What is the tragic story of Abelard and Héloïse?

Answer: Abelard and Héloïse are among history’s unluckiest lovers. French scholar, theologian, philosopher and teacher, Peter Abelard, was twice condemned for heresy in the 12th century. But his real problems began when he fell in love with a pupil, Héloïse.

Abelard wrote to her: ‘Under the pretext of discipline, we abandoned ourselves utterly to love’. She had his child, and they married in secret in about 1118. Héloïse’s uncle Fulbert, a canon at Notre-Dame Cathedral, was so seriously displeased, some said due to his attraction for Héloïse’s, that he had Abelard castrated.

Abelard retreated to a monastery and began what was his most productive intellectual period. Héloïse became a nun in, it was said, a convent Abelard founded especially for her. In relative safety, Abelard, emasculated but focused intellectually, was then able to continue his controversial teachings and the lovers continued to correspond by letter. They remained separated until after death, but were buried together in Paris in 1792.

In the profound drama of his relationship with Héloïse, it is often forgotten that Abelard was the greatest teacher of his age and the founder and inspiration of France’s most famous University, the Sorbonne.

Source: The Middle Ages, volume 1: sources of Medieval History by Brian Tierney

More at: History

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