On view now in the medieval gallery, is the newly conserved statue of Saint Rictrudis (1996.19.1). Due to its fragile condition, the work had remained in storage for years, but now cleaned and restored by Jane and Mark Bynon of Bynon Art Services, Rictrudis has come back into the light!
Dressed in dark nun’s robes, the sweet-faced figure holds a shepherd’s crook in her right hand and a small chapel in her left. Her name is abbreviated on the base of the statue as “Ste RICTRU” followed on the second line by “R P NOU,” an abbreviation for “pray for us.” Formerly known around the museum as “The Abbess” (the role suggested by the objects she holds), new research has revealed a fascinating story about a remarkable woman.
Rictrudis was born in the early 7th century in Gascony, a region in the south of France bordering Spain and the Basque territories. At the time of Rictrudis’ birth and childhood, northern Frankish kings were attempting to exert their rule over the area. Their occasional armed incursions into Gascony to subdue lawless brigands met with hostility from the local nobility who looked on it as unwelcome interference and a power-grab. Rictrudis’ eye seems to have been caught by Adalbald, one of these Frankish knights, and against her family’s wishes she married him and returned with him to his family estate in Flanders. It’s tempting (although completely unfounded), in true romance novel fashion, to imagine their eyes meeting across a large crowded hall, and a night-time escape on horseback. Rictrudis appears to have settled very happily in her new life producing four children in quick succession, one boy followed by three girls. She and Adalbald became known for their good works among the poor and pious contributions to the work of the church, such as founding a monastery in Marchiennes.
Unfortunately, her family’s hostility towards Franks and Adalbald remained strong. On a subsequent return journey to Gascony, Adalbald was murdered by his in-laws. Rictrudis seems to have been broken-hearted but stalwart, and she defied the command of the Frankish king to remarry, instead preferring to take holy orders and enter a convent. The establishment at Marchiennes was expanded to become a double monastery, an institution with separate communities for monks and nuns, and Rictrudis became the first Abbess of the new convent where she spent the remainder of her long life, dying on May 12, 688. Eventually, all her children followed her into religious life, and the entire family, including Adalbald, were sainted.
Although May 12 is a Monday this year and the Nasher Museum is closed to the public, everyone should come soon to celebrate Saint Rictrudis. With rosy cheeks and soft smile now revealed by the recent cleaning and restoration, one can easily imagine the faithful praying to Rictrudis for the kind of strong and happy marriage she and Adalbald shared, or for the inner strength to overcome opposition and follow one’s own path.