Alice of Schaerbeek
St. Alice of Schaerbeek, O.Cist.
|Virgin and laysister|
Schaerbeek, Duchy of Brabant, Holy Roman Empire
|Died||11 June 1250|
La Cambre Abbey, Ixelles, Duchy of Brabant, Holy Roman Empire
|Venerated in||Roman Catholic Church|
|Canonized||Cultus confirmed 1907 by Pope Pius X|
|Patronage||The Blind, the Paralyzed|
Alice of Schaerbeek, O.Cist. (or Adelaide or Aleydis) (also known as Alice the Leper) (Dutch: Sint Aleydis, French: Sainte Alix), (c. 1220–1250) was a Cistercian laysister who is venerated as the patron saint of the blind and paralyzed. Her feast day is June 15.
Alice was born at Schaerbeek, near Brussels, then in the Duchy of Brabant. A frail child, at the age of seven, she was sent to be boarded and educated at the Cistercian La Cambre Abbey, where she remained for the rest of her life. The name of the abbey is derived from the Latin: Camera Sanctae Mariae (Chamber of Our Lady) and is recalled in the park southeast of Brussels called "Ter Kamerenbos / Bois de la Cambre" ("Chamber Woods").
Alice was a very pretty girl, and soon showed a high intelligence and a great love for God. She became a laysister at the abbey. However, at some 20 years of age (c. 1240), she contracted leprosy and had to be isolated in a small hut. The disease caused her intense suffering, which she offered for the salvation of sinners and the souls in purgatory.
Eventually she became paralyzed and afflicted with blindness. Her greatest consolation came from reception of the Holy Eucharist, although she was not allowed to drink from the chalice because of the presumed danger of contamination. However, it is said that the Lord appeared to her with assurance that He was in both the consecrated bread and the wine. She died in 1250, at the age of c. 30.
The little we know about Alice's life comes from a Latin biography, composed c. 1260-1275. Authorship of the work is unknown. Scholars have typically believed that the author was an anonymous chaplain at La Cambre Abbey. However, Martinus Cawley suggests that Arnulf II of Ghistelles, abbot of Villers Abbey 1270-1276, is its likely author. Alice's biography was also translated into Middle Dutch, as witnessed by one extant manuscript.
By decree of July 1, 1702 Pope Clement XI granted to the monks of the Congregation of St. Bernard Fuliensi the faculty to celebrate the cultus of Alice. Devotion to Alice as a saint was approved in 1907 by Pope Pius X.
Responses to Alice's Life
Alice's biography has been upheld as a model of Cistercian spirituality. Writing in 1954, Trappist monk Thomas Merton, for example, called the text "a practical and concise treatise of Cistercian asceticism." Nevertheless, Alice of Schaerbeek was not particularly well known. Chyrsogone Waddell, reflecting on his entry into the Cistercian life in the 1950s, remarked on her obscurity, with Alice being mostly unknown even in devout Cistercian communities of the time.
In recent years, Alice has become more well known in medieval scholarship as a member of the so-called "Holy Women of Liège" corpus of thirteenth-century Latin biographies. This situates Alice, and her spirituality, in terms of the beguine movement, an innovation in medieval women's piety that saw women taking up an active religious life outside of monastic enclosure.
Primary Sources: Manuscripts
Margot H. King and Ludo Jongen detail 5 extant manuscripts of Alice's biography (4 in Latin; 1 in Middle Dutch) These are:
- Brussels, Bibliothèque Royale 4459–70 (3161), ff. 48–57: “Vita sanctimonialis Aleidis de Scarenbeke.” (Cistercian: Villers-la-Ville; Augustinian: Louvain; Val Saint Martin; 14th century; Latin). Also contains biography of Christina the Astonishing.
- Brussels, Bibliothèque Royale 8609–20 (3206), ff. 139–146: "Vita sanctimonialis Aleidis de Scharenbeka". (Cistercian: Cambre St. Marie; after 1250; Latin). Also includes biographies of Christina the Astonishing and Ida of Nivelles.
- Brussels, Bibliothèque Royale IV. 778, 11 ff.: Vita sanctae Aleydis. (ca. 1500. La Cambre; c. 1500; Latin).
- Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek 12706–12707, ff. 248–252v: "Vita sanctimonialis Aleidis de Scarenbeke". (Rouge Cloître. Gielemans; 15th century; Latin). Also includes biographies of Marie of Oignies, Ida of Louvain, Ida of Nivelles, Ida of Léau, and Lutgard of Aywières.This manuscript has been digitized and is available to view online.
- ‘s-Gravenhage, Koninklijke Bibliotheek 71 H 7, ff. 1–8v: "Sinte Aleijdes van Scarembeke leuen". (Brabant; 15th century; Middle Dutch).
Primary Sources: Critical Editions
- Latin Critical edition: "De B. Aleyde Scharembekana, Sanctimoniali Ordinis Cisterciensis, Camerae Iuxta Bruxellam", in Acta Sanctorum, edited by Godfrey Henschen, 477–83. Paris: Société des Bollandistes, 1688; repr. 1969.
