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Archive for the ‘Historical Women’ Category

Thousands of women 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]

Women participated in all ministries in the first few centuries of the church. Things really changed for women in the 6th and 7th centuries when women began to be barred from the freedom of ministry that they exercised in the Patristic Era and Early Medieval Era. The main reason was 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. It has taken until the twentieth century for people to realize that women are capable of doing anything intellectual or spiritual that men can do. In fact, women often do better.

Thankfully, the poor treatment of women in the Middle Ages did not entirely stop them from finding ways to follow Christ. One of the chief ways that women were able to serve was in the cloister.  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. Our story this week is about a dedicated servant of Christ whose godly influence changed the lives of thousands. Lioba found a way to honor the traditions of the church while working to further the kingdom of God.

 

Lioba (710-780)

An aged nun at Wimborne Abbey recognized that the young nun Lioba, whose name means “beloved” would become significant in Christ’s church. Lioba had had a dream and sought an explanation. The aged nun explained, “the person whose holiness and wisdom make her a worthy recipient, because by her teaching and good example she will confer benefits on many people.” She added, that many would “profit by her words and example, and the effect of them will be felt in other lands afar off whither she will go.”[2] The prophecy would come true; Lioba’s ministry would extend all through Germany.

Lioba was born in Wessex, England in 710 AD. As a young girl she was sent to Wimborne Abbey in Dorset to study under the abbess, Mother Tetta. Lioba was a gifted student and earned a reputation as an intelligent and pious scholar. Lioba read and memorized Scripture and applied herself to learning how to minister to others. Early on she showed an ability for organization and leadership that would serve her well later in her life.

In the meantime, the well-known St. Boniface was going throughout all of Saxony, Thuringia, and Hesse (part of modern Germany) spreading the gospel and making many converts. He desired to have places for new believers to worship and study. Because of correspondence with his cousin, Lioba, who was related to him on her mother’s side, he knew that there were many educated nuns in English convents. Lioba and Boniface corresponded for about twenty years. (You can read an example of one of her letters to him at the end of this post.)

Boniface wrote to Mother Tetta and asked if some nuns could come and assist in the work. He was pleased to take the opportunity to use Lioba’s giftedness to spread monasteries all over Germany. This was not only because he and Lioba were related, but because Lioba’s reputation as a wise and devout Christian was known far and wide and Boniface knew that she would win the respect of nuns and monks. His faith in her was rewarded by her many years of selfless devotion.

Mother Tetta sent Boniface some thirty nuns including Lioba. When they arrived at Mainz, on the Rhine, Boniface set them up in a dwelling at Bischofsheim. Lioba became the abbess there and the nuns quickly turned it into a model monastery. Soon the new abbey was filled with people desiring to have a religious vocation. Lioba was a good teacher. The new Christians were taught the “right way”. They quickly absorbed the teaching because Lioba not only spoke the Word of God to them, but she modeled it daily. Though she could be strict about obedience to God’s commands, Lioba was also cheerful, hospitable, and full of charitable works.

Many other monasteries were set up around Germany. Lioba modeled them after the Benedictine rule of life. St. Benedict’s Rule was to ensure that nuns and monks lived a holy life while in the monastery. The three main rules are familiar to us – poverty, chastity, and obedience. Lioba modeled them religiously. The abbots of other monasteries were so impressed with her that they often asked for her advice and guidance.

Lioba was even found at court ministering to royalty. She was uncomfortable there but had formed a friendship with Queen Hiltigard and King Charles. They had heard of her wisdom and the depth of her faith and sought her support. She would go cheerfully when they invited her but would not stay long. She always cared for the work that God gave her in the monasteries and among the poor and would soon return to her life of prayer and service. She had no desire for wealth or earthly possessions.

Sometimes Lioba went to the monastery at Fulda to say her prayers. This was an unusual privilege because it was a male-only monastery. Women were not allowed to enter. Permission was given to her because Boniface had spoken highly of her to the elders and because he had ordered them to bury Lioba there when she died. Boniface loved her for her great wisdom and kindness. Lioba outlived Boniface by twenty-four years. Boniface had gone to Friesland where he was eventually martyred. Lioba was about seventy years old when she died around 780 AD.

