A Brief History of the

Abbey of St. Lomer of Blois1

 

Because it appears that two surviving documents from the abbey of St. Lomer may provide unusually precise and reliable corroborative evidence for establishing an absolute chronology -indeed, to the very day- of both the beginning (25 April, 1138) and end (25 May, 1186) of the earliest building campaign of this important "Transitional/Early Gothic"2 building, a careful examination of the history of the institution and its surviving document base is perhaps even more warranted than usual.

 

 

 

1 © Christopher Crockett, 2014.
The present cursory summary of the history of St. Lomer is primarily based on the extensive 1924 monograph by the erudite local historian, Dr. Frédéric Lesueur ("L'Église et l'Abbaye bénédictine de Saint-Lomer de Blois," Mémoires de la société des sciences et lettres de Loir-et-Cher, XXV, 1924, pp. 59-162) who, in turn, relied heavily on the excellent and detailed 17th century history of the abbey by the Maurist historian, Dom Noël Mars (cf. note 3 below), and also made use of an extensive (6 folio volumes!), still-unpublished manuscript cartulary. Wherever possible, all Lesueur's sources have been independently checked and, in the main, this process has shown Dr. Lesueur's meticulous narrative to be well founded; he appears to have been one of the most reliable local historians working in early 20th century France.

2 The term "Gothic" is, of course, an early modern construct of the 16th and 17th c., never used in the Middle Ages to characterize the architectural (or figural) style which is now so familiar that we "know it when we see it." However, defining exactly what constitutes a "Gothic" building in the second third of the 12th century -when confronted with an actual exemplar rather than in the abstract- is not an easy task. Indeed, it might be argued that the imposition of the constraints of the construct prevents us from understanding the true nature of some of these "transitional" buildings (and the very use of such a term begs the basic question of the reality of the construct). With its mixture of "Romanesque" and "Gothic" elements, St. Lomer's is one of the best tests of the use and validity of these constructs. The question is an important one because we often find in the literature that the demands of adhering to the construct may distort the interpretation of both a monument itself and even the document base connected to it. (On this phenomenon, see Elizabeth A. R. Brown, "The Tyranny of a Construct: Feudalism and Historians of Medieval Europe," The American Historical Review, LXXIX, 1974, pp. 1063-1088.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The local tradition in the17th century (in part reinforced by since-lost documents) held that Lomer, a 6th century native of the Drouais, probably from the farmstead of Neuville-la-Mare, which later documents tell us belonged to the saint's abbey at Blois and was the site of a chapel dedicated to him where, even in the time of Dom Mars, the saint's day (19 January) was celebrated by a procession to the chapel from all the local parishes.3 He became a monk of one of the most important monastic houses of the period, St. Mesmin of Micy (near Orléans4) before retreating to the woods of the northern Perche and founding there a monastery, dedicated to St. Martin, at "Corbion."5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

3 Dom Noël Mars, Histoire du royal monastère de Sainct-Lomer de Blois, de l'ordre de sainct Benoist, recueillie fidellement des vieilles chartes du mesme monastère et divisée en quatre parties, par dom Noël Mars... 1646, manuscrit de la Bibliothèque publique de Blois, publié textuellement... avec notes, additions et tables, par A[lexandre] Dupré,... (Blois: Marchand, 1869), Section I, p. 55: "Pour le lieu de la naissance…c'est chose certaine, selon la tradition que ce fut à Neusville-la-Mare…" [sic for Neufville? -i.e., a half-crossed, "interior s"?]. This "tradition" does not appear in the sources published in either Mabillon's ASSOSB or the AASS. Cf. Merlet, Dictionnaire topographique d'Eure-et-Loir, p. 131: "Neuville-la-Marre, village, commune de Gironville [canton de Châteauneuf], Nova-Villa (polypt. D'Irminon, p. 133)," four leagues from Chartres"; and GC VIII, c. 1352: Neuville-Lama, "ab urbe Carnotensi quatuor milliaribus Gallicis dissitam, quo in loco exstat oratorium ipsi sacrum."

