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.

The Chausable of of Bathilde.

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8 Comments

  1. Reply
    Rhi March 15, 2011

    so i know sometimes garments are named after saints but there is debate about whether they are actually dated to the time of the saint or no. do you know more about the chasuble? where/when was it found? carbon dated? other? and, ooooh, the embroidery….

    • Reply
      thealater March 15, 2011

      This is pretty certain to be the one that was buried with her. We are lucky in that the garments in this collection have a pretty sure provenance.

  2. Reply
    Liutgard March 21, 2011

    It is interesting that in this case the embroidery mimics the jewelry that she might have once worn. Was Baltilde buried in that gown? I can’t remember. At any rate, as she was buried in a period of time that the custom of burial with grave goods seems to have been declining (much to my dismay- the Carolingians didn’t do it, leaving me with a lot less in the way of material artifacts to work with) it may be that the intricate embroidery was a way of making that ‘mark’ without actually burying ‘stuff’ with her.

    If it wasn’t buried with her, it may be a moot point. :-/)

  3. Reply
    thealater March 21, 2011

    This garment was buried *with* her but not *on* her, hence the good condition. It’s also not a full garment, more like a tabard that would have just gone over the head with no sides or sleeves. It’s not know if this was the intended shape, or if pieces had been removed (small chunks have been cut out for relics), or if the garment wasn’t finished before she died.

    There is another garment, which like a dork, I didn’t get pictures of the reconstruction at Chelles. It’s a linen open-front tunic called Le Grande Robe de Bathilde. I plan to make a reconstruction as part of my stage of Merovingian dress entry in future kingdom A&S.

  4. Reply
    Genevra June 7, 2011

    Just stumbled on this blog– very interesting!
    I have recently posted on my own web site images of the tunic of Balthild, and will shortly post some of the other textiles from Chelles. (I was fortunate enough to be allowed to use a tripod there.) Please feel free to use my photos for non-commercial purposes.
    The direct link for Merovingian-era material is: http://www.kornbluthphoto.com/Merovingian1.html

  5. Reply
    thealater June 7, 2011

    Genevra,
    Thank you for the links! My pictures of the material at Chelles are very poor (old 3.2 Mp camera, Oy!) and I’ve been dying to find better ones.

  6. Reply

    […] Bathilde and Bertille — a bit of history! […]

  7. Reply

    […] of my favorite pieces is Marijke’s reproduction of  a tablet-woven band which belonged to  Bathilde, Queen of the Franks  (7th Century) which was found among other textile fragments in Chelles […]

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