In her final years, Lioba spent her time in prayer and visiting the other monasteries imparting her wisdom and exhorting them to follow Christ’s example of love and care for the poor. When she died her body was tenderly and respectfully carried by the monks of Fulda in a procession to their monastery. They were not willing however to open St. Boniface’s tomb to bury Lioba there. Instead they buried her on the north side of the altar which the martyr St. Boniface had built.

Here is an example of one of Lioba’s letters to St. Boniface written in 723. Imagine this young woman, approximately thirteen years of age demonstrating her profound wisdom, spirituality, and grace. (Could any teenager today write this way!)

The letter was written as an accompaniment to a gift. Note the humility as Lioba also sends a small poem that she wrote for Boniface.

To my revered master Boniface, bearing the insignia of the highest office, most dear to me in Christ and bound to me by ties of kinship, I, Lioba, least of the servants of those who bear the easy yoke of Christ, wish enduring health and prosperity. I beg you graciously to bear in mind your ancient friendship for my father, Dynne, formed long ago in the West country. It is now eight years since he was called away from this world, and I ask your prayers for his soul. I recall to your memory also my mother, Aebbe, who, as you know, is bound to you by ties of blood. She lives a life of suffering, bowed down by grievous illness. I am the only daughter of my parents and, unworthy though I be, I wish that I might regard you as a brother; for there is no other man in my kinship in whom I have such confidence as in you. I have ventured to send you this little gift, not as if it deserved even a kindly glance from you but that you may have a reminder of my insignificance and not let me be forgotten on account of our wide separation. May the bond of our true affection be knit ever more closely for all time. I eagerly pray, my dear brother, that I may be protected by the shield of your prayers from the poisoned darts of the hidden enemy. I beg you also to be so kind as to correct the unskilled style of this letter and to send me, by way of example, a few kind words which I greatly long to hear. I have composed the following verses according to the rules of poetic art, not trusting to my own presumption, but trying only to exercise my little talents and needing your assistance. I have studied this art under the guidance of Eadburga, who still carries on without ceasing her investigation of the divine law.

Farewell, and may you live long and happily, making intercession for me.
The omnipotent Ruler who alone created everything,
He who shines in splendor forever in His Father’s kingdom,
The perpetual fire by which the glory of Christ reigns,
May preserve you forever in perennial right.

Lioba joined her friend Boniface in heaven around 779 or 780 AD. The two are forever in the presence of Christ along with the other saints of the Medieval era.

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

[2] Amy Oden, editor. In Her Words: Women’s Writings in the History of Christian Thought (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1994). P. 90-91.

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The subject of this blog is courageous women. As I sat down to write my thoughts for the coming year, I made a personal resolution to be more like the women I write about.

It just so happens that my family and I watched a movie about Irena Sendler last night. Irena is one of the many women who have inspired me over the years. Irena put her life on the line to rescue over 2500 Jewish children from the Warsaw ghetto during WWII. I cannot really imagine what it would be like to put my life on the line in order to rescue helpless victims. Would God give me the courage to do it? My prayer is that He would. He certainly gave Irena incredible courage.

To celebrate the New Year I am thanking God for our gift of freedom of worship and life here in our country. I pray that He will continue to bless our country.

I hope you have a blessed New Year. Consider watching the movie about Irena Sendler for encouragement in your faith and life.

MOVIE: The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler

Anna Paquin; Marcia Gay Harden; Goran Visnjic (Actors), John Kent Harrison (Director), 2009.
Other movies have been made about Irena Sendler. I heard that there is even a new one coming out later this year. I am sure I will watch it!!

YouTube:
Here is an interesting site you can go to right now:

► 2:08► 2:08 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZXP5Gvxqgsg

 

In the meantime – “spoiler alert” – Here is a short account of her life. The movie follows it pretty well.

