Today is the feast of Blessed (or is it Saint?) Isabelle (or Isabella or Isabel or Yzabeau) of France, who is one of my Isabella’s patron saints. I have a special fondness for Isabel, who was the sister of St Louis, King of France. I think she’s a great patron for a little girl. She is, after all, a princess. Little girls love princesses! But she’s a princess who considered virtue to be more important than beauty. She broke an engagement with a count and then refused a second offer of marriage to the son of the Holy Roman Emperor. She founded a community of Poor Clares and though she never took vows she had a house built for herself on the grounds of the abbey and lived as much according to their rule as she could while being separate from the community.
Bella longs to know more about her patron. A while back I found a book online that is a scholarly work, a translation of a life of Blessed Isabelle written by Agnes of Harcourt, the third abbess of the abbey that Isabelle founded, who had met Isabelle. It is a short work and not terribly rich in detail; but it does have some interesting tidbits. I read most of it to Bella today and she was rapt.
Some of my favorite Isabelle stories:
When she was a child she used to crawl under her blankets at night and pray on her elbows and knees. Once a servant came in to pack up the bedclothes and beds and he didn’t realize she was under there, just thought the blankets were twisted. So he started to pack them up and Isabelle screamed and her maids came running and the servant was terrified.
Once she had sewn a hat and her brother the king asked if he could have it to wear at night in bed and she refused him, saying that as it was her first one she wanted to give it to God. So then he asked if she would make another one for him. Then she secretly gave the cap to a poor, sick woman. The sisters heard about the story and retrieved the cap from the poor woman, paying her handsomely and keeping it as a relic.
Isabelle had beautiful lustrous hair and her maids used to keep all the pieces that came out. When she discovered that they were doing so, Isabelle asked why and they confessed that they were keeping them so that when she was made a saint they would have relics. She thought it was ridiculous but nonetheless those hairs were kept and the Abbess who writes the biography has some of them herself.
Isabelle was the only girl and very beautiful and her mother loved to dress her in fine dresses and jewels. Then she got sick and almost died and her mother wrote to beg a holy woman for prayers. The holy woman responded that Isabelle would get better but her heart would never be for this world. And sure enough she recovered but never more wore rich adornments but instead dedicated herself to prayer and fasting and almsgiving and the religious life.
There are many more wonderful stories. I’d love some day to write them up as a little children’s book for Bella; but I fear I’m not really cut out to write picture books. It is a very hard genre to do really well. Still, Bella was very patient in listening to me read the medieval biography I have of Isabelle. She was so taken by the fact that Isabelle went to confession frequently, sometimes daily, that she began to play at going to confession, going to Dom and telling all the bad things she had done that she could remember like yelling at me when I gave her a dinner she didn’t like and hitting Sophie and not sharing her toys. I suspect we will see more Princess Isabella play in the future.
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