- Modern English translation: Life of St Alice of Schaerbeek. Translated by Martinus Cawley, O.C.S.O. Lafayette, OR: Our Lady of Gaudalupe Abbey, 2000. Excerpts of the translation are available to read online.
- Campion, Eleanor, O.C.S.O. "Bernard and Alice the Leper: An Odor of Life for Some." Cistercian Studies Quarterly 39, no. 2 (2004): 127-39.
- Cawley, Martinus. "Introduction." In Life of St Alice of Schaerbeek, edited by Martinus Cawley, v-xxx. Lafayette, OR: Our Lady of Gaudalupe Abbey, 2000.
- Krahmer, Shawn Madison. "Redemptive Suffering: The Life of Alice of Schaerbeek in a Contemporary Context." In Maistresse of My Wit: Medieval Women, Modern Scholars, edited by Juanita Ruys and Louise d’Arcen, 267-93. Turnhout: Brepols, 2004.
- Madison, Shawn. "Suffering, Sacrifice, and Stability: "The Life of Aleydis of Schaerbeek" in a Contemporary Context ". Magistra 8, no. 2 (2002): 25-44.
- Mikkers, Edmund. O.C.S.O. "Meditations on the "Life" of Alice of Schaerbeek ". In Hidden Springs: Cistercian Monastic Women, edited by John A. Nichols and Lillian Thomas. O.C.S.O. Shank. Medieval Religious Women, 395-413. Kentucky: Cistercian Publications, 1995.
- Scholl , Edith, O.C.S.O. "The Golden Cross: Aleydis of Schaerbeek." In Hidden Springs: Cistercian Monastic Women, edited by John A. Nichols and Lillian Thomas. O.C.S.O. Shank. Medieval Religious Women, 377-93. Kentucky: Cistercian Publications, 1995.
- Spencer-Hall, Alicia. "Christ’s Suppurating Wounds: Leprosy in the Vita of Alice of Schaerbeek († 1250)." In ‘His Brest Tobrosten’: Wounds and Wound Repair in Medieval Culture, edited by Kelly DeVries and Larissa Tracy, 389-416. Leiden: Brill, 2015.
- List of Catholic saints
- La Cambre Abbey
- Villers Abbey
- Beguines and Beghards
- Marie of Oignies
- Christina the Astonishing
- Lutgard of Aywières
- Leprosy in the Middle Ages
- "Adelaide of Schaerbeck (d. 1250)". Women in World History: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Gale Research Inc. Retrieved 8 January 2013.(subscription required)
- McNamara, Robert. "St. Alice", Saints Alive
- Coming, Godfrey. "Sant 'Aleide Schaerbeek", Santi e Beati, 2011
- "De B. Aleyde Scharembekana, Sanctimoniali Ordinis Cisterciensis, Camerae Iuxta Bruxellam", in Acta Sanctorum, edited by Godfrey Henschen, 477–83. Paris: Société des Bollandistes, 1688; repr. 1969.
- Roisin, Simone. L’hagiographie Cistercienne Dans Le Diocèse De Liège Au Xiii Siècle. Louvain: Bibliothèque de l'Université, 1947, pp. 49-50.
- Cawley, Martinus. "Introduction." In Life of St Alice of Schaerbeek, edited by Martinus Cawley, v-xxx. Lafayette, OR: Our Lady of Gaudalupe Abbey, 2000, pp. v-xxii.
- King, Margot H.; Jongen, Ludo. "The Holy Women of Liège: A Bibliography". Monastic Matrix. Retrieved 28 March 2018.. The manuscript is: ‘s-Gravenhage, Koninklijke Bibliotheek 71 H 7, ff. 1–8v: Sinte Aleijdes van Scarembeke leuen. (Brabant. 15th century).
- St. Alice at Catholic Online
- Merton, Thomas. O.C.S.O. Modern Biographical Sketches of Cistercian Blessed and Saints. Cistercian Studies. Abbaye de Gethsemani, 1954. Cited in Waddell, Chrysogone. O.C.S.O. "Alice De La Cambre. Regards Sur Sa Vie." Collectanea Cisterciensia 66 (2004): 83-96.
- Waddell, "Alice de la Cambre", p. 85.
- King and Jongen, "Bibliography", n.p.
- "MS 12706–12707". Österreichische Nationalbibliothek. Retrieved 28 March 2018. Alicia Spencer-Hall discusses this manuscript in terms of a material proxy for Alice's body. See: Spencer-Hall, Alicia. "Christ’s Suppurating Wounds: Leprosy in the Vita of Alice of Schaerbeek († 1250)." In ‘His Brest Tobrosten’: Wounds and Wound Repair in Medieval Culture, edited by Kelly DeVries and Larissa Tracy, 389-416. Leiden: Brill, 2015, pp. 400-01; Medieval Saints and Modern Screens: Divine Visions as Cinematic Experience. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2018, pp. 140-41.
- "Excerpts from The Life of Alice the Leper". Kenyon College Online Projects. Retrieved 3 April 2018.