The codex Renbaudus was found in 1962 in Southeastern France. It contains the memoirs in Latin of an 11th century Norman knight, Renbaudus of Bernay. The codex mainly narrates his pilgrimage to Jerusalem between 1095 and 1099.
Even though many pages of the codex have been lost, it is now understood that it originally contained different sections. In one of the few surviving ones, Renbaudus describes his childhood and the lessons he learned from the Benedictine monks who raised him at Cluny abbey.
As a codicologist, my aim is to translate and share with you what he wrote more than 10 centuries ago, hoping these timeless lessons will be useful. I have taken some stylish liberties and you can find a glossary at the bottom for place names, difficult words and Latin words. You may also hover over the dotted-underlined words to get the definitions.
I cannot forget this story, because it was one of the rare instances where Father Eusebius had trouble helping me. We were sitting on the bench next to one of the barns of Berzé. And we were unusually silent.
I had come to see him after None, and as usual his wrinkled face broke into a smile when he saw me.
“Renbaudus, it’s a pleasure to see you. Any news for me?”
I had told him a few stories about what was happening in Cluny Abbey, not really touching on the topic I wanted to talk about. He noticed my discomfort.
“My son, what is bothering you? I sense that you have something to get off your chest. Is the Great Shadow of Death creeping in?”
“No, Father. Something is burning there, but it is not like the usual Great Shadow.” I paused for a moment. “It feels good,” I confessed in a whisper.
Father Eusebius raised his white bushy eyebrows.”Are you talking about a damisel?”
We sat looking at the Burgundian landscape, with its lush green forests adorning the gently rolling hills.
“What happened, Renbaudus?”
“Guy had his family come over to visit,” I said. “His brother Etienne is at the schola, but not his older brother Renaud. The latter arrived two days ago with their mother, the countess of Burgundy, and two of his sisters, Sybilla and Gisela.”
Father Eusebius nodded, encouraging me to go on.
“Since they are important guests, the great Abbot himself came to welcome them in the guest quarters of the abbey. They returned the favor by hosting a banquet. Guy was nice enough to invite Henry, Josseran, and me to attend it.”
“Did you enjoy the banquet?”
“Yes, the food was excellent! There was a very talented troubadour and we were allowed to drink some wine mixed with water.”
“And…Guy’s two sisters, Sibylla and Gisela also attended the banquet. I noticed Gisela glancing at me several times. The look in her eyes was wonderful.” I paused, and took a deep breath.
“Slowly I felt something growing in me. A strong feeling, like the Great Shadow, but much more pleasant. It has not left me since the banquet and every time I think about her beautiful face, it comes back even stronger.”
Father Eusebius smiled.
“I am not the best adviser for these kinds of matters. But I was young once, too, and I also had feelings. It’s possible that you might be in love with this damisel.”
“It’s a strange feeling. And strong.”
“I’ve heard it can move mountains,” answered the good Father, teasing.
“I know how to use a sword, how to read and write, but suddenly I find myself simply wanting to talk to her and unable to do so. This never happened to me before. At the schola, they don’t teach you that kind of thing.”
“You could look through Ovid,” Father Eusebius answered, “because, ahem, my experience is very limited.”
“Please Father. Please, please, please! You always have a good answer for me. How do I talk to her? I tried to ask Clementia, Josseran’s mother for some advice. She served me even more pottage, pointed her spoon at my face, and said I should focus on my studies, not damisels.”
Half-smiling, the good Father exhaled. “In the name of Iesu, help me.” He held his hands up in mock surrender.
“All right, Renbaudus. Agreed! If even Clementia doesn’t want to help you, I must step up to the plate. And that will be a first in my career. Dear God, you hath me doing just about everything in my life!”
Father Eusebius narrowed his bushy white eyebrows.
“I have much experience talking to damisels and other women. Even though I had a different purpose in doing so, I have noted a few things in their attitudes that might be useful to you.”
I nodded, listening as if my life depended on it.
“Primo, they like to talk. And you have to listen to them! Several times I remember my mind wandering from the not-always-interesting topics offered. A sharp look associated with a high-pitched voice quickly brought me back to the topic at hand.”
“So I will listen to her.”
“Yes but just don’t just look at her gaping. You must talk too. Please Renbaudus, try to be clever. I have seen so many young knights unable to express anything other than the traditional ‘you are beautiful’ line. It can be become quite boring after a while.”