4 See Dom Mars' typically well-reasoned "Digression Apologétique pour preuver que saint Lomer a esté religieux de Saint-Mesmin," in his Histoire… (as in note 3), pp. 57-60.

5 Acta Sanctorum (Antwerp, 1643), XIX, (2 January), pp. 225ff. On the history of the abbey of Corbion, see GC, VIII, cc. 1350-4 (i.e., within the text devoted to the abbey of St. Lomer of Blois), locating this place in the "vicus dictus Corbon, non longe a Moritania, Mortagne, in pago Perticensi versus Carnutum" (c. 1350, n. a). On the complex early history of the Pagus Corbonesus/Curbionensis, see Auguste Longnon, ed., Polyptyque de l'abbaye de Saint-Germain des Prés….(Paris: Champion, 1886-1895), II, p. 162, nn. 1-2. Alexandre Dupré noted, in his edition of Dom Mars (p. 64, n. 2), that precisely locating this "Corbon" is not an easy task and favored "le nom significatif de Moustier-Saint-Lomer….canton de Remalard, (Orne, arr Mortagne)…" This view was shared by Ferdinand Lot and Louis Halphen (Le re?gne de Charles le Chauve… Paris: Champion, 1909, p. 46, n. 6), following Lot's edition of Charles the Bald's 843 charter (Mélanges carolingiens, IX, in Le Moyen âge, XII, 1908, p. 261-274 at p. 268). More recently -and definitively- Georges Tessier revisited the problem and also decided that "La tradition plaide en faveur de Moutiers-au-Perche, anciennement Saint-Lomer-le-Moutier, où les moines de Saint-Lomer de Blois avaient un prieuré…" (Recueil des actes de Charles II le Chauve…. Paris: Impr. Nationale, 1943-1955, I, p. 18, n. 1).

Lomer died on a visit to Chartres circa 590, and was buried in the abbey of St. Martin-au-Val, on the outskirts of the city.6 Shortly thereafter (as the tradition had it), two monks from Corbion came to Chartres, wormed their way into the trust of the monks of St. Martin's and were eventually able to steal the saint's body, taking it back to the monastery he had founded in the Perche.7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6 Mabillion's best guess for the date of his death was "c. 590" (ASSOSB, sæc. 1, Venice 1733 ed., p. 326, note a). The Benedictine abbey of St. Martin ("St.-Martin-au-Val," now the parish church of St. Brice) occupied the site of the oldest Christian cemetery of Chartres and was the necropolis for many of the early bishops, including St. Lubin. After the Norse depredations of the 10th century it was served by secular canons, then became a priory of Marmoutier in 1128 (see Yves Delaporte, "Chartres," in Alfred Baudrillart, et al., eds., Dictionaire d'histoire et géographie écclesiastique, VIII [Paris: 1952], cc. 544-574 at c. 560). Architecturally, it is the largest and most significant surviving 11th century building in the diocese of Chartres.
7 Mabillon records -"Ex vetustis Legendariis & Breviariis Mss."- that the relics were translated from Chartres on a 23 October, "circa 591" (ASSOSB, sæc. 1, Venice 1733 ed., p. 317-327, at p. 327). The account of the saint's life by Dom Mars (see note 3) clearly contains several interpolations (presumably based on the unpublished cartulary), most evidently those which connect property owned by the saint in the diocese of Chartres and the Blesois (e.g., Chapter I, Section XII, p. 373); it also recounts the circumstances of his death (I, XII, pp. 373-4) and his first translation back to Corbion (II, II, pp. 374-5). Unfortunately, the theft of Lomer's relics does not fall within the 800-1100 range of Patrick Geary's "Handlist of Relic Thefts" (Furta Sacra… Princeton, 1990, pp. 149ff.), though it probably does correspond to the pattern which is illuminated there.

