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The Pilgrimages in the Carolingian Times

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The Idea and the Places of Pilgrimage In the Christendom

Jerusalem, Rome, and Santiago de Compostela were the three main pilgrimage sites during the Carolingian era, with other, local sites. In the Carolingian times, it looks like pilgrimages had turned a obligation. It seems like that the pilgrimage idea had been born when journeys to Jerusalem began as soon as the times of the early Church. The conversion of emperor Constantine and the journey of impress Helena greatly increased the trend. The official acknowledgment of Christinity by Emperor Constantine strongly contributed to the Holy Land's properity which then saw the construction of rich churches and attracted numerous pilgrimages. Jerusalem, by the end of the 4th century, already had become a place of pilgrimage, with various nationalities coming there, like the Gauls, the Brittons, Armenians, Persians, Indians or Ethiopians, and many others. Places linked to the disciples of Christ, on the other hand, quickly became places of pilgrimage due to this idea that sinners might gain there their readmittance into the Church. Rome, further, with the bodies of St. Peter and St. Paul, soon become a place of pilgrimage too, as soon as during the second half of the 3rd century, with, on the other hand, the risk for the pilgrims, in those times of persecution, to be arrested, tried, and killed. 'Rome' even eventually translated into verbs in current languages, expressing the idea of wandering (see, for example, the English verb 'to roam'). The third main place of pilgrimage appeared about the 800's only, when the tomb of Saint James the Greater, the apostle, the son of Zebedee, was discovered under the reign of King Alfonso II (791-842), with a pilgrimage route beginning to be established in the 9th century,heading to Santiago de Compostela, northern Spain. The shrines of local saints too were the places of pilgrimages inside the Carolingien empire, like -most famously- Tours, the sanctuary of St. Martin, or outside, like in England and Ireland -mostly attended by local populations however. Linked to the idea of pilgrimage, at last, the concept of 'relics', this interest into the objects linked to saints -or to the bodies of those- or Jesus, appeared. The practice eventually became public by the 6th century, as the churches having relics passed some to others, as pilgrims going to Rome are asked to bring back anonymous bones from the Catacombs, then in the 9th century bones of great martyrs or saints. A large stirring of relics occurred in Rome under pope Paul I (757-767) as it matched that pilgrimages to the Catacombs in the Roman countryside had taken a unsafe character, which had been increased by the Lombardic raids. After some deceleration of that trend under popes Adrian I and Leo III, between 772 and 816, who tried to restore devotions at Catacombs, the move took again with intensity under Pascal I (817-824). 2300 martyrs were transfered into Roman churches in one day, on January 20th, 817 A.D. Such a large translation of relics had covetousness appear as such transfers also had relics to evade -in a authorized way, or not- into the whole Continent. Even brokers and go-betweens appeared like providers to the traffic. As until then churches of Europe had been satisfied with objects which had been in contact with the martyrs, each of them now wanted to hold relics. That, by the way, ended in that a fragmentation of relics were now authorized as they were forbidden before. The 7th canon of Nicaea II, on a other hand, made the presence of relics in every church mandatory. Great relics, those linked directly to the person of Christ, were found in Byzantium, like the relics of the Passion were repatriated from Jerusalem to Constantinople by the Byzantine emperors between the 7th and 10th centuries A.D., and preserved in Constantinople in a chapel of the Imperial Palace dedicated to the Virgin. Rome was more of a land of saints', those who had been martyrized under Roman persecutions. Charles, king of Franks, himself had worry to gather many relics like some related to Jesus' childhood, the Virgin Mary, or St John the Baptist

Travelers' guides or tales of the journey to Jerusalem, as far as they are concerned, soon came to be written down, like the famed 'Bordeaux Pilgrimage' as soon as 333 A.D. or the 'Peregrinatio Sanctae Silviae', about the end of the 4th century, as the roads of pilgrimage eventually tended to harden, with the clerics preparing the route beforehand, bodies of troops gathered for the protection and hospices built along the route from the almsgiving of the faithfuls. From, say, Paris, France, 4 months were of use to go to Rome or Compostella and back, and a year to Jerusalem. The authorities in the Church soon worried too that the journey to the holy locations don't turn into abuse or scandals, stressing that the pilgrimages -especially the one in Jerusalem- was of no obligation. The idea, mostly, was that pilgrimages were not to be considered a mere journey to exotic places, but a penitence. Pilgrims had to wear a penitential garb and live on mendicity. Pilgrimages, further, became the adequate punishment for some crimes. The journeys, generally, were considered hard and dangerous. Texts of the Carolingian era concerning the pilgrimages are the following: two texts from the journey of St. Willibald, the nephew of St. Boniface -of it three years he spent in the Holy Land, and the tale of his journey by the French monk Bertrand, who visited Egypt and Palestine in 868-869, with two of his brethrens, as the route to Rome -the 'via Francigena'- was the way to go there or then to southern Italy, and by boat down to the Holy Land. It's unknown whether the famed three roads to Santiago already were existing at those times. In 876 A.D., Charles the Bald made the gift to the cathedral of Chartres the Veil of Virgin Mary, inaugurating there an important center of pilgrimages

