In the footsteps of Héloïse and Abelard, legendary lovers from the 12th century

Mythical couple of the medieval era, symbol of free love and impossible passion, the story of Héloïse and Abelard has always inspired art and culture. And it was in Paris that this love story largely played out, from the slopes of the Sainte-Geneviève mountain to the former student quarter of the cloister of Notre-Dame. Between stroll and history, follow in the footsteps of the most famous lovers of the Middle Ages.

Quai aux Fleurs, Île de la Cité

It was first as a student that Abelard became known in Paris. Arriving from his native Brittany, he was around 20 years old when he entered the Île de la Cité to take classes at the Notre-Dame college.

At the beginning of the 12th century, being a student means endlessly discussing theses and hypotheses. Confident in his knowledge, he quickly confronted the greatest masters of the time, overturning the usual codes of dialectic. In a few months, Abelard quickly made a name for himself, and became master.

A canon of Notre-Dame, Fulbert, invited the philosopher to his home to instruct his young niece, Héloïse, who was promised a great intellectual future. Abelard had already noticed the young lady during his walks in the narrow streets around the cathedral, whose beauty matched her intelligence. “The books were open, but more words of love than philosophy were mixed into the lessons, more kisses than explanations”, Abelard recounted. At number 9-11 of the Quai aux Fleurs, on the Ile de la Cité, is the location of these first loves between a professor and his student, between a philosopher and the daughter of a monk… A concentrate of forbidden and impossible love.

The revenge of Fulbert, who one day surprised them in the girl’s bedroom, will be at the height of the scandal. One day while Abelard was sleeping, three men immobilized him and castrated him. An event which also took place on the Île de la Cité.

The current building dates from 1849.

Sainte-Geneviève Mountain

Proud and provocative character, Abelard had many enemies throughout his life. His innovative ideas, in a predominantly religious era, were considered heresy by the most conservative people. He left Notre-Dame school for the slopes of the Sainte-Geneviève mountain to “flee his enemies”, and created a new school, where classes were taught in the open air. The success was considerable, and led to the creation of the Medieval University, one of the oldest and most prestigious Parisian institutions.

Although almost nothing remains from this period, you can stroll around the Sorbonne to imagine the student atmosphere of Paris in the 12th century. Rue Valette, you can discover the Sainte-Barbe college, founded in 1460.

Pere Lachaise Cemetery

During his travels across France, Abelard founded a school in Champagne, in Aube. It will be transformed into a female abbey and Abelard will ask Héloïse to be its abbess. Abelard died in 1142, and his remains were buried there at the request of his wife. When Héloïse disappeared in 1164, she was placed in her husband’s tomb.

In 1817, the Paris town hall had the remains of this legendary couple transported to the Père-Lachaise cemetery. For more than nine centuries, lovers have rested together…

Useful Informations

Between stroll and history, follow in the footsteps of the most famous lovers of the Middle Ages
9-11 quai aux Fleurs, Île de la Cité
Montagne Sainte-Geneviève
Cimetière du Père-Lachaise

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