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Angilbert

(750—814)


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Abbot of St Riquier (near Amiens), d. 814. Details of his early life are known only through unreliable late medieval biographers, but he was clearly a member of the school of clerics and teachers which made Charlemagne's court conspicuous for ecclesiastical learning and civil administration, especially after the arrival of Alcuin in 782. In this gathering Angilbert was known as ‘Homer’ for his skill in poetry.

In early manhood Angilbert is said to have narrowly escaped hostile Vikings on the river Somme, to have prayed for deliverance at the shrine of St Riquier, and to have separated from his fiancée Bertha, Charlemagne's daughter, by whom he had two children. Bertha is said to have become a nun at the same time as Angilbert became a monk, but this may be an attempt to gloss over an irregular and long-lasting liaison.

Angilbert rose to considerable prominence under Charlemagne but does not seem to have taken much share in the expansion of his Empire, specially notable after the sudden death of his brother Carloman in 771. He was however one of the missi, a duke and a churchman, sent by Charlemagne to enforce order and uniformity in his vast Empire which included most of western Europe. Angilbert was even sent to Rome in this capacity with orders to admonish the pope Leo III for his supposedly irregular life; but Alcuin insisted that no power on earth could judge the apostolic see. Leo was exonerated and crowned Charlemagne as Emperor in 800.

Meanwhile Angilbert was given the abbey of St Riquier which he rebuilt and endowed on an enormous scale. He provided a fine library, three churches, and five chapels for the estimated 300 monks and 100 children. It is claimed that divine worship was perpetual and round the clock: if so, the monks must have provided it in relays. As in other Carolingian monasteries there was little time for manual work, but great emphasis was placed on the education of the young monks. In all this Angilbert took a prominent and satisfying role. He was chosen as one of Charlemagne's executors and signed his will at Aachen. He died only three weeks after Charlemagne. Feast: 18 February.

AA.SS. Feb. III, 88–105;Bibl. SS., i. 1249–50;B.L.S., i. 190–2.

Subjects: Christianity.


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