Irena Sendler – A Woman of Courage and Faith

Though she rescued more than 2500 children and babies from the Warsaw ghetto during WWII, Irena Sendler remained a humble woman taking no credit for her heroic work up until her death, at the age of 98 in May 2008. She said that she wished she had done even more.

Irena Sendler was one of the most courageous women who has ever lived. She not only put her life on the line to rescue Jewish children right under the noses of the Nazis, but she also had to do it in an atmosphere of ambivalence or even hatred from her fellow German countrymen. Many who called themselves Christians in Germany were too afraid to help the Jews. In my last blog posting I asked whether or not doing nothing about the human trafficking problem in our day is considered a sin of omission. Many in Germany during WWII were certainly also guilty of this sin by ignoring the plight of the Jews.

I really admire the way that Irena Sendler went about defying the Nazis. She did not start riots or create anarchy in any way. She merely went about quietly saving the lives of babies and children. We do not have to cause trouble in order to reject wicked laws; it is enough to at least rescue and care for the victims. This kind of love and courage was exemplified in Irena’s life.

Irena Sendler was born in 1910 in Otwock, a town located about fifteen miles southeast of Warsaw. Her father was a doctor and many of his patients were poor Jews.

When the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939 they murdered many thousands. At that time Irena was a Polish social worker. She was able to help many Jews by giving them fictitious Christian names. Others were protected when Irena reported that their homes were afflicted with highly infectious diseases such as typhus or tuberculosis. The Nazis avoided them.

This worked for a while, but in 1942 the Nazis herded hundreds of thousands of Jews into a 16-block area that came to be known as the Warsaw ghetto. The area was sealed off and the Jews were just awaiting death. Eventually their numbers would dwindle to only about 55,000 and then the Nazis would send those remaining to the death camps.

Irena was shocked and sickened. She joined a Polish underground movement and began her efforts to rescue Jewish children.

Irena managed to be able to enter the ghetto legally by getting a pass as a worker for Warsaw’s Epidemic Control Department. She took in as much food, medicine, and clothing as she could, but 5000 people a month were dying. She tried to convince some mothers to let her smuggle their children out.

Irena talked some friends, many only teenagers, into helping her take aid into the ghetto and children out of the ghetto. They hid the children on trams and garbage wagons. Some children left the ghetto in body bags or gunnysacks. At least one child left in an ambulance. Some children lay under the floorboards of a wagon that had a large dog on top whose barking could cover their cries. They led some children out in underground passageways and through the city sewers. They obtained forged Catholic birth certificates so that the children could live safely in the homes that volunteered to take them.

The children were taught prayers and how to behave in a church. In this way they were able to prevent the arrest and execution of those who were brave enough to adopt the children by fooling the Nazis into thinking they were Christians. Lest you think Irena was only proselytizing, she fully intended to unite as many children as she could after the war with their parents. She put the names of the more than 2500 children that she rescued into jars. She then buried the jars in the neighbor’s yard under an apple tree.

The Nazis eventually caught on to what she was doing. She was arrested on October 20, 1943, and imprisoned and tortured. The Nazis broke both of her feet and her legs crippling her for life. Under this torture she never revealed a single name of a co-conspirator or any other people who were helping. By this time there were many children living in convents, but Irena never gave away anyone who was helping the children. The punishment for helping Jews was instant death.

At one point, Irena was sentenced to death, but she was saved at the last minute when the Polish underground was able to bribe a Gestapo agent to set her free.

After the war Irena dug up the jars and tried to search for the children’s parents. Unfortunately, most of the Jewish adults had died in the death camps. The children had only known Irena by her code name, Jolanta, and it was difficult for them to try and find out what happened to their parents. However, there were many happy stories. Years later a man who saw Irena’s picture in the paper called her. He said, “I remember your face. It was you who took me out of the ghetto.”

