Sometimes a sacrifice is the greatest display of love, specifically the act of giving up a chance at happiness for the well-being or safety of another person. The relationship between the philosopher and theologian Peter Abelard, and the abbess Heloise d'Argenteuil in the 12th century illustrates this idea. An illicit love affair brought them together, and cruelty forced them apart. In the end, Abelard chose to dedicate himself to God and begged Heloise to do the same. Still, the former lovers never forgot about each other. Their subsequent exchange of letters remains as a testament to their deep love and respect for each other.
Abelard’s initial answer reflected the struggle he faced and some self-blame for the calamities that had befallen them both. “Piety and duty are not always the fruits of retirement; even in deserts, when the dew of heaven falls not on us, we love what we ought no longer to love. The passions, stirred up by solitude, fill these regions of death and silence; it is very seldom that what ought to be is truly followed here and that God only is loved and served. Had I known this before I had instructed you better. You call me your master; it is true you were entrusted to my care. I saw you, I was earnest to teach you vain sciences; it cost you your innocence and me my liberty. ”
Images: Edmund Blair Leighton's 1882 painting of Abelard and Heloise, and the plaque on the wall at Le Pallet's donjon, dedicated to Abelard with a mention of his wife Heloise, both public domain.
Lisa J. Yarde writes fiction inspired by the medieval period. She is the author of historical novels set in medieval England and Normandy, The Burning Candle, based on the life of Isabel de Vermandois, and On Falcon's Wings, chronicling the star-crossed romance between Norman and Saxon lovers. Lisa has also written four novels in a six-part series set in Moorish Spain, Sultana, Sultana’s Legacy, Sultana: Two Sisters, and Sultana: The Bride Price where rivalries and ambitions threaten the fragile bonds between members of a powerful family.