Piecing Together the Fragments: Telling the Lives of the Ladies of Lavardin Through Image and Text

  • Amy Livingstone
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


The village of Lavardin is designated one of the “prettiest villages in France” and on that lovely warm summer’s day when I first stepped foot into the village it was evident why. Perched above the Le Loir River, the village is clustered around the parish church and rests under the shadow of the imposing ruins of what was once the chateau of Lavardin. In contrast to the mighty castle, the church of St. Genest is not overly large or imposing. The outside is plain and rustic and does not give away the visual treasures waiting inside. Walking from the brilliant sunlight into the cool, dark church, it took a minute for my eyes to adjust. Once they did, I was taken aback by the beauty of the paintings that decorated the walls.


Twelfth Century Eleventh Century Parish Church Gender Space Late Eleventh Century 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Around the middle of the eleventh century, the count and countess of Vendôme donated the church of St. Genest to the monks of St. Georges-du-Bois. Dom Jean-Marie Berland, Val de Loire roman, 3rd ed. (Paris: Zodiaque, 1980), p. 277.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Congregations were divided by other criteria as well. Corine Schlief, “Men on the Right, Women on the Left: (A) Symmetrical Spaces and Gendered Spaces,” in Women’s Space: Patronage, Place and Gender in the Medieval Church, ed. Virginia Chieffo Raguin and Sarah Stanbury (Binghamton, NY: State University of New York Press, 2005), pp. 207–248.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    Michael Baxandall, Painting and Experience in Fifteenth-Century Italy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2nd edition, 1988), pp. 29–108, esp. 35–40.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    Elizabeth L’Estrange, Holy Motherhood: Gender, Dynasty and Visual Culture in the Later Middle Ages (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2008), pp. 28–33, 113, 116–130.Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    Charles de Trémault, ed., Cartulaire de Marmoutierpour le Vendômois (Paris: Picard, 1893), no. 38, 334–335 (hereafter, MV).Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    This is evident in the existence of a Merovingian cemetery on the site. Daniel and Arlett Schweitz, “Le Chateau de Lavardin,” Congrés archéologique de France 139 (1981): 218. St. Genest was named after St. Genès or St. Genesius, a Merovingian saint.Google Scholar
  7. 9.
    Charles Métais, Chartes vendômoises (Vendôme: Société Archéologique, Scientifique et Littéraire du Vendômois, 1905), no. 32, p. 38 (hereafter, ChVen).Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    Louis Halphen and René Poupardin, ed., Chroniques des Comtes d’Anjou et des Seigneurs d’Amboise (Paris: Auguste Picard, 1913), p. 75.Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    Elisabeth Van Houts, Memory and Gender in Medieval Europe, 900–1200 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999), pp. 17–63.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Matthew Innes argues Dhuoda was a repository for knowledge of her affinal family’s history. “Keeping It in the Family: Women and Aristocratic Memory, 700–1200,” in Medieval Memories: Men, Women and the Past, 700–1300, ed. Elizabeth van Houts (London: Longman, 2001), pp. 17–35.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    These documents reveal that Salomon was bound to three powerful lords; the count of Vendôme, from whom he held the office of the forester in the Gâtinais, the count of Anjou, and the count of Chartres. MV, no. 17A, pp. 299–300. Charles Métais, ed., Cartulaire de Vabbaye cardinale de la Trinité de Vendôme (Paris: Picard, 1893–1904), no. 77, I: 46–47; no. 68, I: 125–127 (hereafter, STV). Like many of his station, Salomon sought to garner power and influence by creating his own clients, who appeared at his court and even held offices from him. AD Loir-et-Cher, 16 H 83 nos. 1 and 2, see also MV, no. 11A, pp. 287–290; no. 18, pp. 300–301; no. 29, pp. 321–322; STV no. 100, I: 164–185.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Megan McLaughlin, Consorting with Saints (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994), pp. 116–118.Google Scholar
  13. 14.
    For noblewomen as patrons, see Amy Livingstone, Out of Love for My Kin: Aristocratic Family Life in the Lands of the Loire (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2012), pp. 189–192Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Erin Jordan, Women, Power and Religious Patronage (New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2006)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 14.
    Philadelphia Ricketts, “Widows, Religious Patronage and Family Identity: Some Cases from Twelfth-Century Yorkshire,” The Haskins Society Journal 14 (2004): 117–136.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Countess Agnes was a dedicated patron and instrumental in garnering wealth and property for St. Trinité by encouraging comital vassals to make gifts. Penelope Johnson, Prayer, Patronage and Power: The Abbey of La Trinité, Vendôme (New York: New York University Press, 1981), pp. 11–15, 108.Google Scholar
  17. 18.
    Schweitz and Schweitz, “Le Château de Lavardin,” 218; Frédéric Lesueur, Les églises de Loir-et-Cher (Paris: Picard, 1969), p. 200.Google Scholar
  18. 20.
    STV, I: 85–87, no. 53. Noblewomen frequently held courts and provided justice. Livingstone, Out of Love for My Kin, pp. 180–183. Kimberly A. LoPrete, Adela of Blois: Countess and Lord (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2007), pp. 74–94, 149–156.Google Scholar
