Fidelia of Acre
Fidelia of Acre (previously Mathilde de Saint-Omer, etc.) is a nun of the Order of St Benedict, and prioress of St Anne's Abbey in Acre.
She is thought to have been born in Jerusalem c. 1130. Her father was Hugh de Saint-Omer, briefly Seneschal of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and her mother a courtesan of Byzantine origin of whom it was said that she had exhausted more men in her time than Valeria Messalina.
As Wife and Mother
Mathilde enters recorded history in May 1147, when she was decreed legitimate by Queen Melisende of Jerusalem, and then, the next day, married to the Angevin lord Robert de Sablé (later Grand Master of the Temple).
In the 1160s her husband inherited his family's lands and returned to Anjou to administer them. Mathilde did not accompany him; in 1168 their marriage was annulled on grounds of consanguinity which were in this case even more than usually threadbare. Two weeks following this annulment Mathilde was united in marriage with Hugh of Montferrand, twenty years her junior, and seven months after that she was delivered of her son, Hugh. She bore her first daughter Athelis two years later, and her second daughter Auriel the following year.
In 1176 this second marriage was annulled on grounds of consanguinity, Mathilde and Hugh having lately discovered that they had in common a great-grandmother. Mathilde married again, to Robert, second son of the Lord of Zerdana (he later inherited).
As Nun and Prioress
Three months following her third marriage she experienced a religious revelation which led to her entering the Benedictine abbey of St Anne at Acre, and taking the name Fidelia. Accounts of this revelation differ. Some say she came awfully late to God; she answers, "I came when He called."
She served as prioress at St Anne's from 1180 till 1184, then as abbess pro tempore.
From time to time she has had other visions, usually concerning the welfare of the nuns in her care.
Shortly before the fall of Acre in late 1187, a holy visitation in her dreams prompted her to travel by sea to Tyre. She was deeply reluctant to leave her home under any circumstances, but when the dream returned to her a second night, and a third, she could not ignore its promptings. Forty nuns accompanied her; the rest of their community soon perished.
In Tyre Fidelia and her nuns joined refugees from the convent of St Lazarus (or St Mary, or Sts Mary and Martha) in Bethany, under the leadership of the Abbess Dorothea, who was regarded as first among their order in the Holy Land.
When Acre was re-taken and the capital re-located there in 1191, the Benedictine nuns of Bethany and Acre re-established their community likewise, with Dorothea as abbess and Fidelia as her prioress.
Fidelia's friendship with her first husband, Robert de Sablé, has weathered forty-five years and shows no signs of weakening. Though he has traveled far and wide and she is (save when attending to the business of the abbey) cloistered, they correspond often, and the chess board Robert carries with him is the twin of the one in Fidelia's study.
Through the 1160s and 1170s, until she entered holy orders, Fidelia was lady-in-waiting to Agnes of Courtenay and a close ally of the lady in question and her second husband, Renaud Grenier. Her association with that particular faction during its years in the wilderness has left upon her another faint stigma, in the eyes of those old enough to remember.
She is known to have been for many years on cordial terms with Heraclius, the late Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem.
A persistent rumour has it that Fidelia passed several years of her childhood in a house of ill repute in Antioch, before her father removed her from her mother's care.
Her daughters are considered to have been fathered by her husband at the time, Hugh of Montferrand. The paternity of her son Hugh has never been entirely established, in law or in public opinion. The elder Hugh claims the younger as his own, but tongues do still sometimes wag.
It is perhaps not wholly coincidental that Fidelia's elevation to Prioress came fast upon the heels of Heraclius's election as Patriarch, or that during the 1180s the church granted substantial tracts of land to St Anne's. Almost all the abbey's possessions have been restored or replaced since Acre was retaken in 1191, rendering it today the wealthiest such establishment in Outremer.
A minority opinion is that a woman with Fidelia's history is not the most suitable choice to hold authority within a religious order, however scrupulous her conduct may have been since taking the cloth. Such objections are seldom heard now that she has been more widely recognised as a visionary -- and as an inevitability.
Fidelia is accompanied everywhere by one or two young nuns of her order. Though their faces change often, they seem always to be very pretty girls, and somewhat shorter than she, giving their little coterie the appearance of a mother with her daughters.