Anstrude worked unceasingly every day. She did not want any moment to find her not doing something for Christ. When she wasn’t visiting the infirm or giving out charity, she was praying. She did this until the day that she could no longer rise from her bed. She called the nuns to her and they prayed and wept. She offered and received forgiveness from each one. When she passed into the Savior’s arms, the sisters laid Anstrude out in simple clothes for her burial. People came from far and wide to honor this pious, wise, generous, and loving servant of the Lord.

It is not certain when Anstrude died. One historian thought it may have been as early as 688. It seems that she lived longer than that, but had probably passed by 709 AD. Her feast day is celebrated on 17 October.

A post card commemorating Saint Anstrude was designed and issued in 1913.

 

[1]See posts on this blog site from January 22, 2019 through June 4, 2019 for “Women in the Patristic Era”.

[2]Jo Ann McNamara, John E. Halborg and E. Gordon Whatley, editors. Sainted Women of the Dark Ages(Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1992). 292.

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Gertrude of Nivelles

Historians have not done justice to the thousands of women who served in God’s kingdom during Medieval times. Women prayed, taught, preached, went on pilgrimages, reigned over kingdoms, founded monasteries, and took care of the poor. Like their female forebears in the Patristic Era these women contributed greatly to the Kingdom of God, not so they could be remembered, but so they could serve the Lord Jesus by serving others.[1]

After looking at women in the Patristic Era, we began a journey through the Middle Ages with stories of women in the 5thand 6thcenturies – Genovefa of Paris (423-502), Clothilde, the Queen of the Franks (470-545), Brigid of Kildare (451-523), Empress Theodora (497-548), and Queen Radegund (520-587).

We then turned to the 7thand 8thcenturies to talk about Queen Bathilde (630-680) – the last of the rulers of the Merovingian Era (480-751 AD).

Things really changed for women in the 6thand 7thcenturies, so in our last post we took some time out to explain how little by little women began to be barred from the freedom of ministry that they exercised in the Patristic Era and Early Medieval Era. We saw that ideasabout women changed. For a number of worldly or unbiblical reasons women’s status was lowered and lowered until men saw them as impure, sinful, and unable to function in church service.

This did not entirely stop women from finding ways to serve Christ by serving others. In the monasteries, women would be able to pray, teach, preach, serve communion, study, support themselves and take care of the poor. Throughout history, even with restrictions placed against them, women have and always will find ways to serve their Savior.

One of the chief ways that women were able to serve was in the cloister. We continue with our accounts of women in Medieval times with the stories of godly abbesses.

 

Gertrude, Abbess of Nivelles (628-658)

Gertrude was born in Belgium in 628 AD. She was the daughter of Pippin the Elder, founder of the dynasty that would later be called the Carolingian Dynasty. In an earlier post where we recounted the history of the Middle Ages, we noted that the Merovingian Era came to a close when Pippin of Landen saw his opportunity to take over the rulership.[2]

In our post on Bathilde (October 8, 2019) we noted the descent of the Frankish kings from Clovis I (died 511) through Clovis II (died 657). Their descendent, Dagobert I was the one who was reigning when the Merovingian dynasty reached its peak. At this time, Pippin was already gaining in popularity with the people. He had made it clear that he wanted the throne. Dagobert was so corrupt that the people actually favored Pippin.

Dagobert was trying to use arranged marriages to strengthen his position as ruler. He thought that by marrying off Pippin’s daughter, Gertrude to one of his patrons, the duke of Austrasia, he could thwart Pippin. He ordered Gertrude to accept the suitor he had selected for her. Gertrude indignantly refused to marry Dagobert’s chosen suitor. Gertrude had a desire to enter the religious life and she had the support of her mother and father. She declared that she wanted no earthly husband but only Christ. Amazingly she got her way.

Gertrude was demonstrating her pious character when she turned down a life of wealth and influence. Gertrude had been influenced by the lives of other noble women who left their royal palaces to found convents. Her mother Ida and her sister Begga were known as holy women. They gave hospitality to missionary monks and pilgrims. They gave some land to one Irish monk so that he could build a monastery at Fosse.

When Pippin died (639), Ida and Gertrude founded the monastery at Nivelles. By doing this they were able to keep their part of the family fortune out of the hands of the rulers. It was acceptable to divert one’s money to religious causes. Apparently at this time the nuns did not have to take a vow of poverty. (In later centuries when women entered the convent all of their worldly goods would become church property.) Though the women kept control of their money, they usually spent it on the poor while they lived modestly. Gertrude was an exceptional example of using her money to help the poor.

Gertrude became an abbess at age seventeen with her mother helping her as a consultant. The monastery at Nivelles was a ‘double monastery’. There were places for men and for women, but all could socialize in common areas. Women as well as men studied the Scriptures and enjoyed a high rate of literacy. Learned monks from Ireland and Rome came, bringing many books with them.

Gertrude was gifted with intelligence and wisdom. She was able to commit whole sections of the Bible to memory. She was a committed leader and the women and men in the monastery were willing to follow her. Ascetism was still considered a special spiritual virtue. Gertrude practiced fasting from food and sleep to the point of wearing herself out by the time she was in her early thirties. She had to resign her position as abbess at age thirty-two. She then spent the rest of her days praying, reading, and fasting.

Once released from the responsibilities of her office Gertrude could exhort and preach the word of God. When her life was drawing to a close, she wore a hair shirt under her robe. She asked that she be buried with only the hair shirt and a simple veil that had been a gift from a traveling nun. On her last day on earth she led the nuns in prayer and at night she led them through the vigils. She died the next day at age thirty-three.

Gertrude is considered the patron saint of travelers, gardeners, and cats. She is often depicted as an abbess with cats. It is said that she offered hospitality to all people and animals and took care of the cats that adopted the monastery for their home. She offered them affection and food. Also because of her hospitality to traveling monks and nuns she is the patron of travelers.

Gertrude shares the same feast day as St. Patrick, March 17.

 

 

 

[1]See posts on this blog site from January 22, 2019 through June 4, 2019 for “Women in the Patristic Era”.

[2]See the post on “Clothilde” (August 5, 2019) for the historical account of the dynasties that ruled the empire from the 5th through 7th centuries.

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