->The Via Francigena
The 'Via Francigena' was a High Middle Ages route which linked Canterbury, England to Rome. It was the road of the pilgrims journeying to Rome. A part of the Via Francigena matched the Lombard way which, since about 650 A.D., allowed to journey from Pavia, the capital of Lombards, down to southern Lombardic duchies through Lucca, Sienna and the ancient Via Cassia leading to Rome. That portion was named Via di Monte Bardone from the name of one pass at the beginning of it. It's was from that epoch, on the other hand, that the world 'route' appeared. From 'rotta' -- the direction to follow -- itself from 'rupte' -- ruin (the one of the old Roman roads which at the time had let room to trails or tracks patrolling a territory as they were converging (and were paved) to the proximity of cities, abbeys, passes and fords). When the Kingdom of the Lombards passed to the Frankish Kings, the Via di Monte Bardone took its name of Via Francigena, the 'road coming from France,' a name officially found in the 'Actum Clusio,' a document of 876 A.D. from the Abbey of San Salvatore at Mt Amiata in Tuscany. In addition to its function of a route of pilgrimage to Rome -- and, beyond, the Holy Land through Italian ports -- it turned the main communication axis between the North and South of Europe, which was also taken by merchants and soldiers. The route had first been called the 'Iter Francorum' (the 'route of Franks') by Willibald, Bishop of Eichstätt, by 725 A.D., in his Itinerarium sancti Willibaldi, and she still bore other names like the 'Via Francigena-Francisca' in Italy and Burgundy, the 'Chemin of the Anglois' ('the trails of English') in the Frankish Kingdom since the evangelization of England by 607, or the 'Chemin Romieux.' The old route of the Via Francigena could be understood thanks to the notes of a Sigerico, a famous pilgrim, Archbishop of Canterbury, who returning to England from Rome in 990 A.D., noted the 80 locations -- separated each by steps of 12 miles - where he had stopped. A part of the Via Francigena, during the classical Middle Ages, was incorporated into the trade routes that linked Italy to the Champagne fairs, as it disappeared then in favor of the Bologna-Florence route. The Via Francigena regained interest nowadays, following the the one about the Way of St. James in Spain

Rome and Jerusalem

Once recognized Christianity in the Roman empire, Emperor Constantine I had the main Christian buildings of Rome constructed and numerous ones given to the Pope, like the palace of Lateran. As St Pierre had been buried along the Circus Vaticanus where he had suffered martyrdom and a small monument built there, Constantine, in 324, built a gigantic, 80-yard long and 38-yard high, western-oriented, 5-nave basilica. That was the St Peter basilica! The basilica was T-shaped as, a century later, a 21-yard long garden was placed ahead of it, ornated with a fountain in its center, as it was called 'The Paradise', mostly featuring symbols of immortality. That basilica lasted until in the 16th century when it was replaced by the new, current basilica. In it, the porphyra slab unto which King Charles had been coronated emperor has been preserved. The pelerinage to Rome was the most prized as the city was that of St Peter and St Paul along with numerous martyrs. All the great missionaries of those times went in pelerinage to Rome as, beside low clerics and the lower class, there went there prelates, noblemen, princes or kings too. The pilgrimage in Rome also was a testimony to the power of papacy. As monasteries were not enough to harbor pilgrims, papacy had a hospice built during the 6th century A.D. as it eventually built 'scholae,' which were harboring institutions by 'national' origin. Guidebooks were written like the 'Noticia ecclesiarum urbis Romae' by 630. Emperor Constantine too had built another, smaller, basilica for St. Paul, near the Via Ostiensis, the road from Rome to the harbour of Ostia. This second basilica, the St Paolo Fuori le Mura basilica, was enlarged between 384-410 as it became akin to the basilica of St. Peter, with 5 naves and a garden ahead. An earthquake shook the building, which was restaured under Pope Leo the Great (440-461), with further decorations. As the basilica of St. Paul had been added under Pope Symmacus (590-640) with a building to host pilgrims, Charlemagne made a monastery to be built to harbor the community of monks which was linked to the basilica. St-Paul basilica was sacked by the Lombards in 739 and the Sarrazines in 847, as Pope Jean VIII (872-882) constructed a fortified wall around it similar to the Leonine city Pope Leo IV had built around the Vatican. By the 7 and 8th centuries A.D., the population of Rome had decreased from about 1.5 millions at the time of the Roman empire to 60,000 only. By about the 10th century, the Imperial Forums, the large, ruined, architectural structures excepted, turned back into fields as farms and miscellaneous houses had been built too. The Forum Romanum, as far as it is concerned, was progressively abandonned since the 7th century A.D. as most of the monuments ceased to be identifiable from the 8th century. They eventually were buried underground by the Middle Ages as the only monuments preserved were the ones which had been turned into a church. Romans, since the beginnings of the City had been quarrying the subsurface for tuff, a volcanic rock and ashes for mortar, resulting in a maze of tunnels mostly under the southeastern area of Rome. Over the years, once quarrying ended, people repurposed the underground labyrinth as catacombs, for mushroom farming and as an unofficial sewer system. That was the state of Rome at the time of the Carolingians

