Eleanor of Vermandois, the Widows of Saint-Quentin, and the Making of a Collegiate Church 1192-1214

Ellen M. Shortell, Massachusetts College of Art and Design , ellen.shortell@massart.edu

Although it bears important comparison to the cathedrals of Chartres, Soissons, and Reims, the collegiate church of Saint-Quentin has been a puzzle to architectural historians. Its date and thus its relationship to such major monuments of Gothic architecture have remained uncertain. One key to resolving this puzzle is recognizing the role played by several noblewomen, including Eleanor, Countess of Vermandois, in the initiation of construction of the church’s Gothic east end. Previous scholarship on Saint-Quentin has sought to identify the church’s design with Villard de Honnecourt and to see king Phillip Augustus providing the motivation and the resources for building. In formulating this still-popular but untenable thesis, scholars neglected both visual and documentary evidence that provide a date in the 1190s, coincident with the return of Eleanor, the last heir of the Vermandois’s leading family, to Saint-Quentin.

Like Eleanor, important noble families of the region regarded the collegiate church with a proprietary sense, as the chapter provided careers for many of their sons. Stained glass panels and previously unappreciated documents reveal the direct contributions of local noblewomen, including mothers of canons, to the building effort. This paper will ask whether there is a relationship between support of a traditional chapter of canons and female religious life, seeking to identify the choices and tensions that surrounded women’s participation in the rebuilding of Saint-Quentin. The terminal date for this study, 1214, marks not only Eleanor’s death and the political changes brought by the Battle of Bouvines, but also the reform of the chapter, civic riots, and most likely the beginning of a hiatus in construction