Sunday, June 19, 2022

Guibert of Nogent

Guibert of Nogent, a Benedictine  was not remarkable in his time, but his extensive writings and autobiography have more recently provided insight into daily life in the Middle Ages.

Born c.1055 to minor nobility, his was a breech birth. His family made an offering to the Virgin Mary the he would be dedicated to a religious life if he survived. Guibert's father (according to his autobiography) was violent man who died while Guibert was still young. Guibert believed his father would have broken the vow and would have tried to get Guibert to become a knight.

At the age of 12, after six years of a strict tutor for the boy, his mother retired to an abbey near saint-Germer-de-Fly. Soon after, Guibert entered the Order of Saint-Germer, studying classical works. The influence of Anselm of Bec inspired him to change his focus to theology.

The first major literary work of his was the Dei gesta per Francos ("God's deeds through the Franks"). It is a more polished version of the anonymous Gesta Francorum. His additions give us more information about the reaction to the Crusade in France.

His autobiography is also patterned after another work, the Confessions of St. Augustine. It is a lengthy work dealing with his youth and upbringing and his life in a monastery. There are references that give us insight into daily life, such as when he denigrates someone for their manner of dress:

But because there are no good things, that do not at times give occasion to some wickedness, when he was one day in a village engaged on some business or other, behold there stood before him a man in a scarlet cloak and silken hose that had the soles cut away in a damnable fashion, with hair effeminately parted in front and sweeping the tops of his shoulders looking more like a lover than a traveller.

Guibert's criticisms tell us something about attitude toward certain fashions. 

He had a skeptical view on saints:

I have indeed seen, and blush to relate, how a common boy, nearly related to a certain most renowned abbot, and squire (it was said) to some knight, died in a village hard by Beauvais .on Good Friday, two days before Easter. Then, for the sake of that sacred day whereon he had died, men began to impute a gratuitous sanctity to the dead boy. When this had been rumoured among the country-folk, all agape for something new, then forthwith oblations and waxen tapers were brought to his tomb by the villagers of all that country round. What need of more words? A monument was built over him, the pot was hedged in with a stone building, and from the very confines of Brittany there came great companies of country-folk, though without admixture of the higher sort. That most wise abbot with his religious monks, seeing this, and being enticed by the multitude of gifts that were brought, suffered the fabrication of false miracles. [Treatise on Relics]

...and on saints' relics:

Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, eagerly desired the body of St Exuperius, his predecessor, who was honoured with special worship in the town of Corbeil. He paid, therefore, the sum of one hundred pounds to the sacristan of the church which possessed these relics that he might take them for himself. But the sacristan cunningly dug up the bones of a peasant named Exuperius and brought them to the Bishop. The Bishop, not content with assertion, exacted from him an oath that these bones brought were those of Saint Exuperius. "I swear," replied the man, "that these are the bones of Exuperius: as to his sanctity I cannot swear, since many earn the title of saints are far indeed from holiness." [Treatise on Relics]

He died in 1124.

Speaking of deeds of the Franks, there should be some interesting items to glean from the aforementioned Gesta Francorum. Stay tuned.

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