St. Eloise?

First of all, let’s get this straight.

Eloise is not a form of Alois, Aloysius, or Helwidis. Or Louise or Louis.

First off, Louis and its feminine form, Louise, both derive from the name “Chlodovech.” The Germanic roots are: “hlod-/chlod-/lod-/liud-” (people) + “-vech/-vic/-vig/-wig” (battle). So it’s something like “battle of the people.”

Alois and Aloysius are from  Germanic roots: “ala-” (all) + -“wis/-vis/-ois” (lead, rule). So that name means something like “rules all.”

Helwidis or Helvidis comes from different Germanic roots: “heil” (health, healthy, hale) + -“wid/-vid/-oid” (wide or wood/woods, two different words that can end up sounding similar in names) + the feminine ending “-is.” So yeah, probably “healthy woods” or “wide health.”

“Helvise”, “Helvisa,” “Eloise,” “Eloisa,” “Heloise,” and “Heloisa” are related to these names, however, because they are built from some of the same root word components: “heil-”  + “-ois” + “-e” (feminine ending). So the name means something like “healthy rule”, or “rules health.” (Frankish ladies did a lot of medicating the household, so maybe that’s why.) Anyway, it was a very popular name, especially around Normandy, and was also medievally popular (as “Helewis”) in areas of England where Normans settled.

(If you’re wondering about our Elvis, that’s a Welsh men’s name and we’ve already covered it. But yes, there were Frankish Alvis and Elvis and Alvisa names too.)

Now, on to the saintly portion of our program!

Contrary to certain pages on the Internet, the notorious/famous Abbess Heloise de Argenteuil has not been raised to the altars anywhere. She was a remarkable woman and a pious one (Other than the falling in love with her tutor who was a cleric. But she made up for that as an abbess, and by putting up with Abelard’s letters. Heh.), but there’s no popular devotion in the minds of the Church’s faithful. No devotion, no canonization.

The nameday often listed for “Heloise” is March 15, which is St. Louise de Marillac Day. I guess even though it’s the wrong name, people figure that’s close enough for France. (Not that you should let that stop you, if it’s been French custom all your life.)

However, there is a Blessed Heloise de Coulombs (in her time, the name was Helvise or Helwisa). Although she has never formally become a saint, there are Catholic hospitals in France named St. Heloise (and swearing “By St. Heloise!” used to be very popular in France). She’s pretty much a preconciliar saint, in the eyes of French Catholics!

Blessed Heloise was a noblewoman of France. She married twice: once to Count Hugues II of Meulan (nicknamed “Bear Head”) , and once to Alexander of Azzelin, to whom she bore several children. (One of whom became Abbot Godefroi of the Benedictine abbey at Coulombs.) After Hugues’ death, she had decided to donate three parish churches (at Lainville, Montreuil-sur-Epte, Montalet-le-Bois, and Megrimont) to the abbey at Coulombs in 1033, as well as her part of the forest at Jambville. (Which gift was confirmed by the new count, Galeran, who was Hugues’ brother.) Coulumbs had just been founded back in 1029, so this was a good gift. As usual with monasteries, Notre-Dame des Coulumbs kept all these documents in their charter books, and Mabillon copied them into his collaborative work, Acta Sanctorum Ordinis S. Benedicti, vol. 8 (6th age of the order, part 1). She apparently continued to be their benefactor in a small way during her second marriage.

After Alexander’s death, she decided to retire from the world and become a hermit near (but outside) the abbey. (There wasn’t an abbey of nuns there, but Benedictine monks back then often had a little building nearby with cells in it for women who wanted to live a religious life. This was called “reclusa”, and wasn’t technically being a hermit, but it was pretty close.) We don’t know much about her life there, but apparently she impressed people as holy.

In 1066, she gave the abbey her properties in the following towns:  Lainville, Lesseville, Montalet-le-Bois, Montreuil-sur-Epte, Meulan, and Jambville.  She also gave them the lands and church of Authieux, which was confirmed by Duke William of Normandy, soon to be King of England. The monks served as her spiritual directors. She was buried in the abbey church (which was destroyed in the French Revolution and demolished in 1816), but her relics are currently in the monastery town’s little 17th century parish church, Saint-Cheron. Her reliquary is in the form of a bust and contains her skull. Her feastday is February 11. She may also have died on February 1 or January 6.

So yes, if your name is Heloise or Eloise, you have a patron saint! (Other spellings for this Heloise’s name include Avisa, Avia, and Avoie, depending on how much that local French people didn’t want to say H’s.)

19th century stained glass window of St./Bl. Heloise. Saint-Jean-le-Baptiste parish church, Saint-Léger-en-Yvelines, Ile de France, Paris.

The History of the Abbey of Notre-Dame des Coulombs, in French. The name means “Our Lady of the Doves.”

St. Heloise feastday post, in French.

St. Heloise picture.

5 Comments

Filed under Church, Saint Names, Saint Stories

5 responses to “St. Eloise?

  1. One thing in your word origins confuses me. If Eloise comes from “heil” (health, healthy, hale), shouldn’t it have something to do with health, rather than ruling the woods, as you say?

  2. Oh, by the way, nice and informative post about the saints or almost saints. I know someone named Eloise, whom I believe I shall now mention this post to.

  3. thank you for clarify this matter! I was never sure if Héloïse d’Argenteuil was or wasn’t a saint

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