Charlemagne - George Upton

The Coronation at Rome

Pope Hadrian died at the close of the year 795. Charlemagne was so overcome by the death of the venerable prelate that he shed tears when the sad news was told him. Hadrian had looked upon him as the defender of the Church; and in his relations to the King there was not a trace of that ambition which characterized later Popes, to the detriment of Christianity.

Hadrian's successor, Leo the Third, hastened to ingratiate himself with Charlemagne. He notified the King of his election and sent him a consecrated silver key as a symbol of his recognition of Charlemagne, both as the ruler of Roman territory and as a world sovereign.

It is of importance to understand the relations existing between Charlemagne and the Popes, for they were very different from those which existed between the later Popes and the German rulers. A letter of congratulation sent to Leo by Charlemagne throws some light upon them. It begins:

"We have read the letter from Your Highness and listened to the decretals, and we heartily congratulate you upon your unanimous election, the dutiful obedience of your people, and your promises of loyalty to us."

During the next few years there were outbreaks in Saxony and Spain. Wittekind and Albion remained faithful to their promises; but not so some of their people. The disturbances, however, were quelled without much difficulty. The Moors in Spain, also, who had gained some advantages, were speedily overcome.

In the year 799 an assault was made upon Pope Leo during a street procession. It was badly managed, however. The leaders of the mob had planned to blind the Pope and cut out his tongue, but they only succeeded in cutting him in the face. The Pope's friends rescued him and conducted him to a safe place of concealment. The clerical officials, Paschal and Campulus, relatives of Hadrian, who were in attendance upon Leo, had been requested by the Pope not to officiate during the procession. He little dreamed of their treachery, for they were the abettors of the assault. The Duke of Spoleto, being informed of the outrage, proceeded at once to Rome with armed followers and escorted Leo to one of his castles.

As soon as his wounds healed, Leo betook himself to Germany personally to implore Charlemagne's assistance. At Nuremberg he learned that the King was holding court at Paderborn, and thither he hastened. Before he could reach the city, news of his approach was conveyed to the King, who at once began preparations to give him an honorable reception. He sent Archbishop Hildebrand and Count Auschar to meet him, but this was only 'the beginning of the ceremonies he had arranged. As Leo neared the city, a troop of cavalry went out to escort him. The King's son, Pepin, greeted him and conducted him to the plaza, where Charlemagne sat upon the throne in royal state in the midst of his dignitaries. Rising and outstretching his arms, the King stepped down, embraced the Pope, and led him by the hand as he blessed the kneeling people.

On the following day Leo related to the King the details of the murderous plot against him, of which the scars on his face bore evidence, and informed him that the conspirators had sought to justify their act by spreading base calumnies against him. He closed by asking Charlemagne's help. The King replied that he could not personally accompany him to Rome, because of fresh disquiet in Saxony and the Spanish Mark, but he would furnish him an escort headed by Frankish chiefs, and promised to go to Rome personally as soon as possible. When the Pope's enemies learned that Charlemagne had received him, their courage failed them. Leo was greeted with imposing ceremonies, and Paschal and Campulus were thrown into prison by the Franks.

The Saxon and Spanish affairs having been settled by the close of the next year (800), Charlemagne, mindful of his promise, went to Rome. The Pope met him at Novonte and had a private interview with him, at which a memorable event, soon to occur, doubtless was discussed. The Pope then returned to Rome to make preparations for Charlemagne's reception, and on December sixth the King entered the city. His reception was an imposing one. The people welcomed him with their civic banners, the air was rent with loyal shouts, and the Pope, surrounded by the dignitaries of the Church, met him in front of St. Peter's, which he entered accompanied by the music of the Papal choir. This was only the prelude to the memorable ceremony for which preparations had been quietly made.

Charlemagne began his magisterial duties in Rome by conducting an inquiry into the assault upon Leo. The calumnies were proved baseless; but as the Pope wished personally to establish his innocence, Charlemagne summoned an assembly of the clerical and secular dignitaries and called upon anyone who had accusations to make against the Pope to appear and state them. No one appeared. Thereupon, to purify himself of all offence, the Pope declared he would make purgation by oath. He rose and said:

"The all-gracious and powerful King Charlemagne came with his prelates and princes to investigate these charges. In the presence of all here, in the presence of God and His angels, who know our in-most souls, and in the presence of Saint Peter, prince of the apostles, I, Leo, head of the Holy Roman Church, declare that I am guiltless of the charges made against me."

He then passed a death sentence upon the conspirators, but Charlemagne subsequently mitigated the penalty. Paschal and Campulus were sent to a monastery for penance and their confederates were placed under the ban.

At last the memorable event occurred which made Charlemagne the ruler of the Christian world. High mass was celebrated by the Pope in the Vatican on the first day of the Christmas season in the year Boo. Charlemagne, in the elegant attire of a Roman patrician, knelt before the shrine of the apostle Peter. Suddenly the Pope descended the altar steps, placed a golden crown upon the King's head, draped him with the royal purple, and in a loud voice proclaimed: "Long life and success to the pious Charlemagne, sublime and peace-loving Roman Emperor!"

The choirs sang and the multitude shouted, "Long live the divinely crowned Augustus Carl, great and pious Roman Emperor!"

The anointing of Charlemagne as Roman Emperor, and of his son Pepin as King of Italy, closed the ceremony.

It was an event of extraordinary significance. It was not a mere spectacle or a comedy planned by Leo for purposes of deception, as some historians have asserted. Charlemagne would never have consented to such mummery; for he was a giant not only in body but in soul, and was always swayed by lofty purpose. He regarded the ceremony performed that day in the Vatican as one of serious moment. It is not conceivable that Pope Leo conferred this extraordinary honor upon his rescuer merely for his own advantage. Charlemagne had always shown that he felt he was called upon to exert all his power for the strengthening and extension of Christianity.

It must be taken into consideration that at that period hardly a fourth of Europe had been converted; that the Christian world in the south was threatened by the Mohammedans, in the north by the heathen Normans, and in the east by the Slays and other pagans. From the earliest times the Eastern emperors had made claims upon Italy, and the Pope had not been protected until Pepin and Charlemagne appeared. Considering these things, and the dangerous situation, can anyone blame Leo for proclaiming the Frankish King, who had saved him before all the world, as the all-powerful champion of Christendom, and for conferring upon him a title which would impress all people as the commemoration of a great deed? It was this last consideration which induced Charlemagne to accept the title. He detested all outward display. Wherever he went he wore his plain military costume, but when he represented the people upon public occasions he did not despise show. He never under-estimated the effect of personal appearance upon the people, and he well knew what the effect of this title would be. It was full of meaning to the people; but its significance to him was the completion of the great mission he had contemplated. As to the motives actuating him, M. Carriere well says:

"Charlemagne made the deeds and achievements of his grandfather and father the foundation of a lofty historical work. His soul was exalted with the ideal of a Roman empire and Christian German nation. Henceforth he devoted all his energies to the work of uniting the Germans in one organic whole. He brought not only Bavaria, but Saxony under German authority. From the Eider to the Tiber, from the Ebro to the Drau, his authority was absolute. When the Pope placed the imperial crown upon his head, it was the symbol of the work of culture the Germans would carry on in Rome, and a token that the new city should be a Christian city, representing God's Kingdom on earth."