Monasticism and ... Marriage?

1Striking against the rolling hills of the Madonie Mountains, the isolated remains of the Premonstratensian Priory of St. George are a sight to behold.

Detail from the Western Portal of the Premonstratensian Priory of St. George, Gratteri

Figure 1 Detail from the Western Portal of the Premonstratensian Priory of St. George, Gratteri

Approximately 2.5 miles southwest of Gratteri, they can be reached by foot, by horse or with a 4x4 vehicle. The walk from the town is fairly long and is best taken on cooler days as there is little cover from the sun en route. There is a map posted at the beginning of the footpath, but beyond this, there are few other markers. Duke Roger of Apulia, presumed heir of Roger II, founded the house around 1140. It stands out as the only Premonstratensian foundation in Norman Sicily, leading to some speculation as to the motivation behind its establishment.2 The Order of Prémontré was one of the two most successful monastic orders of twelfth-century France.3 Indeed, the French king, Louis VII, patronized the order’s abbey at Dilo and made donations to the mother house itself.4 Given that Duke Roger’s father was keen on associating his family with the Capetians, it might not surprise us, then, to witness the foundation of a Premonstratensian house around this time.5

Yet, if we turn our attention to another section of the Norman Sicily Project, the developing Hauteville kinship network, and look up Duke Roger’s entry, the context for this foundation becomes much richer. We note that by 1143, the presumed heir to the Kingdom of Sicily had married Elizabeth of Blois-Champagne.6 The bride was a daughter of Theobald II, Count of Champagne/IV, Count of Blois. According to the twelfth-century Lives of St. Norbert of Xanten, the order’s founder, Theobald had himself wanted to join the Premonstratensians. Norbert, however, told the count that he should marry and continue his line.7 Theobald was obedient. And as a reward for his compliance, Norbert established the Premonstratensian Third Order and received Theobald as its first member. This family connection provides important clues to the foundation of a seemingly random monastic house in Norman Sicily by placing front and center the question of whether this priory of celibate men was an attempt to woo a bride and her very powerful father.

Roger of Hauteville, his Wife (Elizabeth of Blois-Champagne), and her Parents (Matilda of Carinthia and Theobald II of Champagne/IV of Blois and Chartres)

Figure 2 Roger of Hauteville, his Wife (Elizabeth of Blois-Champagne), and her Parents (Matilda of Carinthia and Theobald II of Champagne/IV of Blois and Chartres)


  1. This has been excerpted from Dawn Marie Hayes and Joseph Hayes, “The Norman Sicily Project: A Digital Portal to Sicily’s Norman Past,” Digital Medievalist 12 (2019): 1-31. DOI: https://doi.org/10.16995/dm.68↩︎

  2. Lynn Townsend White, Jr., Latin Monasticism in Norman Sicily (Cambridge, MA: Mediaeval Academy of America, 1938), 205. ↩︎

  3. Elizabeth Hallam and Judith Everard, Capetian France, 987-1328, 2d ed. (Harlow, UK: Longman, 2001), 192. ↩︎

  4. Ibid., 249. ↩︎

  5. Dawn Marie Hayes, “French Connections: The Significance of the Fleurs-de-Lis in the Mosaic of King Roger II of Sicily in the Church of Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio, Palermo,” Viator 44 (2013): 119–49. DOI: 10.1484/J.VIATOR.1.103145 ↩︎

  6. Hubert Houben, Roger II of Sicily: A Ruler between East and West, trans. Graham Loud and Diane Milburn (Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 88. ↩︎

  7. Theodore Antry, ed. and trans., Library, Welcome to the Order of Prémontré, Vita A, 15 and Vita B, 33. http://www.premontre.org/chapter/cat/library/. Last accessed April 9, 2021. ↩︎