At the origins of St Nicholas’ cult in France
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At the origins of St Nicholas’ cult in France


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Learn all about the services we offer
11 Pages


ST NICHOLAS 69 NEWS th July 52014 ANGERS 1016, P OITIERS 1047 2014 $W WKH RULJLQV RI 6W 1LFKRODV¶ FXOW LQ France ..LL FULK NERRA THE VIOLENT PILGRIM Among the most characteristic figures of the Middle Agehas to be mentionedFulk III Nerra (Black Falcon),who brought the little duchy of Anjou toward national ambitions, that would have become the basis for the international successes of the Angevin Dynasty. Inhis personality merged asincere religious pietyand an ambition for the sake of which he wasready to any violence.Almost 300 years nd afterwards one of his a descendants, Charles the 2of Anjou, would have been WKH JUHDWHVW EHQHIDFWRU RI 6W 1LFKRODV¶in Bari.But was he, Fulk Nerra, Basilica who, \HDUV EHIRUH WKH 6W 1LFKRODV¶ WUDQVODWLRn to Bari,³PHW´ 6W Nicholas and built a monastery in his honor i n Angers. Angers, France: The new 6W 1LFKRODV¶ Abbey 1 FOLK III NERRA DUKE of ANJOU (970-1040) BETWEEN WARS AND PILGRIMAGES PELLEGRINAGGI Notalways devotion and piety goes together with meekness and sweetness. Man is a contradictory being who often unites in himselfvery different and by no means reconcilable aspects.



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ST NICHOLAS69NEWSth July 5 2014 ANGERS 1016, POITIERS 1047 2014At the origins of St Nicholas’ cult inFrance..LL FULK NERRA THE VIOLENT PILGRIMAmong the most characteristic figures of the Middle Agehas to be mentionedFulk III Nerra (Black Falcon),who brought the little duchy of Anjou toward national ambitions,that would have become thebasis for the international successes of the Angevin Dynasty. In his personality merged asincere religious pietyand an ambition for the sake of which he wasready to any violence.Almost 300 years nd afterwards one of his a descendants, Charles the 2 of Anjou, would have been the greatest benefactor of St Nicholas’in Bari. But was he, Fulk Nerra, Basilica who,70 years before the St Nicholas’ translation to Bari,“met” St Nicholas and built a monastery in his honor in Angers.Angers, France: The new St Nicholas’ Abbey 1
FOLK III NERRA DUKE of ANJOU (970-1040) BETWEEN WARS AND PILGRIMAGES PELLEGRINAGGI Not always devotion and piety goes together with meekness and sweetness. Man is a contradictory being who often unites in himself very different and by no means reconcilable aspects. In the stories of St Nicholas this is not rare, and one of the most typical figure in this sense is Fulk Nerra (that is Black Falcon), one of the first Angevin counts and certainly, together with his son Godfrey the Hammer, founder of the power of the Angevin dynasty.
At his father Godfrey’s death, dated July 21 of the year987the siege of during Marçon, Fulk succeded him as count of Anjou.
He continued hisfather’s politics of support for the Capetians, wishing to influence the Royal decisions. Endowed with great strategic ability he gained at Conquereuilfirst important his victory(July 27 of the year 992).
It was an extraordinary victory because he wonagainst three powerful warriors:the duke of Brittany Conan I, the count of Blois Oddo I and the duke of Normandy Richard “Without Fear”. Instead of showing pride for this success, he made many donations to the Cathedral of St Maurice of Angers «for the salvation of his sinful soul who had caused the death of a great multitude of Christians at Conquereuil».
 His repentance lasted few years. Four years later in fact, in 996, he moved against andcaptured the city of Tours. And what he did this time ? He went to ask pardon to the patron of the city, St Martin. He entered the cloister barefoot and kneeling reached his tomb asking for forgivenessbecause of the evil he had caused to his city.
 This religious spirit, although mixed with violence, was at the origin of his three penitential pilgrimagesto the Holy Land. The first one il 1002/3, the second one in 1008/1010, the third one in 1038/39.
