Heloise and Abelard is one of history’s most passionate and romantic true love stories. The nine hundred year old love affair of the 12th century philosopher and theologian and his student Heloise continues to inspire and move us. Their passionate relationship scandalized the community in which they lived. The details of their physical and spiritual intimacy continue to move and inspire lovers today. This great love story, and the courage and passion of its protagonists, has much to teach us about our own understanding of religious tolerance, sexual equality and intellectual freedom.
Here is an admonitory tale screaming to us from across the centuries to reason, and to question, question, question! Abelard wrote: The beginning of wisdom is found in doubting; by doubting we come to the question, and by seeking we may come upon the truth.
In twelfth century Paris, the intellectually gifted young Heloise, the niece of Notre Dame’s Canon Fulbert, strives for knowledge, truth and the answer to the question of human existence. It soon becomes apparent that only one teacher in Paris can provide the education that she seeks. Though twenty years her senior, Abelard quickly becomes intrigued by Heloise’s uncommon wit and intelligence, for Heloise is on par intellectually with Abelard.
They soon find themselves so entwined that neither can resist the spiritual and physical desires of their bodies, yet they both know that the laws of the time forbid such a relationship. But their physical love and the strength of their passion proved to be a power impossible to resist.
When Heloise becomes pregnant, they realize it is not safe for her to remain in Paris. They flee for Brittany, Abelard’s place of birth. In a scheme to protect the dignity of his fallen niece, and return Heloise to his home, Canon Fulbert arranges a secret marriage between Heloise and Abelard. But shortly after the two lovers are wed, they discover Fulbert’s true plot is to ruin Abelard and keep Heloise for himself. For her safety, Heloise escapes to the convent at Argenteuil, but it is too late for Abelard and he is brutally attacked in Paris; siezed from his bed at night, he is castrated by his attackers, unders order of Canon Fulbert!
As a result of his humiliating punishment, Abelard no longer considers himself capable of continuing as a teacher at Notre Dame, and he and Heloise understand what they must do. Heloise and Abelard agree that they must take Holy Orders as Monk and Nun.
Both Peter Abelard and Heloise continued to go on living, to write, to love, to contribute to our literary history. They didn't kill themselves, or marry anyone else (unless you count the fact that both married the church). It was at about this time that a correspondence between the two lovers sprang up. Heloise encouraged Abélard in his philosophical work, and he dedicated his profession of faith to her. Heloise asks for his words, saying: "While I am denied your presence, give me at least through your words - of which you have enough and to spare - some sweet semblance of yourself." Though she became a nun, Heloise makes it clear that her heart is with Abelard, always. She ends the letter with: "I beg you, think what you owe me, give ear to my pleas, and I will finish a long letter with a brief ending: farewell, my only love."
Heloise speaks of losing Abelard: "But if I lose you, what have I left to hope for? Why continue on life's pilgrimage, for which I have no support but you, and none in you save the knowledge that you are alive, now that I am forbidden all other pleasures in you and denied even the joy of your presence which from time to time could restore me to myself?"
Six hundred years later, it was Josephine Bonaparte, so moved by their story, that she ordered that the remains of Abelard and Heloise be entombed together at Pére Lachaise cemetery in Paris. To this day, lovers from all over the world visit the tomb where the remains of Heloise and Abelard rest eternally together; and the letters of Heloïse and Pierre Abélard are among the best known records of early romantic love.