Medieval knights

Beautiful "chivalrous" values emerged in a very human context, with everything that the term implies. This is why Marian devotion had such a bright, civilizing role during the Middle Ages.

Some shadows…

Ninth and tenth-century knights and lords had the unfortunate habit of using monasteries as inns during their travels, which had a negative impact on the spiritual and material life of these monasteries, until the reform of Cluny which put an end to these practices [1].

For a long time the knights were part of the nobility, and had the ability to appoint abbots, bishops, and popes. The Gregorian reform greatly helped reduce this abuse. [2] ...

Before his conversion, Francis of Assisi (d. 1226), the son of a rich merchant, dreamed of becoming a knight. His first experience was disastrous: after a war against the neighboring city of Perugia, he ended up in prison and stayed there for a whole year. Then he got sick. Little by little, he started feeling that there must be something better to life.

Before his conversion, Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) was also a knight. He completely neglected to live as a Christian, led only by pride and love of pleasure.

…Amid light

We shouldn’t idealize medieval knights too much. They were human beings just like us.

But the knights also did something beautiful: they would spend their “vigil of arms” – before being knighted – on their knees before an altar of the Virgin Mary, the purest and most noble expression of their ideal.

Thus, despite the rough ways of the time, the simple fact of contemplating Mary, little by little brought up authentic values ​​that transformed the medieval society:

"The chaste love of Mary has always inspired French chivalry and created among us traditions of loyalty, courtesy and honor which have survived all failings, and are still at present the finest adornment of our civilization."[3]

Who knows what this vigil of arms before the altar of Mary sowed in the heart of the young Francis of Assisi or the young Ignatius of Loyola? The fact remains that eventually Francis converted and became a great saint, who founded the Franciscan order. And eventually Ignatius converted and became a great saint, who founded the Jesuit order.

Who can measure all that our civilization owes to the "chaste love of Mary"?

[1] Cf. Paul CHRISTOPHE, L'Eglise dans l'histoire des hommes,Droguet Ardent, 1982, p. 240-251 and E. AMMAN, A DUMAS, Histoire de l'Eglise tome VII, under the direction of A. FLICHE and  V MARTIN, L'Eglise au pouvoir des laïques, Bloud&Gay, Paris 1942, p. 320-332

[2] Cf. Paul Christophe, L'Eglise dans l'histoire des hommes, Droguet Ardent, 1982, p. 302-323.

[3] Cardinal Thomas, archbishop of Rouen (1894), quoted in Marquis de La Franquerie,  La Vierge Marie dans l'Histoire de France, Editions saint Rémi, 1994, p. 64

Françoise Breynaert