Among the tales of lovers, the story of Abelard and Heloise is still told even 900 years later. The passionate yet ultimately doomed relationship between the two was a huge scandal in its day and serves as a cautionary tale to us today.
The story begins innocently enough. Notre Dame’s Canon Fulbert had a beautiful niece, Heloise. Heloise was also quite intelligent and Fulbert looks for a teacher to sharpen her intellect. The young woman is inquisitive enough on matters of philosophy only one teacher can match her. Peter Abelard was a brilliant philosopher and one of the greatest logicians of the twelfth century. He accepts Heloise as a student and although he is twelve years older than her, sparks flew. Abelard was intrigued with her beauty and her intellect. Soon the two were in love and entwined in a passionate affair.
Soon Heloise found herself pregnant. The two lovers fled to Abelard’s home in Brittany. Heloise’s Uncle Fulbert proposed a secret marriage between the two lovers. Heloise was opposed but agreed to do it not sink Abelard’s career prospects. Soon after the marriage, the pair found out Fulbert was planning to keep Heloise for himself. Heloise fled to a convent Argentueil. Fulbert hired a group of men to attack Abelard. They broke into his room castrated him. Abelard felt he wasn’t able to teach or be a proper husband after his attack and retired to the monastery at St. Denis. The two took Holy Orders and gave up their child, whom they named Astrolabe, which is the equivalent of naming your kid GPS.
Living in different monasteries, Abelard and Heloise wrote to each other. Twenty years of correspondence shows the growth of their love. They only met again once in Paris and the chemistry was the same. They pledged to remain “forever one”. They never met again.
They were buried separately, but six hundred years later their love story inspired Josephine Bonaparte. She ordered the lovers entombed together Pére Lachaise cemetery. Their grave remains a popular pilgrimage place for lovers to this day.
Sources available on request