chapter  9
Three Twelfth-Century Profiles
Pages 32

A period in history, such as the twelfth century, can be seen as the rush of events – ‘one damn thing after another’, in the words of one critic – and as useful and, indeed, necessary as that is, occasionally one should stop the projector and look at a few individual frames to get a more nuanced view. Thus, we shall take another look at the twelfth century, a look focused on three individuals whose life experiences will allow us to see the twelfth-century church in a fuller, more personal dimension. The three persons – two men and one woman – were neither popes nor monarchs, yet they show us different aspects of the church as it lived out its life in the complexities of a Europe coming of age. One was near the centre of power, Thomas Becket as chancellor to King Henry II of England. And through the experience of another, Peter Abelard, we catch sight of the world of the schools and the contentiousness, personal and intellectual, in which he found himself. We come to an entirely different place when we meet Hildegard of Bingen, not merely because she was a woman in a man’s world, but also because she was a visionary prophet and perhaps much more. To them, then, let us turn.