Fulbert of Chartres : biography
Fulbert of Chartres ( 952-970 –10 April 1028) was the bishop of the Cathedral of Chartres from 1006 till 1028. He was a teacher at the Cathedral school there, he was responsible for the advancement of the celebration of the Feast day of “Nativity of the Virgin”, and he was responsible for one of the many reconstructions of the Cathedral. Most of the information we have about him is found in the letters he wrote from 1004–1028, to both secular and religious figures of the day.
There is no conclusive evidence as to the exact date or location of Fulbert’s birth, the sources vary from 952-970.Mac Kinney, p. 5 and Behrends, p. xvi As to his place of birth the majority of information places it in northern France, possibly Picardy, although some say northern Italy.Wellman, p. 136 The sources do agree however that he was of humble birth.Behrends, p. xvii Information from several sources place him at the Cathedral school in Rheims in the 980’s,Fassler, p. 403 where one of his fellow students was the future King Robert II (the Pious) of France.Mac Kinney, p. 6 In the early to mid 990’s Fulbert arrived in and began his involvement with the Cathedral school there. His position is variously described as schoolmaster or assistant at the school.Behrends, p. xvii, Wellman, p. 136 He also assumed some minor ecclesiastical roles in the Cathedral but he was not a monk. In 1004 he became deacon and in 1006 he was appointed the Bishop of Chartres.Mac Kinney, p. 7 He remained as Bishop until his death on 10 April 1028 or 1029, again the sources vary, but the majority seem to settle on 1028.Behernds p. xxi esp. footnote 17, Butler p. 63 There is some dispute over Fulbert’s “Sainthood”, which rises from his contemporaries describing him as having a saintly nature, and this was carried on by others after his death. Fulbert was never officially canonized by the Church, but permission was given by Rome for the diocese of Chartres and Poitiers to celebrate his life on 10 April.Mac Kinney p.40-41 esp. footnote 142
Of the writings that can be verifiably attributed to Fulbert, the bulk consists of his letters. His most famous letter was to Duke William V of Aquitaine on the duties of a Lord and a Vassal. He also wrote to fellow churchmen on a variety of liturgical issues including, the appointment of Bishops, excommunication, and obedience. His letters also include correspondence about the mundane issues of everyday life such as thanking people for medicine and setting up meetings. These letters provide insight into a variety of issues in the late tenth and early eleventh century France.Behernds, p. 1-239
Fulbert wrote approx. 24 poems which have been described a sometimes as humorous, such as his poem about the monk in the desertBehernds, p. xxv or lovely when describing his “Ode to the Nightingale”.Schulman, p. 152
Most of Fulbert’s hymns were written to glorify the Virgin.Butler, p. 64 He also wrote “Chorus Novae Jerusalem” (Ye Choirs of New Jerusalem), to be sung at Easter services.The Book of Common Praise, p. 122, Hymn #169
Fulbert’s most famous sermon is “ Approbate Consuetudinis” in which he provides the information in regards to the importance of the celebration of the “Feast of Mary’s Nativity”.Fassler, p. 406
During his time in Chartres Fulbert played an important role in the development and spread of the ideas that led to the Gregorian church reforms of the eleventh century, under Pope Gregory VII.Ziezulewicz, p. 401 These reforms concerned the division between the powers of the church and state, especially in the appointment of new Abbots and Bishops. In the eleventh century the secular rulers had a habit of appointing who they wanted to fill vacant church positions. Fulbert and some of his students such as Abbot Albert of Marmoutier routinely wrote that it was up to the clergy and the citizens of the diocese involved to vote for a replacement.Ziezulewicz, p. 385 The authority for this could be found in the rulings from the First Council of Nicaea (325) and the Council of Antioch (264-272).Ziezulewicz, p. 393 These reforms also stated that the Church was in charge of disciplining the clergy not the state. The issue of simony (the buying of church offices) and immoral clerics was also addressed by Fulbert.Behrends, p. xix Although the reforms were issued by Pope Gregory VII, some of the ideas that came from Fulbert which were then disseminated through his students writing can be found in them.