Celts to the Creche: Day 36
Abbess Theodechilde of Jouarre
7th century A.D.
Today, on this 36th day on our journey with the Celts to the Creche, we meet 7th c. Theodechilde (Theodechildis), the first Abbess of Jouarre in central France. Jouarre is said to have derived its name from Jovis ara meaning the “altar of love.” It was built on the site of an ancient pagan temple that was quite popular with wild women and thugs.
Theodehilde was the daughter of a Neustrian nobleman named Betto and a cousin of the much loved St. Audoin. She was also the sister of Bishop Agilbert, who was not only the Bishop of Paris, but also became the Bishop of of the West Saxons in England. He was present at the famous 664 AD Synod of Whitby (see day 2 of Celts to the Creche), but had Wilfrid speak on his behalf as he struggled with the Anglo-Saxon language. The Merovingians of France and the Anglo-Saxons of England had numerous connections including marriages between them.
Theodechilde had been a nun at the double monastery of Faremoutiers, east of Paris that was founded upon the heritage of the Celtic Irish monk St. Columbanus’ foundation and rule.
Bishop Faro of Meaux wanted to transform the Jouarre Monastery founded by the monk Ado around 630, into a double monastery. So he asked his sister Abbess Burgundofara of Faremoutiers (see day 21 of Celts to the Creche) if she would release Theodechilde to lead the enlarged monastery that would now be based like Faremoutiers upon the Celtic heritage of a double monastery with both men and women serving and worshipping together. It is interesting that while St. Columbanus was in the neighborhood after having blessed Burgundofara when she was a child, he went over to the home of Autharius and Aiga, where St. Coumbanus also blessed her first cousins Ado and Adon, the original founders of Jouarre. So, Faremoutiers and Jouarre were both influenced by the great Celtic leader and founder of monasteries, St. Columbanus.
Jouarre flourished so much under Abbess Theodechilde’s leadership that she sent several nuns including Bertille, who became the first Abbess at the newly formed Chelles Abbey about 660 AD and to Soissons Abbey about 667 AD.
Theodechilde died about 667 AD and was buried in the Merovingian crypt of Jouarre. Her stunning scallop-carved stone sarcophagus is still there along with her brother Bishop Agilbert’s sarcophagus.
Her sarcophagus was opened in 1627 in the presence of Queen Marie de Medici. Theodechilde still looked intact and dressed as a nun with a sort of mantle of cloth of gold of which nothing remained but a few strands of gold thread and a clasp, also of gold, which Mme. Jeanne de Lorraine[the abbess] presented to the Queen. Theodechilde’s body was placed in a shrine and her head was put in a reliquary of vermeil made for the purpose. (information from The Hour of our Death by Philip Aries)
These beautiful words are inscribed in Latin (translated into English) on Theodechilde’ sarcophagus:
“This tomb contains the remains of blessed Theodechilde, virgin of noble race, valiant in works, ardent in faith, mother of this monastery. She taught her daughters to run to meet Christ like the wise virgins, their lamps filled with oil. She now rejoices in paradise.”
Feast Day October 10
Let us join Abbess Theodechilde and those wise virgins, lamps filled with oil, ready and rejoicing as we run and dance to meet the newborn Christ at the creche. Matthew 25:1-13.
Prayer: Christ, may I be ready to meet you with my eyes filled with light and my soul attuned to recognize you.
A Few Resources:
Aries, Phillipe. The Hour of our Death. Penguin Random House, 1982.
Effros, Bonnie. Caring for Body & Soul: Burial and the Afterlife in the Merovingian World. University Park, PA. The University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002.
Fletcher, Richard. The Barbarian Conversion: From Paganism to Christianity. New York: Henry Holt, 1997.
Fox, Yaniv. Power and Religion in Merovingian Gaul: Columban Monasticism and the Frankish Elites. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2014.
Geary, Patrick J. Before France & Germany: The Creation & Transformation of the Merovingian World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988.
Jonas of Bobbio. Life of Columbanus.
Jouarre Abbey. http://www.abbayejouarre.org
Jouarre: ses cryptes, son église, son abbaye. No publisher. No date, c 1976.
Monasticmatrix.org. Venard, Bruce L. Jouarre.
Ní Mheara, Róisín. In Search of Irish Saints. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1994.
Schauss, Margaret, ed. Women and Gender in Medieval Europe: An Encyclopedia. London:Routledge, 2006.
Wemple, Suzanne Fonay. Women in Frankish Society. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981.