The Great Love Story of Abelard and Heloise

"Whenever they speak of great men, they will remember Peter Abelard"  Heloise

 "If I am remembered, it will be for this:  that I was loved by Heloise"  Abelard

The tragic love story of Heloise and Abelard is one of history's most romantic love stories. It is the story of 12th century theologian and philosopher Abelard and the unabiding love for his student, twenty years his junior, Heloise.

As the story goes, nineteen year old Heloise is questioning human existence. For she is a truth-seeker and student of life and great abiding knowledge. At this time, only one man could become her teacher, Pierre (Peter) Abelard, twenty years her senior. Abelard is a well-known theologian and philosopher in 12th century Paris, France. He becomes her teacher and they discover mutual spiritual and physical desires metered by her intelligence and wit. They fall deeply in love, against all the odds.

When Heloise tells him she is pregnant, they flee to Brittany where Abelard was born. Heloise's cousin, Canon Fulbert arranges a secret marriage but shortly after they are wed, Fulbert's plot to ruin Abelard and keep Heloise for himself is discovered. Wanting only her safety, Heloise leaves for a convent in Argenteuil. Sadly, for Abelard it is too late and he is brutally attacked in Paris. As a result, Abelard believes himself incapable of continuing teaching. Heloise and Abelard agree to take Holy Orders as a monk and a nun. Heloise must give up her child, knowing that she will never see her again.

In spite of their separation they corresponded for twenty years. There letters survive and their love for one another is evident throughout. A chance meeting comes for them both years later in Paris and once they see each other, they know they have never stopped loving each other. They promise to remain, "Forever One."

They never meet again but their love endures within their love letters and in illuminated manuscripts, engravings, and paintings.

Here is a link to an audio player containing audio letters of all seven of their correspondence. So, if you would like to 'listen' to their words they wrote each other, audio love letters of Heloise and Abelard

Abelard and Heloise tapestry by Elio Mazzi, 1915

Heloise and Abelard on a terrace attributed to Charles Lock Eastlake

Heloise and Abelard Discovered by Fulbert
by Achille Deveria

Abelard and his pupil Heloise by Edmund Blair Leighton, 1882

Stars turn in the sky, the moon reddens the night,
And dull is the star which ought to be my guide.
But if my star should rise and turn back the dark,
My mind will no longer know the darkness of grief.
You are my day star, my Lucifer:
Without you even light is night to me,
And with you even night is splendid light.

Farewell, my star, whose splendor never wanes. Farewell, my highest hope, in whom alone I am well pleased, whom I never need bring back to mind since you never fade from mind. Farewell
(Letter 20, 'The Man to the Woman,' in the Lost Love Letters of Abelard & Heloise)                            

The Farewell of Abelard and Héloïse
  Angelica Kauffman 1780

 The star of joyous face is dulled
under the heart's dark cloud.
the laughter from my lips
grows cold--
bereft of her, my song of joy,
I must lament:
she who was near me is hidden now,
in whom my heart's strength flowers,
(in whom) all of me dwells.

In the dance of Love she shines
beyond the rest,
she whose name is radiant
with the light of Helios,
who serves as mirror
for the earth--I worship her,
I long only to look on her
in this world!

I lament
my day to day loneliness,
I who with the strength
of night's compliantness
stole many a kiss
from lips dewy with cinnamon--
and still her scent of cassia pierces
my heart's home!

Yet she, without a hope for solace,
wastes away,
the flower of her youth grows dry--
if only this great gulf of space
were done away with,
that this parting
might grant rights which are secure
to those who are joined!

Abelard, 'Dull Is The Star'
(This Latin poem, 'Hebet sidus laeti visus,'
contains a pun on Heloise's name--Helios--in the second stanza.)


Kevin Marsh said…
Hello Kimberly, What a lovely story, I'm surprised that Elizabeth Chadwick hasn't picked up on it an written a novel, maybe I should write a medieval story!
Thank you for sharing this and I will certaintly look into it deeper.

Kind regards

Kevin Marsh
Kimberly Eve said…
Hi Kevin, I'm so glad you enjoyed the story. I've always loved it. Funny you should mention Elizabeth Chadwick, one of my favorite writers. For whatever reasons her interests are elsewhere. I would like to see what you could do with a medieval story! It would be great. Thanks so much for commenting.
Hermes said…
Great summary. I remember reading years ago a great Penguin edition of the Letters.
Kimberly Eve said…
What a coincidence! That's the edition they had at my local library. Happy Reading to me :)

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