Jerusalem between the 4th and 6th centuries as seen by the Madaba mosaicJerusalem between the 4th and 6th centuries as seen by the Madaba mosaic

After the crushing, in Palestine, of the last Jewish revolt, about 135 A.D. the Romans endeavoured to completely desacrate and erase any places of the Jews, and even of the Christians. The old Jerusalem was destroyed to the ground as a new, Roman city -'Aelia Capitolina'- was built instead from scratch, amazingly centered on the Golgotha, the place of the Crucifixion of Christ. A temple of Jupiter was built atop the tomb where the body of Christ had been laid into by Joseph of Arimathia, as temple of Venus over the Golgotha. When emperor Constantine I gave catholicity a better status in the Roman world, he had the temples destroyed and a large basilica built, about 336, there, which encompassed, the rock of the Calvary and the cave of the Resurrection. Emperor Constantine demolished a Roman Temple built by Emperor Hadrian 200 years earlier. The construction excavated the rock beneath, expose Christ's 'loculus,' or the burial niche. The builders cut back the entire rocky outcrop in order to enshrine that within the basilica's rotunda. As far as the other houses and premises related to the life of Christ are concerned, they had been transformed in places of worship during the pre-Byzantine period as, during the latter (323-638), a flurry of sanctuaries, churches, monasteries and pilgrim houses developed all over Palestine, especially about Jerusalem. Jerusalem, about the year 500 A.D., was populated with 30,000 to 40,000 inhabitants, as due to the Byzantines, it had become a key religious center and they had invested heavily into the city, where thousands of pilgrims were coming each year. Jerusalem then knew its most commercially successful period of its Christian history. The 'cardo' (the North-South Roman main street) hosted many shops and was sided with pillars like was another street. Jerusalem layout by those times is famously depicted on a 6th-century mosaic map discovered in 1894 years ago in a Byzantine-era church in Madaba, Jordan as it provides for understanding the plan of the city, with the locations of major streets and the Christian sites in the city, between the 4th and the 6th century A.D. The Constantinian basilica in Jerusalem became destroyed by the Persians, when they took the city in 614, as it was most swiftly re-built however, about 15 years later. The Arabs, then, conquered that part of the Byzantine empire, about 638, as the Patriarch of Jerusalem obtained from an Arab general the safety for the buildings; the general, further, took a decree which forbade the use of them by the Arabs for their prayers. A strong earthquake caused damages to a part of them in the beginning of the 9th century, with the reparations completed in 810. As a mosque failed to be built along the basilica by 935, it was ravaged by two fires in 938 and 966, respectively, and each time restaured. The old basilica, eventually, was destroyed in 1009 by the Fatimid Caliph, Al-Hakim, as a truce with Byzantium allowed for a new, large building to be set up about 1045, as it was in turn replaced by a new building at the time of the Crusades. Palestine, as far as it is concerned, at the time of the Arabic conquest, has been divided into two military districts, or 'Jund', with the main one the one where Jerusalem lied. It seems like the Caliph of Baghdad, the kingdom of who encompassed the Holy Land not having had a plain control over some parts of it. The rise of Fatimids to power in Egypt, about 970, made that the Holy Land passed to their control. Carolingian sources say that Harun-al-Raschid, the Abassid Caliph, allowed, on the one hand, ambassadors of Charles to visit the Holy Sepulchre as, on the other hand, he eventually gave Charlemagne the possession of the Holy Land, keeping, him, to be the warden, and the manager of there! At the time of the grandsons of Charlemagne, about 850, any acre of land hold in the Carolingian empire still had to pay a penny dedicated to redeeming the Christian captives in the Holy Land... Charlemagne, in 808, had had a survey of the Christian-owned places in Palestine done, the 'Commemoratorium de casis Dei'

Website Manager: G. Guichard, site Learning and Knowledge In the Carolingian Times / Erudition et savoir à l'époque carolingienne, Page Editor: G. Guichard. last edited: 12/26/2018. contact us at
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