 The first of them (1002) was the most peaceful, in the sense that, after so many military successes, he was finally quiet. This aspect, joined with the fact that the “dangerous” year 1000 (when many thought that it would have taken place the end of the world) was back, gave to the trip a thanking flavor rather than a penitential one.
 Few years later (1006) he had his first son (and successor), Godfrey the Hammer, who later revealed a character equal to him, both for his love for war and for the his devotion to St Nicholas.
The second pilgrimagethe was consequence of events as dramatic as for him almost usual. The niece Constance, queen of France, had lamented the fact that the King Robert II used to give more attention to his favorite Hugh of Beauvais’ counsels thanto hers. Fulk gathered a dozen of faithful knights, and joined the King who with his favorite was in a hunting expedition. While he gave homage to the King,his knights killed Hugh of Beauvais.The King then accused him of high treason and ordered him to give his knights to justice. Fulk refused. He had no intention to betray his knights, but, to avoid the excommunication on the part of the Chelles synod, followed the advice of Fulbert, the bishop of Chartres, and handed over the list with their names.
 According to some chroniclers Fulk went pilgrim to Jerusalem with the aim to obtain pardon for thekilling of Hugh, but probably the main reason was his regret for thebetrayal of his knights.
 If the second pilgrimage came after the clash with the King, thethird onecame after the harshwar against his son,like him agreat warrior and a builder of churches and fortresses.
Godfrey the Hammer would have liked to have part in the government of thefather’scounty. But Fulk gave him nothing. It is not clear whether he acted so in order to avoid diminishing his power or to push the son to conquer lands by himself on the battlefield.
 Godfrey did not lose heart. After marryingAgnes of Bourgogne in 1032became lord of some lands. he Soon afterwards with a series of lucky wars he controlled important territories in Aquitania and Vendôme. His success as conqueror could not avoid leading to awar between father and son.Started in 1036 the terrible war was over only at the end of 1038 with the victory
of the father. The humiliation he inflicted to the son only for a short time gave him joy. A month later he bitterly repented.
Seal of Fulk III Nerra
 This repentance brought him to decide a third pilgrimage to Jerusalem in spite of his old age.
 He left for his third pilgrimagethe at age of 70.He succeeded in reaching the Holy City in spite of the many difficulties on the part of the muslim rulers.
 When he was in the city of the Lord he put his neck in a loop knot ordering two servants to scourge him while half naked was going around through the streets and shouted:O Lord have mercy on this treacherous man. The same episode is referred by the historian William of Malmesburythis way:
 Once there, two servants were obliged to do anything he would have ordained. He let them drag him in public, in front of the Turks, till the Holy Sepulchre: one of the servants kept him with a rope around the neck, another beat him with a stick on his naked back, while Fulk shouted:O Lord, receive the poor Fulk, your unfaithful scoundrel. O Lord Jesus Christ, look at my penitent soul.
 After various accidents he was back to his county of Anjou. But he was not the same Fulk as before. He was tired and sick. InJune 21 of 1040 the deathput an end to his life full of adventures and contradictions.
 Given that the life of his sonGodfrey the Hammerand his daughter in law Agnes of Bourgogneequally is interwoven with St Nicholas cultit is good to add something about them and the widening of the Anjou county.
 At the Christmas day of 1045 they went to visit the Emperor Henry III, who only two years before had married Agnes’ daughter.
Seriously damaged by an explosion in 1596, the church of the St Nicholas’ monastery inPoitiersexisted till the year 1902, when it was demolished. Extant is on the contrary the rich documentation:Cartulaire du prieuré de Saint-Nicolas de Poitiers, Archives historiques du Poitou .Back to Poitou, in1047 Agnes started the foundation of St Nicholas’ Abbey in Poitiers, the same that in 1087 as a priory was put at the dependance of the abbey of St Jean de
Montierneuf. In the council of Reims of 1049 the couple was excommunicated under the charge of incest. This fact together with the circumstance that they had no children, caused their separation.
Godfrey the Hammer died in November 14 of the year1060. In a note about his death the nephew Fulk the Quarrelsome (+1109) wrote:The night before his death, putting aside all his love for the knighthood and the world, became monk in the monastery of St Nicholas, that the father and he too had built with great devotion and enriched with donations».
