A case study of the education of Heloise
McNamer, Elizabeth Mary
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Heloise was born in 1100 and died in 1163. She lived during what is known as the twelfth century renaissance, when as a result of the Crusades, Europe was opening up to new ideas that caused changes in class structure, attitudes to women, and in scholarship. She received the education usually available only to men bent on a ecclesiastic career, and is believed by many to be the only woman of her time to have received such an education. Abelard, one of the most renowned teachers of the day was employed to teach her philosophy. Heloise and he had a love affair which lasted for about eighteen months. Heloise then became a nun. She became abbess of her convent of nuns at the Paraclete in France and built up that convent from what was just a few broken down huts to a thriving abbey with six dependent houses. She served as abbess for thirty years. She is believed to have taught the nuns Greek and Hebrew at a time when these languages were not readily spoken in Europe, so that they could read Scripture in the original. Heloise was an administrator and scholar of renown, yet she is remembered in literature only because of her romantic association with Abelard. Using historical case-study methodology, this paper examines the educational milieu of the twelfth century, who had access to education and what education comprised. It examines the education of Heloise and her accomplishments as abbess, scholar and educator. The conclusion is reached that, because of her romantic association with Abelard she has been fictionalized as a romantic heroine and her scholarship has gone unrecognized.