Courtly Love: The Romantic Legend About Theodelinda

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Theodelinda was the queen of a barbarian nation called Lombard, she was the daughter of the duke Garibald I of Bavaria and Walderada the daughter of Wacho, King of the Lombards. Theodelinda was married first in 588 to Authari, king of the Lombards, son of King Cleph. There are indications that Pope Gregory I may have had an interest in encouraging this marriage as it would tie a Bavarian Catholic with the Arian Lombards. Her marriage with King Authari was short as he died in 590. So highly liked across the Lombard kingdom was Theodelinda that when Authari died, she was asked to remain in power and to choose a successor.

There is a romantic legend that says when Lombard delegation went to Garibald to ask for Theodelinda’s hand, Authari was the groom to be had disguise himself among his armed men and left the leadership to the eldest of the group. When the delegation arrived at Garibald Theodelinda offered them a cup of wine and walking among the warriors she stood in front of Authari and he gently brushed her hand, then he brushed his face from nose to mouth. That gesture had a powerful meaning back then and Theodelinda confessed it to the wet-nurse, who told her a man who dared to do that gesture had to be her future husband and Theodelinda agreed to leave with Authari. ‘ Authari had gazed upon her with silent approval since she was of a very beautiful figure and pleased him much in every way.’ ( Paolo Diacono, Historia Langobardorum, III, chap 30, William Dudley Foulke’s translation).

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Her second marriage was to Agilulf, duke of Turin where they lived in Milan a capital of the Roman Empire. Milan had gone through hard times but a lot of buildings were still in great shape including the imperial palace where they lived. Since Milan was a relevant city in the Roman Empire it had a circus where horse races took place. It is in this circus where Agiluf was crowned king and then their son Adaloald was crowned king as well. The choice of Milan was meant to establish a link between the Roman imperial tradition with the will of establishing a strong central government.

After Theodelinda married Agilulf she made an effort in restoring Nicene Christianity to a position of primacy in Italy against its rival, Arian Christianity. The Nicene Christianity regards Christ as divine and co-eternal with God the Father, while Arian Christianity treated Christ as the first created being and inferior to God the Father. Even though Agilulf was of Arian beliefs he did not change but allowed their son Adaloald to be baptized a Catholic. Pope Gregory I, heard the news and showered the child with gifts to show gratitude to Theodelinda in her efforts to spread Christianity. Another of the gifts of this pope to the Lombard queen was a cruciform encolpion containing a portion of the True Cross.

A couple of years after marrying Agilulf they decide to move to Monza, a small village near Milan. In Monza Theodelinda build a chapel dedicated to John the Baptist, legend has it that she wanted to build a church dedicated to John the Baptist but she wanted to build it where the holy spirit would tell her. During a hunt, she was resting on an Oak tree, when a dove appeared and whispered the word ‘modo’ meaning here and she built the chapel that was promised in that place. After the conversion of King Agilulf to the Catholic faith, she also built churches in Tuscany dedicated to John the Baptist. She also founded the monastery of Bobbio near the town of Piacenza and entrusted it to a catholic Irish monk Saint Columban.

After King Agilulf died in 616 their son, Adaloald became the rightful king of the Lombards, but Theodelinda ruled as a regent. During her time as queen, she pursued policies for keeping the peace between the Byzantine Empire and looked for ways to reconcile with the Romans. Perhaps the second one is the most important political policies she made, she worked hard to blend the Roman traditions and the Lombard traditions. A clear sign of this intention was when the royal couple chooses Milan a Roman capital as their home. Theodelinda worked hard to make the new state accepting of both traditions and succeeded, medieval Italy was a beautiful blend between German barbaric and Roman traditions. It was a very complicated time as well since the Romans still followed the traditional justice system of the Roman Empire while the Lombards were organized in extended tribes called ‘fare’, the assembly of the Lombards elected the king and took the most important decisions.

She also had religious policies, there was a conflict between the catholic Romans and the Lombards that were Arian. Theodelinda was catholic and had her son baptized as a catholic, by a branch called the ‘three chapters” doctrine. ‘The three chapters’ doctrine was a halfway point between the Catholics and the Arians, it is believed that Theodelinda chose this doctrine to act as a mediator between the pope and the Lombard Empire.