Irena was a candidate to receive the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, but the honor was not awarded to her. Instead it was given to Al (“I invented the computer”) Gore. The International Federation of Social Workers expressed their disappointment, “However IFSW is deeply saddened that the life work of Nobel nominee Irena Sendler, social worker, did not receive formal recognition. Irena Sendler and her helpers took personal risks day after day to prevent the destruction of individual lives — the lives of the children of the Warsaw ghetto. This work was done very quietly, without many words and at the risk of their lives. “

Truly Irena deserved the award more than the actual recipient. Perhaps in the years ahead this wrong will be righted.

Poland honored her at a special ceremony in their upper house of Parliament. It was very fitting that Elzbieta Ficowska, who was six months old when she was saved by Irena read out a letter on Irena’s behalf: “Every child saved with my help is the justification of my existence on this Earth, and not a title to glory,” Irena Sendler said in the letter, “Over a half-century has passed since the hell of the Holocaust, but its spectre still hangs over the world and doesn’t allow us to forget.”

The world should be grateful for courageous women like Irena Sendler.

I hope you all have a blessed New Year!

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Saint Frideswide – (650 – 727)

There are thousands of amazing stories of women who lived during Medieval times. For most people living today the history is just too far in the past. The cultures were so different from our democratic, individualistic society that it is hard to relate to the people who lived then.

But as we study the lives of women who lived in the fifth through fifteenth centuries, we find that apart from the outward circumstances, they were very much like ourselves. Women prayed, taught, preached, traveled, administered in organizations, founded ministries, 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 can relate 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 ideasabout 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.

One of the chief ways that women were able to serve was in the cloister. We continued with our accounts of women in Medieval times with the stories of godly abbesses. We related the stories of Gertrude, Abbess of Nivelles and a distant relative of Gertrude’s – Anstrude of Laon.

This week we continue with the story of Saint Frideswide. In the fall of 2016 I had the opportunity to travel to Oxford and visit Christ Church which is the site where St. Frideswide founded her chapel. I posted a story on her when I returned to the States and find that I cannot improve on it. I hope you enjoy reading about her.

Saint Frideswide 

 It is virtually certain that Oxford developed around a mid-Saxon monastic church (the predecessor of the present Cathedral) at a major crossing over the Thames, and that the first head of the church was a princess named Frideswide.

John Blair: “Saint Frideswide: Patron of Oxford”

In the fall of 2016, I had an opportunity to visit London and Oxford. While in Oxford I toured the famous Christ Church. Harry Potter fans will recognize the Great Hall. The pictures in this post were taken by me during the tour.

But even more exciting to me was the fact that the church gives credit for its original founding to a woman – St. Frideswide. Our tour guide emphasized St. Frideswide during our entire tour. Frideswide established the original monastery there around the turn of the eighth century.

Most of the present cathedral was built at the end of the twelfth century as a priory church for the Augustinian Canons who lived there. More additions were completed through the centuries. Christ Church still functions as a college in Oxford.

This shrine to St. Frideswide was built in 1289 but broken up in 1538 when the Reformer’s criticized praying to saints. Parts of the shrine were discovered in a well in the nineteenth century and restored to the church. The beautiful chapel and shrine were finished as we see them in this picture in 2002.

A beautiful stained-glass window (by Edward Burne-Jones, 1858) graces the end of the Latin Chapel – the area in Christ Church commemorating Frideswide’s story.

Here is another of the stained-glass windows of Frideswide.

There is a special chair in cathedrals for the archbishop to sit in when he visits. Above this special chair is another memorial to St. Frideswide. The women seated to her right and left are St. Catherine and St. Cecilia – two women who were also well known for their faithful acts of piety and charity. Both were also persecuted for their faith.

Frideswide’s Story

Frideswide, (also called Frithuswith, or Fritha as she was known to family and friends), was born around 650 AD. She was born a princess to King Didan of Oxford and Queen Sefrida. Sefrida was a very godly woman, known for her charitable works. Her parents, Didan and Sefrida loved her very much.

Frideswide was carefully brought up by a governess, a holy woman named Elgitha. Frideswide began to love and honor God under Elgitha’s teaching and her life took a spiritual direction from an early age. She was a gifted student and within six months had learned the entire Psalter.