In the same way, his wifeAgnes, who died November10 of the year 1088, chose to be buried in the church of the St Nicholas Abbeyshe had that founded inPoitiers.
Capital from the demolished church of St Nicholas in Poitiers. Musée de Poitiers.
Fulk’s pilgrimage of 1009 has been narrated by many writers of the time. The most detailed is the author of the Gestes des comtes d’Anjou,spite in of the fact that some details seem legendary. From this source we learn that Fulk arrived to Rome, where the pope Sergius IV asked him to eliminate his enemy Crescentius, who in Rome decided everything. Fulk assured him that he would kill Crescentius, but on the way back from Jerusalem. Now he thought only about the pilgrimage. In Constantinople he met another famous pilgrim, Robert duke of Normandy, and with him he continued the trip toward Jerusalem.
Suddenly the sky darkened and a furious tempest caught them. Everybody started to invoke the Saint they knew better. Developing the Chronicle of St Florent, Jehan de Bourdigné wrote:
Everybody, waiting the impending death, invoked the Saints toward which they felt a very personal feeling. The most invoked among the Saints with week voice and laments was the glorious Saint Nicholas, referred to as their protecting father and helper of all the sailors. The count, having heard them, he too started humbly to ask for help the blessed Confessor, promising that if he would have liked to free him from this present need, once back in his land of Anjou, he would have built a church in his honor, in which he would have appointed priests who would have
ensured divine forever.
Chacun attendant l’heure prochaine de sa mort, invoquait les saints auxquels ils avait toujours eu affection plus singulière. Et comme, entre autres, les nautonniers à voix flébile et lamentable, souvent réclamoient en leur ayde le glorieux monseigneur saint Nicolas, l’appelant leur père protecteur et auxiliateur de tous les mariniers, le comte, les entendant, se tourna humblement à l’implorer l’ayde du Benoist Confesseur, luy promettant, s’il luiplaisoit en ceste nécessité, le délivrer de mort,que luyretourné en son pays d’Anjou, ferait construire une église en son nom, en laquelle mettroit des prestres, pour faire le service divin à tous jours mais.
 When the tempest soothed and there was no danger anymore, sailing near the Syrian coasts he arrived to the Holy Land. But that was a bad moment, and the Turkish rulers had closed the doors. Fulk had to pay a big sum of money to enter the city. Furthermore, once inside, the Turks told him that if he would have liked to adore the Lord’s Sepulchre he should have first urinated on it and on the nearby Holy Cross.
Dixerunt nullo alio modo ad sepulchrum optatum pervenire posse nisi super illud et crucem dominicam 5
mingeret, quod vir prudens, licet invitus annuit. Quaesita igitur arietes vesica… albo vino repleta, quin etiam apte inter eius femora posita est; et comes … vinum super sepulchrum fudit(Gestes des comtes d’Anjou, inSpicilège, t. X, p. 463).
 Fulk accepted all kind of conditions. He got hold of aram’s bladderand filled it with white wine.
 Hidden under his dress, at the moment of venerating the Holy Sepulchre, he pressed the ram’s bladder and the white wine came out like a urine. While the Saracens guffawed seeing him urinate on the Lord’s Sepulchre, he did not stop from kissing the marble that became wet with his tears. The Chronicler wrote:
While he was bending to kiss to tomb, God wanted bless him with a miracle. Fulk’s tearssoftened the tombstone and he, becoming conscious of that, furtively bit the marble with his teeth, taking away a precious fragment of the Sepulchre.
 On the way back, in Bytinia died Robert of Normandy and Fulk arrived to Rome. According to the promise made to the Pope Sergius IV he killed Crescentius, but only after the Pope gave him the absolution. Grateful for the favor he had received, when Fulk left Rome the Pope wanted accompany him for a while.
NB.This moment in Fulk’s history is controversial. Some scholars think it is completely unreal, others shift the episode to 25 years later (1036 instead of 1011) changing the name of the Pope (from Sergius IV to Benedict IX). The difficulty derives from the date of the death of Crescentius, who died in 1012 (when Fulk was already in France) and not 1011.
