Brief Background on the Troubadours

Major Shift:                  Eleventh Century                         To                 Twelfth Century

                Key Image:  MONT SAINT MICHEL                 Key Image:  the cathedral of CHARTRES,
                                         in the north of France.                         south of Paris, dedicated to Mary --
                                     On church steeple, the                                            Notre Dame -- Our Lady.
                                    Archangel Michael, the                                 God and Trinity seem eclipsed.
                                   warrior doing battle with                                 Jesus as a baby on mother's lap.
                                     forces of evil.                                                    Devotion to the Mother.

           Gender-archetype         Human  exemplar     Religious exemplar       Virtues      Theme of  songs

11th c.             Male                         feudal lord              God the Father                  honor,                   war
                     masculine                                                                                            courage,                combat

12th c.        Female                         the lady                          Mary                     refined  love                 love
                    feminine                                                                                            courtesia                    as
                                                                                                                                                    joyous and ennobling
The Remarkable Twelfth Century  -- a culture grows in the south of present France --
                                                                                                                        in what we now call Provence.:

 North = “France” -  center in Paris.              Langue d’oil          The word “oil”  is word for "yes."  Later becomes "oui."

 South = south of Loire River –esp. present Provence          Langue d’oc  The word “oc” is word for "yes."
                                                                                             Region is sometimes called  Occitania

Occitania bordered the Meditertranean and stood adjacent to Moorish-influenced Spain.  The south was literally warmer and freer than the domains of the King of France in the north.  Towns in the south were growing as trade with the EAst and Spain increased.  There was less separation between the knights and the rich peasants, between the rural and urban bourgeoisie.  Furthermore, the Catholic Church in the south was less firmly intertwined with the nobles than it was in the north.  Duke William of Aquitaine himself was skeptical of clerics and twice came in conflict with the local Catholic bishop who tried to excommunicate him.  The south, then, was more secular and more tolerant.  Jews owned property and did business under the protection of the Count of Toulouse.  The laws of the south were more favorable to women inheriting property.  Eleanor of Aquitaine -- the great-great granddaughter of William -- would inherit the vast domains of her father and grandfather.And we now know that during the two hundred years (11000 to 1300) there were also women, mostly noble women, who wrote love poetry and hove come to be called trobairitzwhich is the feminine form of the word troubadour.

        Several things about courtly love were at odds with orthodox Catholic teaching.

Courtly love saw passion as a good and source of good.
Catholic teaching saw passion as dangerous and a source of sin.

Courtly love was seen as more noble than marriage and it was directed to a woman other than one's wife.
Catholic teaching saw love outside of marriage as adultery, plain and simple.

Courtly love was not to be consummated (or if it was, the physical union was seen in a new way).
Catholic teaching was highly suspicious of sexuality and the idea of non-consumation as a way to sustain
    heightened desire would have seemed a devilish one.
(Only in India and Tibet do we find tantric teaching that makes sexual union a vehicle for the highest mysticism.)

    Courtly love did celebratre a love that was calimed to be both sensual and spiritual.  It did downplay religion and sing in praise of love.  Furthermore, between 1100 and 12000, in Occitania, other heretical movements were afoot.  There was a  new religious movement called the CATHARS or ALBIGENSIANS.   This group taught that the Catholic Church was the false religion while they -- the Cathars -- held the true key to the gospels.  There are suggestions that they read the gospels mythically or mystically, not literally.  Most troublesome of all, they practiced what they preached, living lives of simplicity and charity.  All this is another story.  Suffice it to say that from 1200 to 1300,  the Roman Catholic Church brought the full extent of its power to bear in order to crush.this religious movement -- first, the Catholic Church called a Crusade against those in the south and then the Catholic Church set up the Inquisition.  An entire culture -- skeptical, tolerant and intensely creative -- was exterminated.
Key terms:  Courtesia,   Fin’amor,    Fideli d’amore              troubadours and trobairitz (= women troubadours)

12th c.   Williamof Aquitaine        Countess of Dia           Bernart of Ventadour      13th c.  in Italy, Dante Alighieri
              30 yrs old in 1100                                                                                                                      35 yrs old in 1300
                                For more on the troubadours,  see additional material on Dante Enrichment Page.

        While Europe was rebuilding in the wake of the Viking attacks, there was a high culture in the Arab lands – from Spain to India.  In the twelfth century, there was cultural contact between Europe and the Islamic world through the crusades and through the culture flourishing in Spain.

         This leads us to the Sufis – the mystics of Islam.  The Sufis had for centuries been developing a mystical path of love.
Here the sensual and the spiritual came together in an ecstatic way of love and devotion.  Key terms were the lover, love and the beloved -- the divine shown through the human beloved so that in the best Sufi love poetry one cannot always be sure that the poet is praising a human beloved or the divine beloved or one shining through the other.

        The great Sufi poet Rumi (who lived in Konya, a city in present-day Turkey)  was a contemporary of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure.  See The Essential Rumi with translations by Coleman Barks.

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