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Council of Clermont

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Carolina Brewer
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« on: November 18, 2007, 03:38:03 am »




An angel blows a trumpet into Guibert's ear, declaring moral truths. Book cover by Jay Rubenstein containing a picture from the Tropologiae in prophetis, BN lat. 2502, f. 101r


Guibert of Nogent (1053–1124) was a Benedictine historian, theologian and author of autobiographical memoirs. Guibert was relatively unknown in his own time, going virtually unmentioned by his contemporaries. He has only recently caught the attention of scholars who have been more interested in his extensive autobiographical memoirs and personality which provide insight into medieval life.

Guibert was born of noble parents at Clermont-en-Beauvaisis. According to his memoirs the labour nearly cost him and his mother their lives. His father was violent, unfaithful and prone to excess and died within a year of his birth. His mother was domineering, of great beauty and intelligence, and of aggressive puritanical bent. She assumed control of his education, isolating him from his peers and put with a private tutor, from the ages of six to twelve. Guibert remembers the tutor as brutally exacting, and incompetent. Around the age of twelve his mother retired to an abbey near St. Germer de Fly (or Flay), and Guibert soon followed: entering the Order at St. Germer, he studied with great zeal, devoting himself at first to the secular poets Ovid and Virgil—an experience which left its imprint on his works—later changing to theology, through the influence of Anselm of Bec, afterwards of Canterbury.

In 1104, he was chosen abbot of the poor and tiny abbey of Nogent-sous-Coucy (founded 1059) and henceforth took a more prominent part in ecclesiastical affairs, where he came into contact with bishops and court society. More importantly it gave him time to engage in his passion for writing. His first major work of this period is his history of the First Crusade called Dei gesta per Francos ("God's deeds performed by the Franks"), finished in 1108 and touched up in 1121. The history is largely a paraphrase, in ornate style, of the Gesta Francorum of an anonymous Norman author; Crusade historians have traditionally not been forthcoming with favourable reviews; the fact that he stays so close to Gesta Francorum, and the difficulty of his Latin, make it seem superfluous. Recent editors and translators, however, have called attention to his excellent writing and original material. More importantly, Dei gesta provides invaluable information about the reception of the crusade in France, both for the general public and Guibert's own personal reactions. Guibert personally knew crusaders, had grown up with crusaders, and had talked with them about their memories and experiences on their return.

For the modern reader his autobiography (De vita sua sive monodiarum suarum libri tres), or Memoirs, written in 1115, is the most interesting of Guibert's works. Written towards the close of his life on the model of the Confessions of Saint Augustine, tracing his life from his childhood through life's difficulties, he gives many picturesque glimpses of his time and the customs of his country. The description of the short-lived commune of Laon is an historical document of the first order. He provides invaluable information on daily life in castle and monastery, on educational methods then in vogue, and insights into some of the major and minor personalities of his time. His work is coloured by his personal passions and prejudices, and these add to the value of the work for they provide a window into one person's perspective on the medieval world.

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