Richer of Rheims:
Journey to Chartres, 10th Century
Richer, a monk of Rheims, wrote a history of France in the
late 900s. In it he told of his journey to attend school in Chartres.
His story opens to us, in a startling way, the conditions of medieval
life. It shows how features of Europe had deteriorated, and how
the indomitable spirit of some individuals kept going forward
despite difficult conditions.
Some useful questions to keep in mind while reading:
1.) How do certain details in the account reveal the material
conditions of Richer's life and of medieval society in general?
2.) What problems, fears and suspicions did Richer face, with
what frame of mind did he approach them, and how did he deal with
3.) What accommodations did Richer experience and/or plan into
the stages of his trip?
4.) How did the state of higher education seem to be faring
in terms of student hardships, methods of learning, and in terms
of what Richer's account tells us about the nature of his own
Professor Jean Dunbabin described Richer and his writing: "...he
embroiders, he exaggerates...for literary effect" (France
in the Making 843-1180, Oxford, 1985, p. 19). Following Dunbabin's
description, I have tried to capture that style of Richer in this
While engaged in the study of the liberal arts,
I wanted very much to learn logic through the works of Hippocrates.
One day a horseman from Chartres came to Rheims and we began to
talk. He told me that Heribrand, a clerk of Chartres, had sent
him here to bring a message to a monk named Richer. When I heard
my friend Heribrand's name, I told the messenger that I was Richer.
He gave me the letter which I opened with some excitement. This
was it! An invitation from Heribrand to come to Chartres and study
the Aphorisms of Hippocrates with him. My joy faded somewhat
because my own abbot gave me nothing more for the journey than
one saddle-horse and a young lad to help with the trip. Without
money or even a change of clothes, I decided to go anyway.
After setting out from Rheims with the messenger
and the lad, I soon arrived at Orbais, well-known for its hospitality.
The abbot cared for our needs and on the next day we set out for
Meaux. But having entered the shadows of a dark forest, problems
overtook us. We made a wrong turn at some crossroad, then wandered
miles out of our way. Soon my abbot's generous gift of a saddle-horse,
which had seemed as powerful as [Alexander the Great's own steed]
Bucephalus, began to lag behind like a lazy ass. It was getting
toward evening and the sky had clouded up. Just as the rain began
to fall, as luck would have it, our Bucephalus sank to the ground
some six miles from our destination and died. If lightening had
struck him, he could not have been more dead! How serious our
situation was, and how nervous we became, can only be appreciated
by those who have also suffered hardships on the road.
The lad, now without a horse and unaccustomed
to the difficulties of a journey, collapsed on the ground in despair.
Our baggage sat there in a pile without any way to carry it further.
Sheets of rain poured down on us. Clouds surrounded us. The setting
sun brought darkness. Unsure of what to do, I turned to prayer
and God did not ignore us: I had an answer. I left the boy with
the baggage, told him what he should answer to any one who might
come by, and warned him not to fall asleep. Then I set out with
the messenger for Meaux. We reached the bridge before the town
but could barely see it in the rainy night. I became even more
anxious because the bridge had so many holes and large gaps in
it that the citizens of Meaux could hardly cross it in the daytime,
much less in the dark - and in a storm! The messenger, an experienced
traveler, went to find a boat for us to cross in. Not finding
one, we faced the difficult path over the bridge. As we went,
the messenger put his shield over the smaller holes for the horses.
He used planks for the larger gaps. At times he would be bending
over, now standing up, now running here and there in order to
keep the horses calm and safe. Slowly, he managed to get me and
the horses across safely.
Well into the night, I finally arrived at the
church of St Pharo. The brothers were preparing the love-drink.
On this particular day, they were just finishing a special reading
and feast. They received me as a brother and invited me to their
table. After a fine meal, I sent the messenger of Chartres back
with the horses to get the lad we left behind. Skillfully, the
messenger crossed the bridge a second time, but he took a long
time to find the boy. He wandered about and shouted for him. After
finding him, he returned to the city but was afraid to try his
luck on the bridge again. They sought shelter in a peasant's hut.
The peasant let them sleep there but gave them no food even though
the lad had gone the whole day without eating.
What a sleepless night I had waiting for them!
If you have ever stayed up the whole might waiting for someone
dear to you, then you know what torture I went through that night.
But at first light they arrived, famished. The brothers gave them
something to eat and took care of the horses. Since the boy had
no horse, I left him with the abbot and headed for Chartres at
a fast pace with the messenger. Having reached our destination,
I sent the horses back to Meaux so that the boy could follow.
Only after he arrived at Chartres could I rest easy.
Then I diligently began the study of the Aphorisms
with Hippocrates with Heribrand, a highly cultured and scholarly
man. I learned the ordinary symptoms of diseases and picked up
a surface knowledge of ailments. This was not enough to satisfy
my desires. I begged him to continue to guide my studies on a
deeper level, for he was an expert in his art and in pharmaceutics,
botany and surgery.
© Translation by Michael Markowski of this part of Richer's History from the Latin text in Histoire
de France, ed. by Robert Latouche (Paris, 1964), vol. 2,
225-230. Feel free to copy or download this translation, but please
e-mail me and let me know in order that I might satisfy my own
desire to be useful. E-Mail: M-Markow@wcslc.edu
This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book.
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Paul Halsall February 1998, updated March 1999