After her mother died Frideswide lived in Oxford with her father. She persuaded him to give her some land so that she could build a church.

The period between 650 and 720 was the age of the great monasteries. Many were founded by kings and princes, and in our story a princess. These were “double” monasteries, where men and women both lived and worshipped and served. At this time the monasteries were mostly self-governing. It would be many years before the monasteries were consolidated under the rule of the organized church.

Frideswide and twelve other women formed a convent. Her fame spread not only as a pious woman, but it was known that she was rich and beautiful. This attracted Aelfgar, the Earl of Leicester and he pressed his suit for her hand.

Here is where the story gets interesting. Frideswide refused to get married. She desired only to serve Christ for the rest of her life. This made Aelfgar angry and he decided to take Frideswide by force. He traveled to the forest where she was living. He was struck blind as he neared Frideswide! Only after he repented and asked for her forgiveness was his sight restored. In another version of the story, Aelfgar sent two messengers ahead with flattering words and his offer of marriage. Frideswide rebuffed them and they returned to Oxford to report to Prince Aelfgar. They were struck blind as they entered the city.

Like other “legends” the story is probably embellished, but no doubt there is a kernel of truth in the various accounts of Frideswide’s life. Something certainly happened to convince Aelfgar to leave Frideswide alone. God certainly blessed Frideswide and the community with her service to them.

Here is one account of the story according to William of Malmesbury (c. 1125) from John Blair’s book, “Saint Frideswide: Patron of Oxford” (p. 29, 30).

In old times there was in the city of Oxford a monastery of nuns, where rests the most holy virgin Frideswide. A kings’ daughter, she spurned a king’s bed, avowing her chastity to the Lord Christ. But the king had set his heart upon marrying the virgin, and when prayers and flatteries had been spent in vain he prepared to take her by force. Frideswide learnt of this and fled into a wood. No refuge could be secret from the lover, no coldness of heart could deter him: he followed the fugitive. So once again, when the young man’s frenzy became plain, with God’s help she entered Oxford at dead of night by means of hidden ways. By morning the persistent lover had hastened there too, and the girl, now despairing of flight and too weary to go any further, prayed to God for protection for herself and punishment for her persecutor. As he passed through the town gates with this thegns, a heaven-sent blow struck him blind. Understanding the wrongfulness of his persistence, he placated Frideswide by means of messengers and recovered his sight as quickly as he had lost it. Thus it came about that kings of England are afraid to enter or lodge in that town: it is said to bring ruin, and they all shrink from the danger of putting it to the test. So the woman, secure in her maidenly victory, established a monastery there where she ended her days, submitting to her bridegroom’s call.*

In the time of king Aethelred, the Danes, doomed to be slain, fled into that monastery and were consumed by fire together with the buildings through the insatiable anger of the English. But soon the sanctuary was purified by the king’s penance, the monastery rebuilt, old lands returned, new possessions added. In our own time** only a few clerks remained there, who lived as they pleased so Roger bishop of Salisbury gave the place to Wimund, a canon of excellent learning and no mean holiness. He toiling fruitfully at the task entrusted to him, established there for God many canons to live according to the rule.***

*This “bridegroom” is the Lord Jesus Christ.

** c. 1125

***The canons lived under the rule of St. Augustine.

 

Frideswide lived happily at Oxford for many years. She eventually retired to Binsey, where she built a chapel. She prayed for water and a spring appeared. You can visit that site today. She eventually died on October 19, 727. She was buried at St. Mary’s church.

I was happy to be able to climb up the tower of St. Mary’s. Here is a view from there.