Theodelinda died in 627. Her first tomb included a funerary set that was recovered in 1308 with the reconstruction of the Duomo of Monza, a new burial place was set. This new tomb only includes a sarcophagus of the Roman kind supported by small pillars, a typology that in the 14th century was used for sovereigns and saints only. Filippo Maria, the last duke of the Visconti ruling family, ordered the Zavattari workshop a set of frescoes that still adorns the chapel of the Duomo of Monza.

In the Duomo of Monza are a set of treasures owned by Theodelinda, for example, Agilulf’s Cross. It is a goldsmith art with countless small pearls and precious stones, the pendants are very beautiful. Then, there is Theodelinda’s crown given to her by Pope Gregory the Great, which is encrusted with precious stones and pearls. The Iron Crown as it is known because it was believed to contain one centimeter-wide band of iron within it, said to be beaten out of a nail used at the crucifixion of Jesus. Another treasure is the hen and the chicks, it is believed to be of Roman tradition because the animal is represented with incredible realism typical of Roman work in the 4th century. The meaning of this work is not known but one hypothesis states that the hen represents the church and the chicks represent the believers, who need protection.

Theodelinda was a very influential woman during her time even as male dominance and wars dominated society. Even after death, she had some influence, her vision of a mixed society took shape in Italy during the middle ages. She is also regarded as a symbol of royalty and a woman of religious devotion, where her treasure reminds us of the woman who is considered the first queen of Italy. The historian Paul the Deacon’s words can testify how beautiful she was and how respected she was even one century after she had died.

Life was very different for women in the ancient world compared to the medieval world, for example in ancient Rome, women were not allowed to hold public office or work in the government. In the early days of the Republic, women were not even allowed to make suggestions. When a young woman married in the early years of the Roman Republic she left her childhood home and the authority of her father and entered not only the home of her husband but his power and control as well. In ancient Greece is a little bit harder to know how women lived since they were not allowed to read and write. While there still were women who did know how to read and write it was not common, for example, Sappho of Lesbos. Sappho lived in Mytilene on the island of Lesbos, where women often congregated and, among other social activities, shared poetry they’d written. Sappho’s poems usually focus on the relationships among women.

In Sparta, women had more rights since the men were rarely in the house only coming home to sleep they had very little care of how it was run. The Spartans believed a strong and healthy woman would produce a stronger offspring. Physical training and athletics were as important for girls as they were for boys, and there were regular competitions for running, wrestling, discus and javelin. Spartan women were able to participate in school as well but were not able to use their education to earn any money. Another unusual feature of the Spartans was the wife sharing, three, four, sometimes more brothers might share the same wife, as a means of preventing the dividing of their inheritance into several much smaller parts.

Life for women was better in the middle ages, women’s rights grew vastly throughout that period the increasing popularity of the Cult of the Virgin Mary and the development of the concepts of courtly love and chivalry. The romance of Courtly Love practiced during the Middle Ages was combined with the Code of Chivalry. Courtly Love was practiced from 1300 to 1500 during that time a successful marriage was one that gained material advantages and had little to do with love. The women were allowed to have a romantic relationship with knights as long as the had a set of rules to follow, but sometimes the parties involved would get deeply in love. A lot of powerful women also came out of the middle ages, for example, Eleanor of Aquitaine was one of the richest and most powerful women in Western Europe during the Middle Ages. Eleanor of Aquitaine was a queen consort of France and England, she was also a member of the Ramnulfids rulers in southwestern France.

Although women’s rights did increase during the middle ages there were mostly similar to the rights of the women in the ancient world. Their primary job was to bear children, raise them and do the chores at home. Another similar trait both worlds had was that women of that era were not able to choose their husbands. In the middle ages, the marriages of young aristocratic women were usually arranged by their families for political and material benefit. In the ancient world, more specifically ancient Rome a girl was ready to marry at the young age of 14. Her father would choose the husband and conduct the required arrangements, including the price her father placed on the bride, the groom’s family. Economic considerations and inter-family relations were far more important than love.

During the Middle Ages nations were smaller and most of them were run by a Feudal System, a serf received a piece of land in return for serving a lord or king, especially during times of war. Since nations were smaller that meant there were fewer wars as well, life expectancy rose from 28 to 30 during the Middle Ages. It was also a time where Christianism flourished over Europe and rejected the teachings and religions of the ancient world. This was a period that witnessed the formation and rise of universities, the establishment of the rule of law, and gave us many works such as The Canterbury Tales, the Divine Comedy, and The Song of Roland, that are still read and studied today.


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