  19. 29.
    Miriam Shadis, Berenguela of Castile (1080–1246) and Political Women in the High Middle Ages (Palgrave MacMillan, 2009), pp. 159–164; Iona Griffiths, “‘Nuns’ Memories Or Missing History in Alsace (c.1200): Herrad of Hohenbourg’s Garden of Earthly Delights,” in van Houts, Medieval Memories, pp. 132–149CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 29.
    René Merlet, Les Vidames des Chartres au XlIIe siècle et le vitrail de Sainte Marguerite (Chartres: Imprimerie Garnier, 1890). Recent scholarship has also demonstrated the central role that aristocratic and royal women played in both commemorating their husbands, sons, and family and in sponsoring the construction of their tombs.Google Scholar
  21. 29.
    See Kathleen Nolan, Queens in Stone and Silver: The Creation of a Visual Imagery of Queenship in Capetian France (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009)Google Scholar
  22. 29.
    Anne McGee Morganstern, Gothic Tombs of Kinship (University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000).Google Scholar
  23. 30.
    Ilene H. Forsyth, The Throne of Wisdom: Wood Sculptures of the Madonna in Romanesque France (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972), pp. 2–4 and 24.Google Scholar
  24. 30.
    See also Sarah Jane Boss, “The Development of the Virgin’s Cult in the High Middle Ages,” in Mary: The Complete Resource (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), pp. 149–176Google Scholar
  25. 30.
    Margot Fassler, The Virgin of Chartres: Making History through Liturgy and the Arts (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010).Google Scholar
  26. 31.
    Even after this date, there is no other parish church that has this image. Where may the patrons of St. Genest have gotten the inspiration for this image? Forsyth argues that the region of the Auvergne was particularly rich in small wooden statues depicting Mary as the Throne of Wisdom. A cleric from the Chartrain, Bernard of Angers, spent considerable time in this region and returned home convinced by the effectiveness of such statues in creating miracles and devotion among the faithful. Pamela Sheingorn, ed. and trans., The Book of St. Foy (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995). It is not unreasonable to assume his ideas might have reached Lavardin. Nor is it unreasonable that members of the Lavardin family or entourage may have gone on pilgrimage to or through the Auvergne, for many churches with these statues were on the pilgrimage route from Tours to Santiago de Compostella. Indeed, given that two of Lavardin’s neighboring churches were on the pilgrimage route from Chartres to Tours, which was the first leg of the longer pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella, knowledge of this image was likely brought back by pilgrims.Google Scholar
  27. 33.
    The idea of Mary as the Throne of Solomon was also common among medieval ecclesiastics and even integrated into sermons. Guibert of Nogent, e.g., wrote about this in his Praise of Mary and Peter Damian included imagery of Mary as the Throne of Solomon in a sermon on Mary. Forsyth, Throne of Wisdom, pp. 89–90, 25. For Marian interpretations of Solomon’s Song of Songs, see Rachel Fulton, From Judgment to Passion: Devotion to Christ and the Virgin Mary, 800–1200 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002), pp. 320–327.Google Scholar
  28. 33.
    For discussion of Guibert, see Jay Rubenstein, Guibert of Nogent: Portrait of a Medieval Mind (New York and London: Routledge, 2002), pp. 70, 111–113.Google Scholar
  29. 34.
    Isaiah, XI, I, 2, 10. As quoted in Emile Mâle, The Gothic Image: Religious Art in France of the Thirteenth Century, trans. Dora Nussey (New York: Icon Editions, 1972), p. 165.Google Scholar
  30. 37.
    Some scholars believe that Haimeric Gaumard was married before his marriage to Marie around 1100. Dominique Barthélemy, La société dans le comté de Vendôme de l’an mil au XIVe siècle (Paris: Fayard, 1993), p. 568. I have yet to find evidence of these women in the charters. For Marie’s family, see Livingstone, Out of Love for My Kin, pp. 60–86.Google Scholar
  31. 38.
    Countess Adela frequently acted as peacemaker. LoPrete, Adela of Blois, pp. 290–291; see also Margery Chibnall, “Empress Matilda and Her Sons,” in Medieval Mothering, ed. John Carmi Parsons and Bonnie Wheeler (New York: Garland, 1999), pp. 286–287Google Scholar
  32. 38.
    Sharon Farmer, “‘Persuasive Voices’: Clerical Images of Medieval Women,” Speculum 61 (1986): 517–543; Livingstone, Out of Love for My Kin, pp. 192–202.Google Scholar
  33. 40.
    AD Eure-et-Loir, H 2302, see also Emile Mabille, ed., Cartulaire de Marmoutierpour le Dunois (Châteaudun: Lecesne, 1874), no. 170, pp. 160–161 (hereafter, CMPD).Google Scholar
  34. 42.
    ChVen, no. 94, pp. 120–121. See also CMPD, no. 225, pp. 206–208 and Charles Métais, ed., Marmoutier-cartulaire Blésois (Blois: Moreau, 1889–1891), no. 166, pp. 156–157.Google Scholar
  35. 44.
    Jean-François Lemarignier, “Political and Monastic Structures in France at the End of the Tenth and Beginning of the Eleventh Century,” in Lordship and Community in Medieval Europe, ed. Fredric Cheyette (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1968), pp. 100–127.Google Scholar
  36. 46.
    The Descent from the Cross and The Lactating Virgin were two images that were extremely popular at the end of the Middle Ages among women and were visual representations of the visions that many late medieval mystics experienced. See Caroline Walker Bynum, Holy Feast, Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Charlotte Newman Goldy and Amy Livingstone 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Amy Livingstone

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations