Tales from

the Loir

A Weekly Column

June 20, 2001 - Geoffroy Martel

Geoffroy Martel was the son of the terrible Foulques Nerra. Ancient documents always describe Foulques Nerra as terrible. He was the count of the Anjou region and he exerted his considerable influence in the Loir Valley. His influence resulted more from his prowess in battle rather any legal claim to this region. He was the meanest son-of-a-bitch this side of Burgundy and it was a time when noblemen were warriors and often acquired their domain by conquest. I now associate the name Foulques with tough guys like Rocky, Bubba and Elvis. First impressions are often lasting impressions but not always accurate. I had a friend named Jeffrey (English version of Geoffroy) when I was young and I still associate that name with the scene wherein his mother called out from his house "Jeffrey, its time for your nap". Foulques probably didn't like the name Geoffroy either so he added Martel (the hammer) to give his kid a little more force. Martel is a derivative spelling of "marteau", the French word for hammer. Geoffroy "the hammer" Martel sounds much better. He could even become a professional wrestler with a moniker like "the hammer".

He didn't turn pro but he did become the most important figure in Vendomois history, and he was every bit as awesome in battle as his father. He used his strength to become the somewhat illegitimate but undisputed count of Vendome. I was most impressed to read that he beat the snot out of a guy named Foulques l'Oison to take complete power of the domain. No one in France was more renowned in battle, not even the guys named Foulques.

However, Geoffroy Martel had the same problem of most tough guys. He was a bit naïve and maybe a little thick. Shortly after moving into the chateau at Vendome in 1032, he and his wife, Agnes of Bourgogne, were standing on the ramparts observing the night sky when they saw three shooting stars fall in the marsh across the Loir river. Geoffroy was so impressed with this event that he went to Chartres to ask the bishop what it meant. The bishop, who was an ancestor of Pat Roberson, told Geoffroy that the shooting stars were a message from God to build him a gigantic cathedral in the spot where the stars fell. The cathedral was named the Abbaye of the Trinity and it is still one of the most impressive cathedrals in France.

The bishop of Chartres was not the only one to take advantage of Geoffroy Martel. It is hard to know if Geoffroy Martel was devout, superstitious or just naïve but he was certainly an easy mark for the religious types. In 1042 he made a trip to Constantinople at the request of the emperor to fight the Muslim infidels. After ridding the countryside of the unbelievers, the emperor was ready to give him anything he wanted. Other crusaders had already brought back enough pieces of the holy cross to build a chateau so that gambit was not going to work on Geoffroy. The emperor told him that he could have all the gold that he could carry but it was going to be heavy and Vendome was a long way to travel. Geoffroy responded that he might be willing to trade some of the heavy gold for that arm bone of Saint George that he had been admiring but his wife would kill him if he came home without some cash. Here is how the conversation went:

Emperor: "I know exactly what you need but I can't really part with it. It has cured so many people of blindness that there would be a riot if I let it leave Constantinople."
Martel: "What is it?"
Emperor: "No. Really. I can't."
Martel: "At least tell me what it is."
Emperor: "Well. I don't know."
Martel: "Come on."
Emperor: [reluctantly]"It is the actual tear of Jesus Christ gathered from his cheek by the Virgin Mary herself just before he brought Lazarus back from the dead."
Martel: "Wow."

For over 500 years pilgrims traveled to Vendome to touch the crystal vial containing the tear of Jesus Christ and the reliquary containing the arm bone of Saint George. I visited the Abbaye of the Trinity last week and touched the shelf where the tear sat for so many years. Many still believe that its power to heal remains in the Abbaye. I am going back with Aprille next week because she just ran into a parked car that she didn't see. I am not sure how the arm bone helps but I have noticed that my sore knee has gone away and I can jog again.

He took the tear instead of a lot of gold. The tear and the arm bone brought many pilgrims that contributed to the wealth and importance of Vendome but did very little for Geoffroy other than bring spiritual satisfaction.

Others also took advantage of Geoffroy Martel's naïveté. Under the feudal system, a duke had four counts and each count had four barons who swore allegiance, paid taxes and served in his army. After taking over as count of Vendome, Geoffroy Martel was constantly at war with the bishop of Le Mans who coveted his lands. It was this conflict that resulted in the establishment of the baronies of Lavardin and Montoire. These two domains were cared for by foresters. In Montoire, a forester named Nihard managed to convince Geoffroy Martel that he and Saloman, the forester in Lavardin, ought to be made noblemen and their domains made baronies. Nihard told Geoffroy that the Bishop was about to give him more land around Montoire but that he would refuse it if he would make him and Salomon barons. Geoffroy agreed but Nihard tricked him by taking the title and the land.

Geoffroy Martel eventually gave up Vendome to its rightful owner, Foulques l'Oison, when he became count of Anjou but he left a bigger imprint on this area of France than anyone either before or after his reign.

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June 13, 2001 - Saint of the Day
June 6, 2001 - Escapade dans le Berry
May 30, 2001 - Learning French
May 23, 2001 - Pete and Manny
May 16, 2001 - Les Journees des Aubepines
May 8, 2001 - Armistice Day
May 2, 2001 - May Day
April 25, 2001 - Les Manouches
April 18, 2001 - Trôo
April 11, 2001 - Le P'tit Jules
April 4, 2001 - Men and Their Caves 
Archive of Weekly Columns Jan-Apr 2001
Archive of Weekly Columns from 2000


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