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Was Charlemagne Canonized a Saint?

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A popular devotion towards Charlemagne after his death is seemingly developing in Aachen. As soon as the death of him, some of his bones were given away as relics. That devotion is further developing in relatin with the one of the Saint Roman and German Empire as it is increasing after that Otto III, by the year 1000 A.D. had the corpse of Charles unburied. Charlemagne had been buried into a sarcophage situated in the Palatine Chapel, under a arch of masonry and Charles had had brought from Rome a 2nd century A.D. marble sarcophage, which termed the 'Proserpine sarcophage', likely like a reference to the Roman empire. That event, which was complemented with relics taken comforted the devotion. The question however turned into politics by the 12th century! By 1167, the Roman German Empire fad fallen back into a conflict with the papacy and the emperor Frederic I Red-Beared, who again had the corpse of Charles unearthed, obtained from the antipope Pascal III he had designated, that Charlemagne be canonized as the corpse of Charles was again taken back from its sarcophage to be placed into a châsse. He had managed too to get the agreement of the King Henry II of England as bishops further had participated into the ceremony. That event had taken place as Rome, since some decades, was managing to control the canonizations in Christendom. Until then, those might be proclaimed by a bishop or a provincial council as a latter, on the other hand, was often prone to some strong pressure from the people. The pope at the time of the feat accomplished by the German emperor was Alexander III and he clearly made know that any canonization, from now, should be performed in the presence of a papal legate and with the agreement of Rome! The West however had still to wait one more century before that canonizations only belong to the pope

Due to how Charles' canonization had been performed, it thus became suspicious to the Church, as it took one of its origins from a antipope. Once the unity in the Roman Catholic Church was re-established about 1200 A.D., the papacy could not directly put into question that Charles had become a saint because the châsse in Aachen was already attracting pilgrims. Rome neither wanted to approve a irregular procedure nor the have it performed again according to law (as that was never asked to papacy). The Church thus decided to let Charles' worship wherever it had settled and, as Charlemagne was not figuring into the Roman martyrologe, that list of the saints officially accepted, he only was allowed to be called 'Blessed.' Charlemagne is figured crowned as he holds with one hand the plan of the Aachen Chapel. About 1250, Rome, it looks like Rome made a exception for 'saint Charlemagne' on its march to that any canonization be the feat of the pope only. The devotion became a 'tolerance by the Roman Catholic Church' and at the condition that it is occurring in the Palatine Chapel of Aachen only. Thence, since the 13th century A.D. onwards, the devotion to saint Charlemagne reached to the whole of Germany, where relics of him along with regalia like the imperial crown, gladius, tunic or globe, etc., were expanding too. It reached first the other churches in Aachen and then Halberstadt, Osnabruck, Strasburg, Paderborn, Lorsch, Munster, Verden, Bremen, Fulda, Frankfurt, Brugges, Metz, Halle, Zurich. The climax of that expansion was eventually reached between the 14th and 15th century, the 15th century A.D. being the one of the largest number of artist' representations of Charlemagne, like with statues or church windows, etc. The date for the feast of saint Charles early was, according to the usage, on either the date of his death -which was on January 28th, and delaying the octave of St Agnes- or at the date when his corpse had been translated by 1167 -or July 27th. When the German emperor Charles IV had been baptized Charles for the first time since the Carolingian times, he had the devotion developed in his kingdom of Bohemia as the founded in Aachen, by 1362, a chapel for his Magyar subjects

