Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Blessed Robert of Arbrissel, Priest

Article

[So called from the place of his birth.] He was archpriest and grand vicar of the diocess of Rennes, and chancellor to the duke of Brittany; but divested himself of these employments, and led a most austere eremitical life in the forest of Craon, in Anjou. He soon filled that desert with anchorets, and built in it a monastery of regular canons. This is the abbey called De la Roe, in Latin De Rotâ, which was founded, according to Duchesne, in 1093, and confirmed by Pope Urban II, in 1096. This pope having heard him preach at Angers, gave him the powers of an apostolic missionary. The blessed man therefore preached in many places, and formed many disciples. In 1099 he founded the great monastery of Fantevraud, Fons Ebraldi, a league from the Loire in Poitou. He appointed superioress Herlande of Champagne, a near kinswoman to the duke of Brittany; and Petronilla of Craon, baroness of Chemillé, coadjutress. He settled it under the rule of Saint Benedict, with perpetual abstinence from flesh, even in all sicknesses, and put his order under the special patronage of the blessed Virgin. By a singular institution, he appointed the abbess superioress over the men, who lived in a remote monastery, whose superiors she nominates. The holy founder prescribed so strict a silence in his order, as to forbid any one to speak even by signs, without necessity. The law of enclosure was not less rigorous, insomuch that no priest was allowed to enter even the infirmary of the nuns, to visit the sick, if it could possibly be avoided, and the sick, even in their agonies, were carried into the church, that they might there receive the sacraments. Among the great conversions of which Saint Robert was the instrument, none was more famous than that of queen Bertrade, the daughter of Simon Montfort, and sister of Amauri Montfort, count of Evreux. She was married to Fulk, count of Anjou, in 1089, but quitted him in 1092, to marry Phillip I, king of France, who was enamoured of her. Pope Urban II. excommunicated that prince on this account in 1094, and again in 1100, because the king, after having put her away, had taken her again. These censures were taken off when she and the king had sworn upon the gospels in the council of Poitiers never to live together again.

Bertrade, when she had retired to an estate which was her dower, in the diocess of Chartres, was so powerfully moved by the exhortations of Saint Robert, that, renouncing the world, of which she had been long the idol, she took the religious veil at Fontevraud, and led there an exemplary life till her death. Many other princesses embraced the same state under the direction of the holy founder: among others Hersande of Champagne, widow of William of Monsoreau; Agnes of Montroëil, of the same family; Ermengarde, wife of Alin Fergan, duke of Brittany; Philippa, countess of Thoulouse, wife of William IX, duke of Aquitain, etc. After the death of Saint Robert, several queens and princesses had taken sanctuary in this monastery, flying from the corruption of the world. Among its abbesses are counted fourteen princesses, of which five were of the royal house of Bourbon. The abbot Suger, writing to Pope Eugenius III, about fifty years after the death of the founder, says there were at that time in this order between five and six thousand religious persons. The order of Fontevraud, in France, is divided into four provinces. Blessed Robert lived to see above three thousand nuns in this one house. He died in 1116, on the 25th of February, Saint Matthias’s day, it being leap-year, in the seventieth of his age, at the monastery of Orsan, near Linieres, in Berry. His body was conveyed to Fontevraud, and there interred. The bishop of Poitiers, in 1644, took a juridical information of many miracles wrought by his intercession. From the time of his death he has been honoured with the title of blessed, and is invoked in the litany of his order, which keeps his festival only with a mass of the Trinity on Saint Matthias’s day. See his life by Baldric, bishop of Dole, his contemporary; Helyot, Hist. des Ordres Relig. t. 6. p. 83. Dom. Lobineau, Hist. de Bretagne, fol. 1707. p. 113. and, in the first place, Chatelain, Notes on the Martyrol. p. 736 to 758. who clearly confutes those who place his death in 1117

MLA Citation

  • Father Alban Butler. “Blessed Robert of Arbrissel, Priest”. Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Principal Saints, 1866. Saints.SQPN.com. 23 February 2013. Web. 2 October 2014. <>