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Elizabeth A.Sackler Center for Feminist Art


b. Soissons, France, date uncertain; d. circa 703, Chelles, France

Bertille (Bertilla) was born to a noble family in the kingdom of Soissons, France, and decided at an early age to devote her life to Christianity. She entered the convent at Jouarre, near Meaux, and quickly commended herself to the abbess as an able administrator. She tended the sick and became headmistress of the convent school. In 646, when Queen Balthilde refounded the monastery at Chelles, she appointed Bertille as abbess. Under her forty-six-year tenure, the convent school became a famous training ground for noblewomen who entered monastic life. Bertille was known for her devotion to self-denial. As one biographer put it, she “was ambitious of martyrdom, but as no persecutors were forthcoming, she martyred herself with austerities” (Dunbar, Saintly Women, 121).

Dunbar, Agnes. A Dictionary of Saintly Women. London: George Bell & Sons, 1904.