 As we have seen, the pilgrimage of Fulk III Nerra took place in a time when Muslims were very cruel towards the Christians. This circumstance
corresponds to the period of the young and cruel caliph Al-Hakim (985-1021).
AlHakim, the Crazy Caliph
 Current western historiography is predominantly anti-christian. The Christian conquests (Crusades) are considered“cruelty and intolerance”. Muslim conquests are a different “culture, multi-culture and tolerance. The case of caliphAl-Hakim shows how false is such an interpretation of history. They say that this attitude was exceptional and that Al Hakim was a Crazy Caliph”, forgetting that in the Muslim tradition he is not at all consideredcrazy andMuslim historians do not blame him for having destroyed hundreds of Christian Churches, included the Holy Sepulchre.
 The thesis of Muslim tolerance is groundless. Certainly, cases of tolerance for selfish interests can be found throughout history and rarely even tolerant men (Caliph Omar or St Francis of Assisi). Generally, however, the Middle Age was intrinsically and thoroughly violent and intolerant in all parts of the world.
 AndAl Hakim’s cruelty isin keeping with the terrible factsof Fulk’s pilgrimages.
 sneering said:O Satan, I had in mind to build only a little church to Saint FULK NERRANicholas, but now I’ll build a monastery.Around 1016 he started the construction of the monastery of St BUILDS Nicholas of Angers that was consecrated December the first 1020. THE  In hisHistoire de Foulques-Nerra,comte d’Anjou, suivi de l’Office ST NICHOLAS’du Saint Sépulcre de l’Abbaye de Beaulieu,Paris Angers 1874, Alexandre de Saliesrefers Fulk’s words MONASTERY to Satan borrowing them from Jehan de Bourdigné (Chroniques d’Anjou, IN ANGERS 1529,f. 68 v): Par les âmes de Dieu, je voy  Back to his castle in Angers, Fulkbien que c’est le dyablequi me veut forgot about his promise to St Nicholas.destourber l’oeuvre charitable que j’ay Several years later, however, one day heentreprinse et pour laquelle de présent wake up with this thought. Leaning outme suis mis en chemin. Mais il n’y a of the window he started to think aboutrien gagné; car en l’église que j’ay the place where to build the church. Heentrepins de contruyre et ne avoys saw then three doves who were flying tointention de y mettre forsquelque build their nest. He then decided thatpetite quantité de prestres pour servir St Nicholas church had to be builtà Dieu; mais en despit de l’ennemy des where the doves stopped.humains qui m’a cuydé empeicher, je y assembleray plusieurs moynes qui seront nourriz et fondez, pour jour et nuyt chanter et faire le service de Dieu.Etang St Nicolas. Engraving of the year 1840 by F. Huvé. Archives of the city of Angers, 3 Fi 346.  He got up on a horse to examine the place. All of a sudden, with a quickmovement the horse unsaddled him. NB. In his reworking, Jehan de Bourdigné Interpreting the fact as a work of the falls into a cliché. Forgetting that Fulk built the Devil with the aim to obstruct the monastery 70 years beforeSt Nicholas’building of the church, Fulk got up andtranslation to Bari, says that Fulk brought the 7
 Other documents are preserved by Marchagay Paul et Mabille,Chroniques des églises d’Anjou,that are a collection of various ancient chronicles, among which the Historia sancti Florentii Salmuriensis that gives the news according to whichFulk monasterium sancti Nicholai e vestigio lapidis anno MXX° fundavit; William Dugdale,Monasticon Anglicanum,1655-1673, t. II, p. 1000, where can be found the fragment of theChronique manuscrite française de Saint Nicolas d’Angers; Halphen M. L.,Recueil d’AnnalesAngevins et vendômoises,1903 eLe comté d’Anjou au XI siècle,1906.