Popes simulated that they were ignoring that a devotion was rendered to Charles in Germany, France or even Gerona, Spain. When pope Alexander III, by the third council of Latran, in 1179, proclaimed definitively that a pope only can make a saint, he however did not anything to cancel Charles' canonization which had occurred 12 years before! That pontifical privilege was definitively included into the canonical law by 1234 as the question of retroactively applicating that was not invoked at the time. The religious figure of Charles held to that he was the one who opposed to rebels and the ennemies of the Church. God, further, always favoured his military endeavours. Charlemagne self braced himself to evangelization, defending the Church or protecting papacy. He also made proof of moral values: he was simple, sober, he had St. Augustine works read while his meals, he favoured scholarship and he showed piety and zeal for the splendor of Church (like making pilgrimages, collecting relics, making gifts, building churches, restoring the Chant, worrying about poor in the Empire and Christian communities in the East, having his legacy ordered to churches and the poors, fighting against heresies, or attending offices. And, four years before his death he had considered to dismiss from the crown and dedicate himself to his own salvation). Like a sign of God's favor, many saints are believed to have showed themselves to Charles, like St. Salve, bishop of Angoulême, France, for example, or two blessed spirits had the Saxons fleeing in the battle of Fritzlar, or Charles had a source of fresh water to appear as drought was threatening his armies. By 1220, the constructors of the cathedral of Chartres, in France, figured Charlemagne with his preux and Roland sounding his horn, on one of the glassed windows of the cathedral's deambulatory as such illustrated lifes as shown on churches' windows are usually reserved to saints. Charles and Roland further have their head encircled with a red aureole as such a type, on the other glass-windows in the cathedral are applied to the Virgin Mary or the Apostles. In Chartres, Charlemagne not only is a saint but the very exemplary saint illustrating the chivalry values as his figure is lying beside the glass-window dedicated to St Theodorus, the model of the Christian knight! As the glass-window of Charlemagne on the other hand, is at the opposite of the one figuring St Sylvester, the pope when Roman Catholicism was recognized legal in the Roman Empire, that is well evoking the link which is established, moreover, between Charles and Constantine I the Great. By 1226 A.D., a papal legate consacrated in the Palatine Chapel in Aachen a altar which was dedicated to the Saint Apostles and to 'beatus King Charles'. The Church further did not comment in any kind the decisions taken by Emperor Charles IV, like mentioned above as Charlemagne kept being figured along with other saints by the Middle Ages' craftsmen. Saint Charlemagne eventually never was erased from the Roman Catholic Church saints list. By that same epoch, King Charles V of France, the nephew to Charles IV, is privately celebrating, in his chapel, saint Charlemagne, whose feasts occur both on January 28th and July 27th as he has saint Charlemagne the prominent figure unto the sceptre of the kings of France he has be made. In Reims, the city where the Capetian kings are coronated, the church already is borrowing some data from the liturgical calendar of the German Church as saint Charlemagne is honored until in the 18th century as saint Charlemagne has his place in the great litanies there, between Augustine and St Louis, King of France. During the 18th century, in the Vatican palace they had had painted a fresco representing Charles donating the Papal States, and a equestrian statue of Charles be placed by the entrance of the St Peter basilica, facing the one of Contantine I the Great. In that same century, pope Benedictus XIV eventually proclaimed that the devotion's continuity, in diverse churches, like the absence of any reaction by the Roman Catholic Church during 6 centuries, were constituting a case of a 'equipolent beatification', or 'equivalent'. Benedictine monks nowadays are seemingly the order the most attached to defend that devotion to saint Charlemagne. You will note too that Contantine I the Great, the Roman emperor which established the Church into the Roman empire by the beginning of the 4th century A.D., too had been considered a saint for cause of a decision by the Byzantine people as he does not belong neither to the Roman Breviary. In France, since the 17th century, a development of celebrations towards saint Charlemagne is occurring in the cities of the provinces, like in Rouen, St-Quentin, Sarlat, Périgueux, or Narbonne. It looks like such a increase is linked to gallicanism -that doctrine favourable to a certain independency of the Church of France from the popes- the proponents of which wary of celebrating a saint who is not officially part of the Roman breviary. The text canted during the mass is borrowed from profane chroniques, of those, the story of Eginhard. King Louis XI of France, before, was a fervent devout of saint Charlemagne as he was always wearing a cross the tradition said it had been brought back from the Holy Land by king Charles. He ordered too that the feast of saint Charlemagne be celebrated yearly in Paris and be a resting day. By 1478, under that same king, who had reconciled the Church of France with Rome, the French nation of the Faculty of the Arts in the University of Paris, which was renowned for its gallicanism, got the right, from the king and the bishop of Paris, to a brotherhood dedicated to Virgin Mary and St Charlemagne as Charlemagne had been considered the founder of the University of Paris since the origins of it about 1200 A.D. (he turned the saint patron of it by 1661 A.D.) The German nation, as far as it is concerned, had the right to join the celebration of Charlemagne feast on each January 28th, as a figure of Charles was lying atop the silver mass of its chancelors. Such a feast lasted until the French Revolution as it was mostly appreciated due to the holidays which came with it. Since the Renaissance however, critics arose among the Humanist writers and historians against the feast of St Charlemagne. Robert Gaguin, by 1482, for example, is reluctant to that the University of Paris has Charlemagne like its patron and refuses to write a life of the emperor. The feast of St Charlemagne kept being a holidy each year in the Parliament of Paris and the jurisdiction of the Châtelet until by the French Revolution as it had already ceased to be a feast since 1501 in the parochial churches of the French capital. St Charlemagne kept being celebrated in Rouen and Reims, and in Périgueux until in 1914 as numerous churches was celebrating before the Protestant Reform (30 churches in Germany were doing at the time). Charles' body is still lying in Aachen and is displayed yearly on his feast day, on January, 28th, with a châsse for the body and a reliquary for the arm. The Aachen cathedral also holds his hunting horn and, in the church's gallery, his stone throne which was the one he seated on in the tomb and which served to the coronation of emperors of the Holy German Empire until in the 16th century

The monastery of Kempten, close to Augsburg, Germany tried by the 15th century to have Queen Hildegarde, Charlemagne's main wife, considered a saint. Paul the Deacon had eulogized her and pope Hadrian I highly prized the queen. The endeavour did not come to a practice. The tumb of queen Hildegarde is located in the St-Arnould cemetery in Metz, since 783 A.D. In Limoges and Angoulême, France, or in the St-Zenon church in Verona, Italy, Roland is figured along with saints

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: 12/28/2010. contact us at
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