Celts to the Creche: Day 36
Abbess Theodechilde of Jouarre
Died about 667 AD
Today, on this 36th day on our journey with the Celts to the Creche, we meet 7th c. Theodechilde (Theodechildis), who started out as a nun in the Faremoutiers Monastery. She was later sent from there to become the first Abbess of Jouarre in central France. Her abbey flourished and became so well-respected that one of her nuns was sent to become the first Abbess of Chelles Abbey outside of Paris and also another of her nuns became the first Abbess of Soissons Abbey. Theodechilde was buried in a beautifully carved-stone sarcophagus that still can be seen in the original Merovingian crypt at Jouarre.
Early Life: Theodehilde was the daughter of a Neustrian nobleman named Betto and she was also the sister of Bishop Agilbert, who was not only the Bishop of of the West Saxons (Dorchester, England), but also later was Bishop of Paris. He was a participant at the famous Synod of Whitby in 664 AD where he struggled with the Anglo-Saxon language. Interestingly, Bishop Biscop, (see Day 34 of Celts to the Creche) the founder of the twin abbeys of Monkwearmouth-Jarrow visited Jouarre, Chelles, and Faremoutiers while Agilbert was Bishop of Paris between 666 and 668AD. Theodechilde was also the first cousin of the much-loved St. Audoin (also known as St. Dado).
She becomes a nun: Theodechilde had become 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.
She becomes the first Abbess of the Double Monastery of Jouarre: Bishop Faro of Meaux wanted to transform the Jouarre Monastery founded by Bishop Ado and his brother St. Audoin/Dado around 630, into a double monastery.
So Faro 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. Columbanus also blessed her first cousins Ado and Audoin/Dado, 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 Bertilla, who became the first Abbess at the newly formed Chelles Abbey about 660 AD and to Soissons Abbey about 667 AD.
Buried in the Merovingian Crypt at Jouarre: Theodechilde died about 667 AD and was buried in the Merovingian crypt of Jouarre. Her cousin St. Agilberta, then became the second Abbess of Jouarre. Her stunning scallop-carved stone sarcophagus is still there along with the sarcophagus of her brother Bishop Agilbert, who was the Bishop of Dorchester, England and later was Bishop of Paris. He was one of the participants at the famous 664 AD Synod of Whitby. His stone sarcophagus has a Merovingian-style carved Second Coming of Christ. Also, in this crypt is the sarcophagi of her cousin St. Aguilberte.
Abbess Theodechilde’s 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 Abbess Jeanne de Lorraine 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 Ariès)
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:
Ariès, Phillipe. The Hour of our Death. Penguin Random House, 1981.
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.