Ide de Louvain

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Entry by Marie-Elisabeth Henneau, 2011

The only thing known about Ide de Louvain is what was said by the anonymous author of her Life, written shortly after her death. Ide was born around 1212 into a wealthy Louvain family. From a very early age, she made known her repulsion for the new mercantile society whose emergence in the northern towns led to the unrelenting impoverishment of a population reduced to begging. In deep disagreement with her family, Ide applied herself without reserve to providing relief to the poor, while subjecting herself to an astounding number of mortifications in an act of penance which sought to serve as reparation for the outrages suffered by Christ. She then became a Cistercian at the Val-des-Roses Abbey near Malines. Her biography was likely composed at the end of the thirteenth century and based on the testimony of her confessor. It foregrounds a woman who had a reputation for sanctity with the Cistercians, but whose renown also went far beyond the walled confines of her monastery. Her virtues did not go unnoticed by the Dominicans and Franciscans who were in contact with her, and the influence of Franciscan spirituality can be inferred from their own representation of the mystic: in the image of St Francis of Assisi (†1226), her affinity with animals bears witness to her dominion over Creation which was deemed to be miraculous; and her body pierced with five wounds attests to her unbounding love for the suffering Christ. Before her entry into the convent and in opposition to the opulence and impiety of her father, Ide had already developped a profound distate for earthly sustenance and an insatiable hunger for the literal consumption of the Eucharist.

It was one of the major threads taken up in her Life. At the same time, the Feast of Corpus Christi had been officially celebrated since 1246 on the initiative of Julienne de Cornillon in the diocese of Liège, and there were many stories of extraordinary events which bore witness to the great devotion women had to the Blessed Sacrement. Her biography also comprises numerous parallels with those of other female Cistercians in the diocese of Liège, such as Ide de Nivelles, Lutgarde d’Aywières, Béatrice de Nazareth or Ide de Gorsleeuw, who were also in contact with the Beguins; and Ide shared with them the one and the same intimacy with the Divine Child or Christ crucified. Her body became the true window on to her experiences, etched there for all to see. Joy and suffering punctuated her encounters with a Christ who made himself seen, heard and felt. He appeared as love incarnate, injuring and healing at one and the same time. He offered her his "Heart", unveiled his "Beauty" to her and celebrated a Solemn Mass for her. Transported to the Seraphim choir, she drew near to the mystery of the Trinity, despite her lack of formal schooling. It thus fell to her biographer to refer, in veiled terms, to the ways in which the Church limited jurisdiction: women were constrained to experiences of the heart within the confines of the cloister, and the clerics to theological knowledge acquired at school. If his heroine manages to translate liturgical texts into the vernacular, it is because the words were dictated by the Holy Spirit, and not because she was educated.

Described thus by a masculine hand, the profile of the Val-des-Roses Cistercian brings together all the requisite characteristics of female piety, as understood by the Church in the 13th century, namely penetential fasting, distributing food to the poor, sharing in the sufferings of Christ, and Eucharistic devotion. In short, a highly incarnate form of the Imitation of Christ. It remains unclear whether the portrait is overworked or if the overly sensitive expressions of experience attest to a certain propensity, unconscious or otherwise, on the part of the clerics to enclose women within the language of emotion alone. However, this has not stopped the biographer of Ide de Louvain from openly expressing his admiration and high praise for a women whose virile qualities he eventually comes to recognize! Ida gained new recognition in the 17th century, as much from the Cistercian hagiographers as from the Bollandists, and now figures amongst those who have been extensively discussed in the past thirty years by specialists in mysticism and in gender relations in the Middle Ages. (translated by Sharon Deane-Cox)


  • «Vita de venerabili Ida Lovaniensi. Ordinis Cisterciensis…», Bibliothèque nationale de Vienne, Series nova 12707, f°167r°-197r°.
  • «Vita de venerabili Ida Lovaniensi. Ordinis Cisterciensis…», éd. Daniel Papebroch, Acta sanctorum, Avril, t.II, 1866, p.156-198.
  • Ida the Eager of Louvain, Medieval Cistercian Nun, trad. Martinus Cawley, Lafayette, Guadalupe, 2000.
  • Herman Vekeman (éd.), Ida van Leuven (ca 1211-1290), Latijnse vita, vertalig, inleiding en commentar, Budel, Daman, 2006.

Selected bibliography

  • Bynum, Caroline, Jeûnes et festins sacrés. Les femmes et la nourriture dans la spiritualité médiévale, Paris, Cerf 1994.
  • Lauwers, Michel, «Les femmes et l’eucharistie dans l’Occident médiéval: interdits, transgressions, dévotions», dans Nicole Bériou, Béatrice Caseau, Dominique Rigaux (éds), Pratiques de l'eucharistie dans les Églises d'Orient et d'Occident (Antiquité et Moyen Age), Paris, Institut d'études augustiniennes, 2009, t.I, p.445-480.
  • Mikkers, Edmond, «Ida», dans Dictionnaire de spiritualité ascétique et mystique, t.7, 1969. col.1239-1241.
  • Roisin, Simone, «L’efflorescence cistercienne et le courant féminin de piété», dans Revue d’Histoire ecclésiastique, t.XXIX, 1943, p.342-378.
  • Simons, Walter, «Holy Women of the Low Countries: A Survey», dans Alastair Minnis et Rosalynn Voaden (éds), Medieval Holy Women in the Christian Tradition c. 1100-c.1500, Turnhout, Brepols, 2010, p.625-662.

Selected bibliography of images

  • 1635: Anonyme, [Ide de Louvain en médaillon], Saintes de l’Ordre de Cîteaux, huile sur bois, 180x127cm, Kerniel (Belgique), Prieuré de Marienlof -- Filles de Cîteaux au pays mosan, Catalogue d’exposition, Huy, Crédit communal, 1990, Couverture et p.69.
  • XVIIe s.: Joost Stevaert, La bienheureuse Ide de Louvain, huile sur panneau, 67x57cm, Kerniel (Belgique), Prieuré de Marienlof – Le Jardin clos de l’âme. L’imaginaire des religieuses dans les Pays-Bas du Sud depuis le 13e siècle, Catalogue d’exposition, Bruxelles, Martial et Snoeck, 1994, p. 24 et 248.


  • The Holy Women of Liège: A Bibliography Compiled by Margot H. King & Ludo Jongen [1]
Ide de Louvain
Ide de Louvain.jpg
Also known as Ida van Leuven, Ida Lovaniensis
Birth date around 1212
Death after 1262
Biographical entries in old dictionaries
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