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where Pierre Abelard taught:
Sainte Geneviève and Saint Etienne, Paris

 

 

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short biography of Pierre (Peter) Abelard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Pierre (Peter) Abelard, introduction and short biography
marker at abelard.org the logic of ethics, including Pierre (Peter) Abelard on ethics
marker at abelard.org Abelard of Le Pallet on theology: “Logic has made me hated amongst men”
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marker at abelard.org France - Ile de la Cite, Paris: in the context of Abelard and of French cathedrals

St Etienne-du-Mont churchThe churches of Ste. Geneviev and St. Etienne, ParisSt Etienne-du-Mont churchStained glass window: St Etienne and Ste Genevieve churches
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16th century map of Paris Map of part of modern Paris [fom Google] Reading room of the Sorbonne Library

Churches Saint-Étienne-du-Mont and Sainte-Geneviève in Paris
Churches in Paris of Saint-Étienne-du-Mont [the more elaborate building on the left]
and the church of Sainte-Geneviève abbey [the more austere building to the right, which no longer exists]
Prosp. de l'Egli. St. Estienne & St. Genevieve
A copper engraving by Matthaeus Merian, printed at Frankfurt am Main, about 1655
[Part of the Topographia Galliae, Oder Beschreibung und Contrafaitung.]

recent photograph of Saint-Étienne-du-Mont Church, Paris
A recent photograph of Saint-Étienne-du-Mont Church, Paris as shown
in the 17th century engraving above. Traffic pollution filth has been trapped
under the porticos and ledges, darkening them badly.

recent photograph of Saint-Étienne-du-Mont Church, Paris
A recent photograph of Saint-Étienne-du-Mont Church, Paris -
a more artistic view

Stained glass window inside Saint-Étienne-du-Mont Church, Paris
Stained glass window inside Saint-Étienne-du-Mont Church, Paris
showing the two churches in the 17th century copper engraving


The School of Sainte Geneviève, together with the Cathedral School and the school of St. Germain des Pré, were the forerunners of what in the following centuries become the Paris University schools. The School of Sainte Geneviève housed a library, which is now part of the Sorbonne Library.

Reading room of the Sorbonne Library. Image: abac077
Reading room of the Sorbonne Library. Image: abac077

Abelard working at Ste Geneviève

When he came to Paris, Abelard hoped to become a master at the Notre Dame Cathedral School. This position was not forthcoming, so in 1108 Abelard set up a school at Mont-Ste.-Genevieve, just outside the city walls, on the site of the present University of Paris. In 1113, Abelard finally took up the chair at the Cathedral School. At both these schools, he became a renowned teacher of dialectic and rhetoric, attracting many students.

Where Abelard taught in the paris region

This map dates from 1572, and so from considerably later than the time when Pierre Abelard was strutting his stuff. By that time, Paris was already growing like an octopus. [On rive gauche and rive droite.]

Here is a description of Paris at the time of Abelard, about 450 years earlier.

“If you desire to see the Paris of those early days, imagine yourself beside the spot where the modern Pantheon stands.

“It is the summit of what Paris called ‘the hill’ for many a century—the hill of St. Genevieve. Save for the large monastery of secular canons beside you, the abbey of St. Genevieve, there is yet little sign of the flood of grimy masonry that will creep up slowly from the river valley, as the ages advance, and foul the sweet country for miles beyond. Paris lies down in .the valley below, a toy city. The larger island in the Seine bears almost the whole weight of the capital of France. It has, it is true, eaten a little way into the northern bank of the river, to which it is joined by the Great Bridge[2]. That is the Lombard Quarter, and Lutetian commerce is increasing rapidly. Numbers of curious ships sail up the broad, silver bosom of the Seine and make for the port of St. Landry. The commercial quarter is already spreading in the direction of Montmartre, with the public butchery and bakery at its outskirt; but it is a mere fringe. The broad valleys and the gentle hills that are one day to support Paris are now clothed with vineyards and orchards and cornfields, and crowned with groves of olive[3] and oak. On the nearer side, too, the city has already overflowed the narrow limits of the island. There are houses Oft the fine stone bridge, the Little Bridge, and there is a pretty confusion of houses, chapels, schools, and taverns gradually stealing up the slope of St. Genevieve. But, here also; most of the hill is covered with gardens and vineyards, from which a chapel or a relic of old Roman Lutetia. peeps out here and there—the ruins of the famous old thermæ lie halfway down the hill below us—; and along the valley of the

‘… florentibus ripis amnis’[4]

“(to quote a poet of the time). to east and west, are broad lakes of fresh green colour, broken only in their sweet monotony by an occasional island of masonry, an abbey with a duster of cottages about it.