 In her opinion the loss has to be considered not so grave for the scholars, because in the course of the centuries the content has been copied by various writers. Important documents, for instance, have been preserved between XVI and XVII centuries byLaurent Le Peletier,both in theBreviculumfundationis et series abbatum Sancti Nicolai Andegavensis,Angers 1616 and in theDe rerum scitu dignissimarum a prima fundatione monasterii sancti Nicolai Andegavensis ad hunc usque diem Epitome, necnon et eiusdem monasterii abbatum series,Angers 1635.
 Unlike the one of St Nicholas in Poitiers (1047/1049), theCartulary of St Nicholas’monastery in Angers (1016/20) is lost.
relics from Bari. Bari,Monsieurdes reliques de Sainct Nicollas lesquelles il avoit du Bar apportées.
Capital of the ancient Abbey of St Nicholas in Angers Although he was very generous in donations, Fulk should have been too an intrusive patron, as we could infer from the fact that the first abbot Bauldric retired in solitude, and his successor Reginald after a while went away, having acceptedthe invitation of Fulk’s son Godrey. The episode took place in the context of that war more than civil between father and son, that would have been continued by the nephews.
 It has been object of research on the part Yvonne Mailfert.The results were given both intheFondation du monastère bénédictin de Saint Nicolas d’Angers, “Bibliothèque de l’école des chartes”, 1931, pp. 43-61, and inLe premier cartulaire de saint Nicolas d’Angers (XI-XII siècles). Essai de restitution precedéd’une etude historique,dansEcole nationale des chartes, 1931.
1.Miracles of Saint Nicolas.
 According to Yvonne Mailfert, among dozen and dozen, the following four are the most important documents:
[XI c.: lost. Copy of the XII c.Original of the Bibl. d’Angers, ms 121 (olimff. 162v-165v; 113), copy of the XII-XIII c.: Bibl. Nat. Ms lat. 12611, ff 72-74 (incomplete) and ms lat. 13772, ff. 142-145. Ed. L. Le Peletier,Breviculum,p. 1; Epitome,p. 1; Bollandists,Catalogus codicum hagiographicorum Bibl Nat Paris,t. III, pp. 158-162].
 The fragment that was inserted at the beginning of the original Cartulary of the Monastery was written by Noël, abbot of the monastery of St Nicholas in Angers between 1080 and 1096, and reworked by Joël, abbot of the Couture du Mans.
I reproduce the integral texthere at page 10,it from Mailfert, drawing La fondation,cit, Pièces justificatives, 1, p. 54).
2. Paper of 1021/1022.
The original is lost. Copies of the XVIII c. Bibl. Nat. Collection de Touraine, vol. II, n. 765; Bibl. Angers, ms 843, f. 1; ed. Le Peletier,Breviculum,p. 7; Epitome,p. 7. Migne PL CLV, col 482.
 The paper was written by Fulk Nerra himself. It deals with the consecration of St Nicholas’ church. (Ecclesiam… millesimo vigesimo anno ab incarnatione Domini a domno Praesule Huberto nomine urbis predictae feci sacrare…)well as with the as foundation of the monastery:Post cuius sacrationem, non multo post tempore, ex monachis sancti Martini Monasterii maioris nomine Baudricum abbatem constitui).
3.News dated1032.
Original lost. Copy of the XVIII c. Bibl Nat. Collection de Touraine vol II/1 f. 95, n° 413.
 This paper was written the six of December 1032. It deals with the foundation of St Nicholas monastery in 1020 on the part of Fulk Nerra, son of Godfrey Grisegonelle, and also the dedication of December the 1st by the bishop of Angers Hubert of Vendôme, who gives the license to have a nearby cemetery.
Anno ab incarnatione Domini millesimo vigesimo fundatus est locus iste a Fulcone comite, Goffridi filio cognomento tunica grisa et dedicatus circa id tempus kalendas Decembris in honore sancti Nicholai archipraesulis, Hyeronimi
praesbiteri et Lazari dilectiChristi a praesule Andegavensis civitatis Huberto.
4. Paper by Fulk Nerra dated 1039
Original lost. Copy of the XVIII century. Bibl. Nat. Collection de Touraine, vol. II/1 n° 417.