 

 

Around 873 or 874, monks from Corbion, fleeing Norse invaders with their saint's relics, came first to Le Mans,8 and then to Blois,9 where they were given asylum, most likely in the church (or chapel) of Saint Calais, within the castrum which dominated the town.10 At a date which cannot be precisely determined -most likely in the late 10th century- the monks of St. Lomer moved from the church of St. Calais in the castrum to a site below it, quite near the river -i.e., to the church of Saint Lubin, (described as being sub mœnibus Blesis castri11), which they took over and occupied until their precious relics were translated to a newly constructed building immediately to the east, in 1186 (see below12). According to Dom Mars (and his sources), during the course of the 11th century the monks apparently received many gifts of property, suggesting that they were active and important in the region.13 When the relics were transferred from the castrum, this earlier church of Saint Lubin apparently became that of St. Lomer; it appears that it occupied the site of the western-most bays of the nave of the present church.14

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8 The account by Dom Mars (as in note 3, I, X, p. 377) includes at least one miracle associated with the relics of the saint during his stay in Le Mans, suggesting that they may have been there for some period of time.
9 Mars (as in note 3), I, XI-XIII, pp. 377-80.
10 This reconstruction of events in part reflects the text of a forged 924 royal charter (discussed in note 12 below). The question of the fabrication of this document aside, it seems clear that the monks must have resided somewhere in Blois from the third quarter of the 9th century until their translation to the church of St. Lubin, perhaps in the early years of the 11th century (which is Jean Dufour's conjecture of the date of the forgery -see below). The palace chapel (oratorio sancti Carelesi, in the language of the forged charter) seems as likely a place as any, and inserting it in a charter which fabricated the history of the abbey would, presumably, have been consistent with -and, indeed, may reflect- that history as it was understood by those living at the time of the forgery's creation, three generations or more after the purported events recorded therein.
11 Cf. Lesueur 1925, p. 10: "Il est vraisemblable qu'elle se trouvait sensiblement au même endroit que l'église Saint-Lomer….l'église Saint-Lubin occupait sans doute l'emplacement de là nef de l'église actuelle. Nous verrons, en effet, qu'en 1186 on transporta les reliques de la vieille église dans la nouvelle. La 'vieille église' existait donc encore à cette date et par suite devait occuper l'emplacement des parties qui n'avaient pas encore été reconstruites, c'est-à-dire des premières travées de la nef." For a sketch of the importance and dissemination of the cult of St. Lubin, an important 6th century bishop of Chartres, in the diocese, see François-Jules Doublet de Boisthibault, "Le tombeau de Saint-Lubin, évêque de Chartres (544-556)," Revue Archéologique, XV, 1858-59, pp. 35-39; Lucien Merlet, "Notice sur l'eglise Saint-Lubin de Châteaudun," Mémoires de la société archéologique de d'Eure-et-Loir, IV, 1867, pp. 180-189; Jan van der Meulen, Notre-Dame de Chartres: I, Die vorromanische Ostanlage (Berlin: Mann, 1975), pp. 65-82.
12 The date of 924 for this translation, commonly found in the secondary literature on the abbey, is based on a supposed charter of King Radulph purporting to document the monks' move from the castrum to the church of St. Lubin in the settlement below (most conveniently published as "Charta fundationis abbatiae S. Launomari Blesensis…Ex chart. S. Launomari" in GC, VIII, instr. c. 412, i.e., after the 17th c. cartulary of Saint-Lomer, Arch. dép. de Loir-et-Cher, 11 H. 128, p. 5; the "original" is lost). Though Joseph Depoin doubted this charter's authenticity ("Etudes préparatoires à l'histoire des familles palatines," Revue des Études historiques, 1908, p. 578), as had others, it was, rather stubbornly, accepted as genuine by the usually meticulous and cautious Dr. Lesueur. However, based on the application of multiple criteria, Jean Dufour has since convincingly declared it to be an "Acte Faux" (Recueil des actes de Robert Ier et de Raoul, rois de France: 922-936 [Paris: Imprimerie nationale, 1978], no. 31, pp. 113-116, characterizing Lesueur's arguments for its legitimacy as "désespérés"). Dufour suggests, rather obliquely, that the forgery probably dates from the early to mid-11th c., perhaps created to bolster a claim that the Count of Blois was the chief patron of the newly-displaced abbey -though he implies that it is at least as likely that it was the Viscount of Blois who was in fact the primary agent of the monks' translation to the new site, citing (p. 115) a charter of 902 in the Arch. départ. Loir-et-Cher, 11 H 128, p. 1, published by R.