Paperback / softback
April 5, 2006
8.50 Inches (US)
5.50 Inches (US)
.7 Pounds (US)
$24.95 USD
v2.1 Reference

Robert of Arbrissel

Sex, Sin, and Salvation in the Middle Ages

Translated with an introduction and notes by Bruce L. Venarde with a new preface by the author

This book tells the fascinating story of Robert of Arbrissel (ca. 1045-1116). Robert was a parish priest, longtime student, reformer, hermit, wandering preacher, and, most famously, founder of the abbey of Fontevraud. There men and women joined together in a monastic life organized so that women ruled men and men served women, according to the founder's plan. As Jacques Dalarun shows in this biography, however, Fontevraud was for Robert only one stopping point in a restless and lifelong journey in search of salvation that took place in roads, forests, towns, and monasteries across France. Hard as the travel was, the spiritual search was more agonizing still. Consumed with a sense of his own sinfulness, sexual and otherwise, Robert lived out penance however he could. The many women who gathered in his wake became partners in his religious quest, and his frequent contact with them was, paradoxically, a centerpiece of his penitential regime. At Fontevraud, he encouraged others to adopt the practice of intense contact with and indeed subservience to women. This reversal of the standard gender hierarchy in the midst of the ongoing battle with sexual temptation has baffled and even enraged observers during Robert's lifetime and ever since.

Vividly narrating the course of Robert's life and his relationships with others along the way, the author hews closely to medieval sources, in particular two letters to Robert critical of his nonconformity and his relations with women, along with two admiring accounts written within a few years of his death. This translation by Bruce L. Venarde preserves the novelistic character of the original while updating and augmenting it with full notes, a bibliography, and an introduction both to the book and to scholarly interpretations of Robert in the past two decades. A new preface by Jacques Dalarun completes the reworking of the first full-length biography of Robert of Arbrissel available in English.


Jacques Dalarun is senior researcher at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris and the author of numerous books and articles on medieval religious experience in France and Italy. Bruce L. Venarde, associate professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh, is the author of Women's Monasticism and Medieval Society and Robert of Arbrissel: A Medieval Religious Life.


"A marvelous translation of an important book that is much more than the biography of the remarkable holy man who founded the abbey of Fontevraud, where nuns ruled over religious brothers. Dalarun places Robert's story in the larger context of a matrimonial crisis that placed women of this society at risk, while also treating with considerable delicacy Robert's self-testing, his urge to preach, and his ability to settle disputes. In his extensive annotation and clear translation, Bruce L. Venarde has made Dalarun's study accessible to English-readers at all levels."—Constance H. Berman, University of Iowa

"Of all the religious athletes of the twelfth century, Robert of Arbrissel—the son of a priest, a hermit, wandering holy man, preacher to prostitutes, and advisor to people of power—is one of the strangest and most interesting. This book brings together the foremost French historian of Robert with the foremost American as his translator. A prize for both students and teachers of the Middle Ages."—Fredric Cheyette, professor emeritus, Amherst College

The Catholic University of America Press

9780813214399 : robert-of-arbrissel-dalarun-venarde
Paperback / softback
$24.95 USD

Other Titles by Bruce L. Venarde

Robert of Arbrissel

Bruce L. Venarde
Oct 2003 - The Catholic University of America Press
$22.95 USD - Paperback / softback

Other Titles in HISTORY / Europe / General

Riding to Arms

Charles Caramello
Jan 2022 - University Press of Kentucky
$34.95 USD - Hardback
$34.95 USD - Electronic book text
$34.95 USD - Electronic book text

Elephant Trails

Nigel Rothfels
Nov 2021 - Johns Hopkins University Press
$40.00 USD - Hardback
$40.00 USD - Electronic book text

Orphans Of Versailles

Richard Blanke
Nov 2021 - University Press of Kentucky
$45.00 USD - Paperback / softback
$45.00 USD - Electronic book text

Other Titles in European history

Underground Streams

edited by János M. Rainer
Jan 2022 - Central European University Press, an imprint of Central European University Press
$75.00 USD - Hardback

Women in Wartime

Paula R. Backscheider
Dec 2021 - Johns Hopkins University Press
$99.95 USD - Hardback
$34.95 USD - Paperback / softback
$34.95 USD - Electronic book text

Eastward of Good Hope

Dane A. Morrison
Nov 2021 - Johns Hopkins University Press
$54.95 USD - Hardback
$54.95 USD - Electronic book text