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Religion in the Time of Charlemagne

With two degrees in history, I enjoy researching and writing about historical events that the history books tend to gloss over.


Who was Charlemagne?

Charlemagne, born Charles, to Pepin III in 742, became sole ruler of the Franks in 771 after the death of his brother, Carloman. He was considered the sovereign of the Christian Empire of the West. During his early reign, there was incessant warfare which extended his rule in all directions. As Charlemagne gained control over regions, the citizens were forced to convert to Christianity. By 774, he ruled most of Italy causing the Pope to exclaim during an Easter visit from Charlemagne, “Behold another Constantine, who has risen in our times.” On Christmas 800 Pope Leo III crown Charlemagne the Emperor of the Romans. Charlemagne had political and theological reasons for desiring to unite with the church. As a student of Augustine, he believed that the church and state should be allied to unify society.


Religious Devotion

“Charles, that never-wearied lover of the service of God, when he could congratulate himself that all possible progress had been made in the knowledge of letters, was grieved to observe how widely the different provinces -- nay, not the provinces only but districts and cities -- differed in the praise of God, which is to say in their method of chanting.” Charlemagne had a devotion to the church that was instilled in him during infancy. He was a constant worshipper at church, health permitting, going at all times of the day. He was driven by his deep convictions and beliefs that were impacted by Augustine’s City of God. His concern for cultural preservation, and education caused him to initiate a series of reforms, known today as the Carolingian Renaissance. Intellectual life during the Carolingian Renaissance, revolved around the revival of Latin texts in a Christian background. He built a library in which he employed monks to preserve the ancient texts.


Religious Reforms

Charlemagne also proposed several religious reforms. He undertook the building of several churches. In 805, the Basilica at Aix-La-Chapelle was consecrated, which he adorned it with gold and silver lamps and doors and rails of solid brass. After that he provided numerous sacred vessels and clerical garments and ensured that services were conducted with the utmost piety. He also further raised standards and requirements for monks and monasteries and strengthened the church’s power structure by promoting the skill and quality of the clergy. Through this it improved the basic tenets of faith and morale; additionally, forced new nations to convert to Christianity, which rooted out paganism.

While he forced the inhabitants of conquered lands to convert to Christianity at the tip of a sword, he was also a champion of the poor all over the world. He sent donations and care that sent to other kingdoms for the poor and needy. This show of compassion had secondary motives: the aid he sent was intended to aid the poor and needy Christians that were under foreign rulers. He encouraged the spread of Benedictine monasteries, which were attractive to people of the time as life in a Benedictine monastery was structured with no social status and free of the cares of outside cares.


The Legacy of Charlemagne

Charlemagne was an admirable leader, and later known to all as Charles the Great. Under his rule, the church and European culture moved in a new direction. His policy of expanding the church with military force set the precedent that later lead to the Crusades. He was touted as one of the influential rulers who changed history. He built numerous churches and set a standard of worship that reflected his own level of piety. Through this religious reform, education became available to those who might not have previously been able to obtain an education such as the poor. Thus creating a more educated culture for the masses.


"Charlemagne." CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Miguel Hidalgo. Accessed July 19, 2018.

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"Charlemagne." Christian History | Learn the History of Christianity & the Church. Accessed

July 19, 2018.

Monk of Saint Gall: The Life of Charlemagne; all translations of Monk of Saint Gall are taken

from Fordham University, sourcebooks, (accessed July 19, 2018) "What Impact Did Charlemagne Have on Church History?" February 21, 2018. Accessed July 19, 2018.

Einhard, The Life of Charlemagne; all translation of Einhard are taken from Fordham University

sourcebook, translated by Samuel Epes Turner (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1880)’s%20Accession

"Life of Charlemagne." Christian History Institute. Accessed July 19, 2018.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Brandy R Williams

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