-H. Bautier (Recueil des actes d'Eudes, roi de France, Paris, 1967, n° 40, 2°, p. 166). Be that as it may, at some point in the late 10th or very early 11th c. it seems likely that the monks of St. Lomer did, indeed, leave the chapel of St. Carilif in the upper castrum and relocate to the church of St. Lubin, nearer the river, approximately on the site of the western parts of the present building. Dufour's implication (pp. 114-115) that the forged charter of King Radulph dates from the early 11th c. suggests that the memory of the viscount's role in the abbey's history had, by that time, faded -or perhaps been suppressed- while the (supposed) tradition of the count's role in the translation of the abbey had not only replaced it, but had been well established for some generations by the time of the 1138 commemoration of Count Theobald IV's sponsorship of the new building campaign and, indeed, may partly explain his patronage. In any case, from the time of its concoction, this forgery was fully accepted as genuine by later generations and was not only used to reconstruct the history of the abbey, but also for such purposes as the general confirmation of its property by Pascal II in 1107 (cf. note 20 below). Indeed, Dom Mars believed that "l'abbaye a été fondée par Raoul" (according to his letter to Dom Anselme Le Michel, 26 January, 1645, published in Delisle's review of Dupré's edition of Mars, BEC, XXXI, 1870, pp. 103-110, at p. 107).
(GC VIII, Instr., c. 412: Charta fundationis abbatiae S. Launomari Blesensis…Ex chart. S. Launomari). …ego Rodulphus…penuria & longa fatigione monachorum, qui de loco in locum fugati indecenter morantur in castello Blesensi sursum in ecclesia sancti Carilephi in loco non apto neque congruo ordini monastico, do & concedo preibus amici mei Theobaldi inclyti comitis palatii victus sancto Launomaro & monachis ejus, ecclesiam sancti Leobini constructam sub moenibus Blesis castri & fiscum contiguum ipsi ecclesiae, ad construendam abbatiam… together with all that pertains to it which the count has ab antecessoribus meis jure hereditario….
The general confirmation charter of Charles the Bald for Corbion, transcribed by Dom Mars after a sealed "original" (Dupré ed., pp. 87-9), supposedly "remédier la destruction des titres de cet établissement provoquée par les incursions des Normands," which included property in the Ile-de-France, Neustria, Acquitaine, etc., based in part on the type of sealing method still visible on the "original" which Dom Mars "had before his eyes," was adjudged an "acte faux" by Georges Tessier (Rec. actes Charles le Chauve, II, no 484, pp. 608-11), and a post 9th century fabrication from "une époque relativement récente," i.e., perhaps of the late 11th or 12th century. In any case, this fabrication suggests that the monks of St. Lomer were not without considerable resources at the time of its creation -i.e., the property to which they laid claim mentioned in this fabrication may have been somewhat in play.
13 Lesueur, p. 10, citing Mars, pp. 129, 139. Note that the 17th century manuscript cartulary from this major house (Archives départementales de Loir-et-Cher, 11 H. 128, containing more than 500 documents from 902-1771; cf. Stein, Bibliographie des cartulaires, nos. 503 and 503bis) has apparently been neither published nor used in any systematic subsequent study.
14 Regardless of whether or not the 924 charter is legitimate, the fact is that, at some point, the monks of St. Lomer probably did indeed leave the church of St. Carilif in the castrum and bring their relics to a site nearer the river (i.e., first the site of St. Lubin). According to a charter of 1186, these relics were transferred "de veteri in novam …ecclesiam" at that time (see n. 23 below). Note that the "orientation" of St. Lubin (as well as that of most of the other churches of Blois) was determined by its relationship to the Loire; thus, the choir/apse of the present St. Lomer is oriented toward the northeast. For the sake of simplicity, we shall assume here that its orientation is toward the east. [Was there a chapel of Sts. Carilif or Lubin in the new St. Lomer's? AASS on Carilif and Lubin??]