 Fulk speaks of the construction of St Nicholas church in Angers:Ecclesiam in prospectu urbis Andecavae aedificare decrevi.Now, that he is about to leave to Jerusalem, he confirms his donations. He recalls also that after the Abbot Baudry left, the Abbot Renaud (Regnault) was about to be consecrated abbot of the monastery, but just before this event, he went away, having accepted the invitation by Godfrey the Hammer to become Abbot at Vendôme. He expels therefore the monks who came with Renaud and replaces them with those from the monastery of St Aubin who accompanied the new abbot Helduin. The consecration of this latter th takes place September 8 1036.
Fulk le Rechin (Fulk the Quarrelsome),in a miniature of here theChroniques de St Denis (British Library Royal 16 G VI f. 270), was very much interested in preserving the historical memories of his family dynasty of Anjou. Between 1095 and 1105 he commissioned several historians to write about the deeds of Fulk Nerra and his son Godfrey the Hammer.
Andecavorum Fulco comes famosissimus post rebelles hostium suorum multocies bello extinctas barbaries, post rei militaris plura sua fortia gesta, in quibus contra Deum graviter offenderat, tandem in se reversus penitentiaque ductus Iherusalem petiit. Quo dum tenderet iter suum celerius explicaturus mare ingreditur. Diebus igitur aliquot, prosperis usus flabris, veloci iam illuc propinquabat navigio, cum repente caelum coepit nubium caligine tetra obvolvi, lux obtenebrari, tantus ventorum necnon imbrium fragor audiri ut omnes qui in illa nave aderant, mortis timore territi, paene deficerent. Navis undique quassata fluctibus prope ima petebat pelagi. Re tali, tam subita tamque insolita, praefatus comes vehementer afflictus, quid dici vel fieri posset in tanto mortis horrore penitus ignorabat. Hoc tamen illis solummodo supererat spei suae confugium divinae pietatis implorare subsidium. Cumque diutissime hac ingruente tempestate quaterentur, votisque peractis Domini misericordiam precarentur, dictum est a quibusdam qui simul in navi aderant in illis esse regionibus quandam civitatem, Myrream nomine, in qua erat ecclesia beati et Deo digni almi pontificis Nicholai, in qua etiam ipse a Domino antistes electus fuerat, cuius sanctissimis precibus et meritis, etiam post peractum vitae huius cursum, nonnulli in marinis periculis experti fuerant praesentis interitus effugium. Quod cum audisset reverendus comes, sanctum Domini confessorem Nicholaum flagitare coepit, ut suis sanctis praecibus ei obtineret a Domino tranquillum et salutarem portum: “Sancte, inquiens, Nicholae, pie et pastor bone, quem in talibus necessitudinibus pium subventorem audivimus, pro nobis exora Dominum qui, si michi tua intercessione optatum
portum concesserit, mox ut ad domum propriam urbemque fuero regressum monasterium tibi construam, in quo Deo tibique servientes mittam. Haec ubi peroravit, illico fida redit tranquillitas nubium ventorumque necnon imbrium discussa caligine. Obtento igitur prospero ut ipse optabat cursu, ad sanctum Domini Iherusalem quo tendebat felici pervenit navigio. Peractis igitur devotis prout potuit orationibus per sancta loca in quibus Dominus noster Iesus Christus secundum carnem cum hominibus est conversatus, ad urbem Andecavam reversus, hic, in honore sancti Nicholai, monasterium fundavit atque in ipso de sanctis reliquiis dicti beati Nicholai portionem quandam venerabiliter posuit, praeficiens loco abbatem, nomine Baldricum, qui, postmodum vitam eligens solitariam, inde secessit in heremum. Non multo post prefatus comes, ad destinatum finem propinquans atque sua omnino delere peccamina volens, Iherusalem iterum petiit; qui cum inde rediret, in ipso sanctae peregrinationis officio adhuc positus, defunctus est atque ad sanctum sepulchrum Belliloci, in monasterio quod ipse proprio sumptu construxerat, tumulatus est… .
Fulk Nerra guilt ridden and persecuted by the ghosts of his victims (Gustave Doré, History of the Crusades).