Have you heard the tragic story of Heloise and Abelard?
The remains interred at Père Lachaise Cemetery number in the millions, but there are some tombs, like those of Heloise and Abelard, that deserve more than a passing glance. The cemetery, located in the heart of Paris, France is famous for the grave of Jim Morrison as well as many famous figures throughout history.
But first, let me tell you their story…
Heloise was born in 1100 C.E., an she was centuries ahead of her time in intellect and opinions. She was well-educated, and fluent in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. Even with all of her knowledge, she was forced to be a ward of her Uncle, Fulbert. Heloise and Abelard crossed paths when Abelard moved into Fulbert’s house to study and tutor Heloise. Heloise was either a young girl, or a young woman in her late twenties when she first met Abelard (accounts vary.)
What happened next has long been a subject of scholarly interest and debate. Was Heloise raped by Abelard? Is it truly a tragic love story? Was it something in between? Is it truly a tale of forbidden love between student and teacher? The rigid attitudes of the day ensured that we will never know the full truth. What we do know is left to us in fragments and legend.
Heloise and Abelard began a secret affair and he ended up getting her pregnant. They married in secret, but when the news got out Abelard sent Heloise to a convent, where she gave birth to a boy named Astrolabe. What happened to Astrolabe is a mystery because he is never mentioned again.
Heloise’s relatives were furious at Abelard for sending her away, but we really don’t know if he sent her away or if she left on her own. Abelard was castrated for the supposed slight on the family honor. Heloise eventually became an Abbess and Abelard became an Abbot. Although they were separated for the rest of their lives, they corresponded for twenty years. Their letters are available on Project Gutenberg.
If you’re ever wandering the streets of Paris and want to check out the memorial to the famous pair, they are not hard to find.
Visiting Pere Lachaise:
What: The Largest Cemetery in Paris, founded in 1804
When: A nice day, 8am-6pm Mon-Fri, 8.30am-6pm Sat, 9am-6pm Sun
How to Get There: By Bus or Metro. DO NOT get off at the “Pere Lachaise” stop. Get off at “Gambetta Station” and start your tour of the cemetery through the back entrance so you can enjoy your visit walking downhill instead of uphill.
Don’t forget to: write your love note and leave it on the tomb of Heloise and Abelard so your wish will come true (like mine did).
How did Heloise feel about the status of women, marriage, and childbirth during her lifetime? She once wrote,
“What man, bent on sacred or philosophical thoughts, could endure the crying of children…? And what woman will be able to bear the constant filth and squalor of babies?”