Bathilde and Bertille – a bit of history
It is rare to find surviving examples of clothing from the early medieval period. In the textile relics of the Chelles Abbey we have the lucky concurrence of well preserved garments and a fairly extensive textual record of both women, St. Bathilde and St. Bertille.
Bathilde was an Anglo-Saxon woman captured in a raid and sold as a slave in Gaul in the early 7th Century. She was purchased by Erchinaold, then mayor of the palace of Neustria. She came to the attention of King Clovis II of Neustria and Burgundy and was made his consort (Harris, 1998). This began her career as one of the most powerful Merovingian queens.
She used her power as Queen to build powerful networks among the patrician Gallo-Roman aristocrats. Bathilde aggressively managed the placing of bishops and established monasteries throughout the Kingdom. Her most lasting legacy was in the Royal villa turned abbey of Chelles on the Marne River (Hen, 1995). This became her domain when she was forced into retirement sometime around the 660s (Harris, 1998). Bathilde died in 690 and was thereafter made a saint. Garments worn by Bathilde form part of the reliquary of Chelles.
Bertille was born in the province of Soissons in a patrician family. Bathilde chose her to be the first Abbess of Chelles after being trained in the Abbey of Jouarre in Brie-sur-Marne (Harris, 1998). Bertilla died in about 700 and many miracles were attributed to her after her death.