Today (24 June) I am writing about a 12th century French nun with the anglophonically unfortunate but historically orthodox name of Raingard; she was the mother of Peter the Venerable and was venerated locally and in the Cluniac calendar. From Miss Dunbar:
Raingard or RAGENGARDIS, June 24, + 1135. Represented with a skull and a broom. She was of noble birth and related to the chief personages of Auvergne and Burgundy. She married a nobleman, named Maurice, whose estate of Montbaussier lay near the lands of her family. They were rich and charitable. They had eight sons and some daughters. Raingard had a bias towards monastic life, and loved to entertain every monk and pilgrim who passed through or near her property. One of these was B. Robert d’Arbrissel, the founder of Fontevrault ; he remained in the house some days and was much edified by the piety and wisdom of his hosts. Their devotion received a new impulse from his instruction. Raingard decided to take the veil at Fontevrault ; Maurice, after much consultation, consented to this step and resolved to become a monk. He died, however, before he could carry out his intention. During his last illness, his wife nursed him with devoted tender ness, praying and working earnestly for his salvation.
When he died, she made all equitable arrangements necessary for leaving her home and resigning her authority there, and waited until Easter to take the veil. But by this time Robert d’Arbrissel was dead and she heard that the nuns of Fontevrault were not strict enough in their rule to come up to her ideal of cloistered life, so she resolved to choose another retreat. Meantime, she went to Cluny and commended her husband’s soul to the prayers of the monks. The last night she spent in the outer world, she visited his tomb in the dark and there confessed all her sins to God ; then she went to a priest and confessed first all Maurice’s sins, and then all her own, and begged him to shut her up in the monastery of Marsigny to do penance for the rest of her life.
Marsigny was then very poor. It was a double monastery, ruled by B. Gerard, under the authority of Dom Godfrey of Semur. Gerard had recently had a dream that a dove came fluttering about him and that he caught it and clipped its wings, put it in a cage and presented it to Hugh, the superior of the Order. So when Raingard arrived with an escort suitable to her rank, he thought this was the dove of his dream, and at once sent for the prioress and all the nuns, of whom there were about a hundred. Raingard addressed them humbly, declaring her wish to be admitted amongst them. They were only too delighted to receive her, but the gentlemen who had come with her were very angry and declared this was no fit place for so great a lady, and that if she were detained there, they would pull down the house. Seeing her determination was not to be moved by threats, they next resorted to tears, but to no purpose. Raingard stayed there for the remaining twenty years of her life.
Such was her desire to practise humility that she always insisted on serving the others and taking her share of all menial work. The nuns soon made her cellarer, a post which she filled with the greatest satisfaction to all. She knew each nun, her name and origin, her little ailments, her tastes and weaknesses, and remembering that they were highly born and delicately brought up, she knew what they had need of, and learnt various ways of cooking to make variety for them. Needy as she found the community, she managed so well that she made everybody comfortable and always had something to give to the poor. She was Sara, Martha, Tabitha and Magdalene all in one.
Meantime, her son Peter Maurice, abbot of Cluny, called Peter the Venerable, travelled much, went to Rome, to England, and other places, and when he returned to his own country, he always went to see his mother. She gave him advice as a son, and at the same time honoured him as a father and a priest. In 1134, he attended the council of Pisa, under Innocent II., and was absent when his mother died. On his return to Cluny he had first to entertain the bishops and abbots, who had travelled with him. Afterwards, he visited the convent where his mother lay dead. He thanked the weeping sisters for their goodness to her, and made them a most touching address.
She is styled Saint in the calendars of the Order of Cluny and by all the local chroniclers, but she has not been canonized. Her life, written by her son B. Peter, is in Arnauld d’Andilly’s Vies des Saints Peres. Chambard, Saints Personnages d’Anjou.
Now, Raingard is not strictly speaking a saint, not in the east because of her dates, not in the west because she was never formally canonised, but I think her story is worth reading if only for one detail. From the beginning it looks like a fairly typical story of a pious noble lady who marries and has children as her family and society require, but yearns for the monastic life. She converts her husband to her way of thinking, he dies in good grace and she is free to take the veil. So far so ordinary. But this lady, who wishes to do penance for the rest of her life, is made cellarer, in charge of providing food for a convent of a hundred. Does she make them all eat bread and water? Does she insist on strenuous fasting? Does she give them horrible tasting food? She does none of these much more common things, which are impositions of a particular kind of penance, strongly connected with disgust for all things corporeal, especially in female religious. Instead she practises humility by thinking of the needs of others. She not only nourishes the nuns but makes them *comfortable*! and manages their small means so well that there is food for the poor as well. My understanding of living one’s faith in the world is small and ignorant, but that’s a humility and penance that makes sense to me where disdain for the physical world and detachment from other people doesn’t.
Holy Mother Raingard, pray to God for us.