 

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

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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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There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.(Galatians 3:28)

 

In earliest Christianity women were treated far better than they had been in antiquity. The apostles and disciples of Christ took Paul’s instruction to the believers at Corinth seriously and they allowed women to serve in ministry in the Church. Throughout the Patristic Era (about 200 to 500 AD) women were allowed be involved in the life of the church even in leadership positions. They prayed, taught, preached, journeyed as evangelists, founded monasteries, presided over church ordinances such as communion and baptism, took care of the poor and some even reigned over kingdoms. These humble and faithful 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]

 

Our journey through the Middle Ages has included some lay women such as Genovefa of Paris (423-502), but most of the posts have been about queens such as Clothilde, the Queen of the Franks (470-545), Empress Theodora (497-548), and two Merovingian queens – Radegund (520 – 587) and Bathildis (630 – 680). Throughout the Middle Ages there would be many more women in political positions of leadership. We have more of this information than stories about common women because many documents about the wealthy and influential have survived. It is still awesome to see how many of these Christian women with political power used it to benefit the poor. But since the status of women in general was being lowered throughout the Middle Ages, even the queens had to submit to male authority.

 

Changes had begun to take place for women in ministry during the Medieval Era. Little by little women were being barred from the freedom of ministry in the Church that they exercised in the Patristic Era. What happened to the freedom women had begun to enjoy when Christianity began to transform the cultures in the Greco-Roman world? Why didn’t the transformation stick or spread further? How did the view of women suffer such a reversal when it was not only unbiblical but unethical?

When the Church began to form itself into an institution in the late fourth and early fifth centuries, women were left out. The institutional Church formed itself into a hierarchy that excluded women. Women were barred from education and service. Not all women just gave up and faded into the background. Yes, women are generally peaceful and were submissive to the formal hierarchy, but they found avenues for serving Christ in another way – the monastery. We have already looked at the life of a female founder of a monastery – Brigid of Kildare (451-523). In our upcoming posts we will look at the lives of many more women who exercised leadership in the monasteries. Before we explore the lives of the many pious abbesses, let’s pause and see why women chose this way of life.

 

Religious Life for Medieval Women

There were many reasons why women began to be barred from service in the Church. Whole books have been written about misogyny, abuse of power, ignorance, and superstition. For our purposes we want to explore the main cause of the belittlement of women that encouraged them to find their spiritual fulfillment in monasteries or cloisters when they were abandoned by the church.

The cause of the diminishment of women in the Church was generally speaking – 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. How did this come about?

What Jesus began when He treated women with dignity and equality, the early disciples of Christ continued. In the Patristic Era and the early part of the Medieval Era women had opportunities to seek spiritual fulfillment in many ways. Unlike the surrounding pagan culture, men were not to see their wives as only objects for procreation, but to treat their wives as equal ministry partners. Christian men were taught to “love their own wives as their own bodies” (Ephesians 5:28). In this passage, Paul is reminding believers that God originally created men and women to share in the work in the world equally (Genesis 1:26 – 30). For the first three centuries Christian singles and married couples served together in ministry. In fact, married men were seen as better equipped to furnish pastoral care in churches with their wives helping them.

Somewhere in the fourth or fifth centuries, many men lost sight of God’s original plan for equality of men and women in Genesis. They overlooked Christ’s example of allowing women into full discipleship,[2]and Paul’s reminder to the church of the equal status of women (Galatians 3:28). It is hard for us today to understand how men could suddenly demean women in an unbiblical fashion, but we must remember that many were illiterate. Even if they could read, there were not many Bibles available and the Bible was in Latin. Lay people had to believe the word of their priests and especially the bishops. How were the bishops able to convince men that only they could be priests? What was the matter with women?

There were many motives from ignorance to spiritual abuse. But the reason we explore today since it led to women feeling the need to turn to the cloister has to do with the view of “purity”.  In the fourth and fifth centuries ascetism including sexual abstinence was valued as a loftier Christian virtue. Men and women sought to dedicate their lives to service free from the troubles of marriage. They had some Biblical basis for this in I Corinthians 7 where Paul encourages singleness for those who would wholly follow the Lord. Celibacy became very popular. In time, the idea began to take hold that purity meant “sexual abstinence”.  Paul never said that sexual relations in marriage was a sin, but somehow with the idealization of abstinence it turned into that for the church.