“It is down straight below us, on the long, narrow island, that we see the heart of France, the centre of its political, intellectual, and ecclesiastical life. A broad, unpaved road, running from Great Bridge to Little Bridge, cuts it into two. Church occupies most of the eastern half, State most of the western; their grateful subjects pack themselves as comfortably as they can in the narrow fringe that is left between the royal and ecclesiastical domains and the bed of the river. Each generation in turn has wondered why it was so scourged by ‘the burning fire’’ (the plague), and resolved to be more generous to the Church. From the summit of St. Genevieve we see the front of the huge, grey, Roman cathedral, that goes back to the days of Childebert. and residences of its prelates and canons bordering the cloister. Over against it, to the west; is the spacious royal garden, which is graciously thrown open to the people two or three times a week, with the palace of King Philip at the extremity of the island. That is Paris in the year of grace 1100; and all outside those narrow limits is a very dream of undulating scenery, with the vesture of the vine, the fir, the cypress, the oak, the olive, and the fig; and the colour of the rose, the almond, the lily, and the violet; and the broad, sweet Seine meandering through it; and the purest air that mortal could desire

“To our young philosopher Paris probably presented itself first in the character of ‘the city of philosophers.’ Each of the great abbeys had its school. That of the abbey of St. Genevieve will soon be familiar to us. The abbey of St. Germain of Auxerre, to the north, and the abbey of St. Germain of the Meadow» to the west, had schools at their gates for all comers. St. Martin in the Fields had its school, and the little priory of St. Victor, to the east, was soon to have one of the most famous of all schools of theology. The royal abbey of St. Denis, a few miles away, had a school in which Prince Louis was then being trained, together with the illustrious Abbot Suger. A number of private schools were scattered about the foot of St. Genevieve. The Jews had a school, and-mark the liberality of the time-there was. or had been until a very few years before, a school for women; it was conducted by the wife and daughters of famous Master Manegold, of Alsace, women who were well versed in Scripture, and ‘most distinguished in philoophy,’says Muratori.

“But Abélard went straight to the centre of Paris, to the cloistral enclosure under the shadow of old Notre Dame,[5] where was the first episcopal school in the kingdom, and one of the first masters in Christendom. William of Champeaux was a comparatively young master, who had forced his way into high places by sheer ability. He was held to be the first dialectician in France, and ‘almost the first royal councilor.’ In the great philosophic controversy of the period he was the leader of the orthodox school. The Bishop of Paris had brought him to the island-city, and vested him with the dignity of arch-deacon of the cathedral and scholasticus (chancellor or rector) and master of the episcopal school. So high was the repute of his ability and his doctrine that, so Fleury says, he was called ‘the pillar of doctors.’ From an obscure local centre of instruction he had lifted the Parisian school into a commanding position, and had attracted scholars from many lands. ...” [6]
[Quoted from Peter Abélard by Joseph McCabe, 1901, pp. 18 - 22]


end notes

  1. Matthaeus Merian (1593-1650) was a notable Swiss engraver. With Martin Zeiler (1589-1661), a German geographer, and later (about 1640) with his own son, Matthäus Merian Jr. (1621-1687), he produced a series of Topographia consisting of 21 volumes, collectively known as the Topographia Germaniae. After Merian’s death, the businss was continued by his sons Matthäus Jr.and Caspar Merian (1627-1686) under the name Merian Erben.

  2. The Grand Pont [Great Bridge] is now called Pont Notre Dame.

  3. “This and other details I gather from fragments of the minor poets of the time. ”

  4. ... prosperous banks of the river...

  5. The Notre Dame of to-day, like the earlier Louvre, dates from the end of the twelfth century.

  6. From Chapter 2 of Peter Abélard by Joseph McCabe, Duckworth, London, 1901.

  7. La Rive Gauche - the Left Bank - and la Rive Droite - the Right Bank - refer to the banks of the River Seine as it flows through Paris on its way to La Manche - the English Channel. Thus the southern part of Paris, with the 5th, 6th, 7th, 13th, 14th, 15th arrondissements, are on the Rive Gauche. Since the early twentieth century, the Rive Gauche has been associated with an artistic and bohemian way of life. On the other hand, the Rive Droite and its districts such as the 16th and 17th arrondissements, is linked more conventional, bourgeois, conservative attitudes.

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