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Who Were Heloise and Abelard?

Niki Foster
By
Updated May 17, 2024
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Heloise and Abelard were scholars and clandestine lovers in 12th century France, known for their correspondence. Pierre Abelard wrote of his affair with Heloise in his autobiography. The couple's monument in Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris is a traditional site for lovers to leave letters in tribute to Heloise and Abelard.

At the turn of the 12th century, Abelard, still in his early twenties, had already surpassed his teachers at Notre-Dame de Paris and set up his own school, first at Melun and later at Corbeil, closer to Paris. He became a celebrated and sought after teacher of philosophy and theology in Paris, becoming the head of Notre-Dame by 1115. Within a few years of his appointment at Notre-Dame, Abelard would meet his most famous student, Heloise.

To the ward of a canon named Fulbert, Heloise was a remarkably intelligent and engaged young woman, learned in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, and also supposedly very beautiful. Abelard gained a post as Heloise's private tutor and the two soon fell in love. Fulbert was furious when he discovered their relationship and kept the two apart. However, Heloise had already become pregnant, and Abelard arranged for her to give birth to the child, named Astrolabe after a new navigational instrument in Brittany.

In an attempt to appease Fulbert, Abelard secretly married Heloise, although she was opposed to the plan, as she felt it would limit Abelard's professional options. Heloise soon afterwards entered a convent at Argenteuil at Abelard's suggestion, as he believed it would protect her from her guardian's wrath. Unfortunately, this gave Fulbert an excuse to attack Abelard, whom he accused of trying to get rid of Heloise. Fulbert and a group of his friends castrated Abelard, ruining not only his marriage to Heloise but also his chances at the priesthood, which was canonically closed to eunuchs.

After Abelard's castration, Heloise became a nun at the convent in which she sought refuge, eventually becoming prioress. When her convent was taken over, Abelard made a home for Heloise and her fellow nuns in his monastery, the Oratory of the Paraclete, while he moved to the Abbey of St. Gildas in Brittany. Heloise became the abbess of the Oratory of the Paraclete and began a lengthy correspondence with Abelard in which they renewed their devotion to each other, albeit chastely. Heloise and Abelard were buried together at the Oratory of the Paraclete and moved to Pere-Lachaise in 1817, although the truth of this account of their final resting place is debated. In any case, the lovers' monument at Pere Lachaise was in large part responsible for the current popularity of the cemetery, which now boasts the remains of innumerable celebrities.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Niki Foster
By Niki Foster , Writer

In addition to her role as a WiseGEEK editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

Discussion Comments

By anon30154 — On Apr 14, 2009

What happened to astrolabe?

Niki Foster

Niki Foster

Writer

In addition to her role as a WiseGEEK editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in...

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