The hierarchy in the Church went further – they actually passed laws forbidding priests to marry, or if they were married, they were forbidden to have relations with their wives.[3]The reason was that the priests handled the bread and wine for communion and those elements had to be ritually pure. Now that all sexual relations were seen as impure, they tainted the priest and therefore tainted the communion elements. There’s no time here to discuss the question of why the elements (bread and wine) took on such an exalted nature in the communion service. Even today in the Roman Catholic Church only the priests can handle the consecrated elements. Still today, priests may not marry. What we are concerned about for now is what happened to the women.

We find increasingly in the writings of the fourth and fifth centuries a disparagement against marriage and women.

              As the Western church began to press for sexual abstinence in higher orders, apologists began to compare the wives of clerics to Eve. For example, an anonymous treatise about the seven ecclesiastical grades, composed around 420, warned priests not to give power over their souls to their wives because, like Adam placed in paradise, they too might be beguiled. Tirades about woman’s role as temptress, henceforth appearing regularly in conciliar legislation, papal decretals, sermons, and treatises, encouraged the identification of women with sexuality and sin.[4]

No wonder with such a low view of women, females began to be left out of ministry. If the leaders of the Medieval Church were biblically and ethically correct, then women today should still not be allowed to serve as priests or clerics. Thankfully, over time as churches have studied their Bibles, we now realize that women were cruelly and mischievously abused. The mystery to me is “Why did it take so long?”

In the Middle Ages there was a place where women could find spiritual comfort and use their gifts and abilities to serve even in leadership positions. The monastery, abbey, cloister, or nunnery, though often under the hierarchal control of the institutional church, was still relatively free of the restrictions put on women in lay life. Women were respected and honored in the religious houses.

In the coming weeks we will take a deeper look at life for women in Medieval times as we consider the inspiring stories of the many faithful women who overcame the prejudice against them and found a way 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.

 

 

 

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

[2]See for example Luke 10:38-42. When Martha complained that her sister Mary was not helping her in the kitchen, Jesus admonished Martha to let Mary be. “Mary has chosen the good part” said the Savior of the woman who was sitting at His feet as a disciple.

[3]For just one of many examples – The Council of Carthage declared in 401 that at the time of ordination, clergy in higher orders had to take a vow to abstain from sexual relations with their wives for the rest of their lives.

[4]Suzanne Fonay Wemple. Women in Frankish Society: Marriage and the Cloister 500 to 900(Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981). P. 130.

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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]

We began our journey through the Middle Ages with the story of Genovefa of Paris (423-502). Next, we learned about Clothilde, the Queen of the Franks (470-545) who was a contemporary of Genovefa’s. Then we took a break from Medieval Christianity on the mainland continent of Europe to look at Christianity in Ireland and her most famous saint – Brigid of Kildare (451-523). We then returned our attention to the east to the Byzantine Empire and recounted the story of Empress Theodora. As a powerful woman, Theodora saw to it that the poor and disadvantaged were cared for. Many other noble ladies used their power and resources to care for the poor. Last time we were introduced to one of these – Radegund, Queen of the Franks. This week we turn to the story of a woman who went from slavery to reigning as queen in the Merovingian era – Bathilde (sometimes spelled Bathildis).

 

Bathilde (Bathildis) – 626 (630?) – 680

Queen Bathilde was one of the last to rule during the Merovingian era. Before we begin her story, let’s take a break and review the history of the Merovingian era. The circumstances in the Frankish kingdom during this time explain the details surrounding Bathilde’s life.

The Merovingian era was from about 480 to 751 AD. It was named for King Merovech, but the dynasty was firmly established with his grandson, Clovis I who came to power in 481 AD.[2]Clovis I died in 511 AD. As time went on the Merovingian kings became weaker and there was more corruption in the land. Over 100 years later Clovis’s descendant, Dagobert I (603-638) was the last really powerful Merovingian king.