“But Gisela is beautiful, Father,” I said, my eyes wandering up to the blue sky. Almost as beautiful a blue as Gisela’s eyes…
He nudged me.
“I am sure she is lovely, Renbaudus. Nonetheless, you must control yourself. The best way to do that, once again, is to focus on what she is saying. Listen very carefully and answer when appropriate. Also make sure you don’t talk longer than she does.”
“Secundo, you have to compliment her. Whatever you say is up to you but you shouldn’t lie. Be authentic. Women have keen sense in detecting fraudulent assertions.”
“Flattery. Don’t tell her she has beautiful hands if it is not true. That makes you seem like an evil man. A liar. Damisels are connected in amazing ways. All of them will quickly hear about your evil reputation.”
“So be very careful about what you say, because they will remember it.”
I crossed my arms, a little bit worried. This was not going to be as easy as I thought. Father Eusebius was now on a roll.
“Tertio,” he said raising three gnarled fingers, “you have to strengthen the relationship slowly. The best way is to stay friendly, helpful, and of good company. Let the friendship flourish,” he said. “Soon you will know how much interest she has in you. Is it boredom? Is it friendship? Is it more than that? Do not worry. She will let you know by her behavior.”
I looked at him, surprised.
“Father, you seem to know a lot about this.”
He swiftly lowered his arm and folded his hands.
“I don’t Renbaudus, I don’t. It’s just that I have observed humans for many years and in many different cultures. They behave the same way, whatever your topic and whomever you are talking too. Diplomacy and love are the same.”
I thought for a moment. “You have given me a lot of advice. I thank you for that. But you still haven’t answered my question. How do I talk to her, the first time?”
My question baffled Father Eusebius.
“This is more difficult than what I thought,” he said. “I want to help you, but at my age and as a monk I don’t have much experience starting a conversation with young damisels.”
I was disappointed. “Father, I cannot just go to her and say ‘Hello, my name is Renbaudus.’”
Suddenly his eyes lit up.
“Why not? That is the most polite and respectful thing to do. It shows that you value her as an equal. Not as a pretty thing.”
I hadn’t thought about that. But Father Eusebius was not finished.
“I have always introduced myself and I noticed that it makes the other person more comfortable. The added benefit for you is that she has to introduce herself too. It will give you time to think about what to say next,” he said. “With a little luck, she even might ask you a question, and from there you can use my triple strategy.”
“This is still scary to me,” I said.
“Why, Renbaudus? What is it that makes you fearful?”
“I don’t know. She looks so beautiful…I don’t want to make a mistake. And if she doesn’t like me?”
The good Father smiled kindly.
“My son, you are thinking too much. First of all, you know your value. You are a talented young man with a promising future. If I were you I would just be myself. Don’t change anything, behave the same way as when you are with your friends or with me. That’s why we like your company, for who you are!”
“Thank you Father. I feel better,” I answered.
“I am not done, Renbaudus. You know your value, but you cannot control other people. If this damisel is nice, she will appreciate you for who you are. If not, she might try to manipulate you or she may reject you. And this could be a holy blessing in disguise,” he said. “You don’t want to be with someone like this. There are many other nice damisels in Burgundy who would be happy to share your time.”
“Thank you Father,” I said. “I think I understand what you mean. I must say that the pull of this force is so strong that it is difficult to separate the truth from the illusion.”
“Yes, I know, my son. Our minds are so powerful that often we can see things where there isn’t anything to see.”
We sat and thought about this important subject.
Then Father Eusebius turned to me. “Why don’t you go back to Cluny today and practice talking to the damisel?”
The look in my eyes clearly revealed that my heart was not as ready as my brain.
Berzé: small village near the abbey of Cluny.
Cluny: abbey located in Burgundy, France. Cluny was the head of the most powerful monastic movement in the Middle Ages.
None: mid-afternoon prayer around 3 pm. It is supposed to be the ninth hour of the day, hence the name. It is interesting to know that the word “afternoon” comes from “after none.”
Great Shadow of Death: of course you know the meaning! (Ahem, just in case, go to this episode to learn more about it.)
Damisel: young girl or lady. Same as damsel.
Guy of Burgundy (Died in 1124): he became pope under the name Calixtus II in 1124. Renbaudus and him kept a close relationship and worked together on the ‘fake’ Codex Calixtinus.
Schola: do you really need help?
Troubadour: a composer and performer of poetic songs.
Ovid (43BC-18AD): he was a Roman poet who wrote about love and seduction. In the Medieval era he became again very popular.