 

Descent of Frank Kings from Clovis I

Clovis I – died 511 – married St. Clothilde

Clotaire I – died 561 – married St. Radegund[3]

Chilperic I – died 584

Clotaire II – died 628

Dagobert I – died 638

Clovis II – died 657 – married St. Bathilde

 

During the reign of Dagobert I, the Merovingian dynasty reached its peak. The kingdom had gone from barbarism to the luxuries and extravagances of a settled civilization. The latter kings became self-indulgent and lazy. The weakness in their character played into the hands of very powerful men – the major-domo’s (Mayor of the palace) who became greedy. The major-domo was elected from the wealthy proprietors of the land to help the king keep them under control. But the mayors began to use their power for their own advantage. It was during a period of warfare and struggles for power in the mid-seventh century that our story about Bathilde takes place.

Around 640 AD in one of the battles between a Frankish army and the Anglo-Saxons, a young aristocratic English girl was taken prisoner. Bathilde was carried into France and sold into slavery to the mayor of the palace, a man named Erchinoald. Bathilde was sweet and good-natured even in the face of her bad fortune. She had a cheerful countenance and was beautiful. Erchinoald desired to marry her, but she steadfastly refused.

Clovis had noticed the beautiful Bathilde too. Erchinoald offered to give her to him and Clovis and Bathilde were married. Bathilde was around nineteen years of age. They had three sons who would go on to be kings of the Franks – Clotaire III, Childeric II, and Theodoric III.

Clovis II became ruler of the entire kingdom of the Franks in 657. He only reigned in this capacity for a few months, dying in November of that year. Queen Bathilde became the regent for her young son Clotaire.

For a time, everything went well. Bathilde was assisted by the major-domo, Erchinoald who helped her rule wisely. The queen tried to do much that would help her people. She did away with a dreadful poll tax that mostly harmed the poor. Fathers were selling their children into slavery in order to pay the tax. Bathilde forbade the sale or purchase of Christian slaves. Having been a victim of war as a slave herself, Bathilde could sympathize with the prisoners captured in war. She declared that the slaves should be freed. Bathilde won the love of her people for her justice and compassion.

Bathilde also worked with the bishops to end corruption in the church. She supported the religious houses in her kingdom and at least two of them were founded out of her own means. One of them was at Corby, near Amiens and the other at Chelles near Paris on the river Marne.

During her reign forests and wastelands were reclaimed and turned into productive agricultural lands. Ahead of her time as a statesman, Bathilde introduced the concept of private property which had the effect of greatly improving the economy. Besides allowing property to be owned by someone other than the church or the nobles, individuals could start businesses. Farmers had the incentive to get loans and improve their land. The people greatly rejoiced in their freedom under Bathilde.

Bathilde built hospitals and purchased the supplies for the needy with the sale of her own jewelry. She continued to feed the hungry, clothe the poor, bury the dead and promote Christianity. She was praised by her people for her wisdom, charity, and generosity.

 

 

Things took a bad turn when Erchinoald was no longer the major-domo. The new mayor, Ebroin was unscrupulous and involved the government in serious disputes with the nobles and the clergy. Ebroin was as daring as he was unprincipled. He used his power to get rid of any bishops who did not agree with him. When he had Annemond, bishop of Lyons done away with he aggravated the crime by saying that he had done it with the authority of the queen. Ebroin did everything in his power to discredit Bathilde. Always humble, Bathilde eventually wearied and felt that she could no longer fight Ebroin. Around 665, her son Clotaire had come of age and was crowned King of France. Bathilde could then retire from public life. Her other two sons were also established in their respective territories, Childeric in Austrasia and Theodoric in Burgundy.

Bathilde went to join the nuns at Chelles. Though she was queen, she did not treat the other sisters as beneath her. With her usual humility, Bathilde submitted herself to the abbess and served in any capacity that was required. Her favorite post was the infirmary. Bathilde was delighted that she could serve the poor and needy with her own hands. For the last fifteen years of her life she served and prayed with humility, wisdom, meekness, amiability, compassion, and prudence. Having been a slave of men, Bathilde became a slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. She died peacefully in 680 and was buried in the Abbey of Chelles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[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 3, 2019 for more details. Clothilde was the saintly queen of Clovis I who helped spread Christianity throughout Gaul.

[3]See the post on Radegund, September 24, 2019.

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