Charlemagne and Christianity (Musings about Pagan Spolia)

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Charlemagne and Christianity (Musings about Pagan Spolia)

Postby nicolas.fox » Thu Sep 12, 2013 1:59 pm

Last Tuesday I visited Aachen, the modern German city in which Charlemagne spent most of his time (and died). And although the Carolingian Era buildings (Cathedral, City Hall, Grashaus, ...) were very impressive and the Christian art was very nice (and shiny!), I was again struck by the importance of Roman Era spolia (re-used leftovers from buildings, sculptures, art, ...). I'm used to seeing this in places like Italy and Greece, and I can manage to understand why Christians would use the Pagan spolia here seeing the importance of Ancient Greek and Roman history over there. It was somehow more difficult for me to come to terms with seeing it in the West of Germany.

Especially because two of the most important Carolingian Era artifacts in Aachen are (or at least in part) Roman spolia. The Persephone Sarcophagus (which is supposed to have housed the mortal remains of Charlemagne until they moved them) is a 2nd Century AD Roman original. And the Cross of Lothair's (Ottonian Crux Gemmata made in Cologne) centerpiece is a cameo of Emperor Augustus.

Cross of Lothair :
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/c ... i_2008.jpg

Persephone Sarcophagus:
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/c ... omSarg.jpg

The point is that I'm wondering how, especially a Frankish people based in West Germany, could unite the idea of Christianity (which at that time had very strong ideals, and was very intolerant) with the use of Pagan art, which they were actively trying to wipe out (Charlemagne himself was all for the 'convert or die' method). And we're not talking about some small additions to a wall, or something unimportant; we are talking about the (supposed) sarcophagus of Charlemagne himself and one of the most important works of Medieval religious art. Even taking the fact that Cologne was a big Roman colony, and that Aachen was a famous place in Roman times because of its Termae, it still boggles me. I can even, with difficulty, understand that Charlemagne (who was so pious it's ridiculous) had some sort of respect for Roman emperors because of their military prowess (and now I'm reaching...). What I cannot place, however, is the fact that one of the holiest crosses north of the Alps, has a Pagan centerpiece. They are actively, and mercilessly, converting people into Christianity and when the same people give in (like they had a choice) and visit a procession they see a cross with a Pagan emperor on it? That had to be very confusing. It also raises the question of how philosophical Carolingian Era religious thinkers were. Modern historians say that the Carolingian Era was a time of prosperity for Christian thinkers. They must have had a problem with the use of Pagan symbols in religious art. So I'm wondering, were religious leaders, thinkers, common people and the rulers so ingorant of history that they did not know they were using Pagan symbols (I find that very unlikely)? Didn't they care at all (they cared enough to kill to convert, I don't think they didn't care about losing them again over the use of Pagan art)? Did they lie to the populace, and themselves about the use of these symbols because they could not recreate the same level of artistry (which would still probably offend religious thinkers, cause you're basically lying to God as well)? Is it to show the victory of Christianity over Pagans (which would be a very weird way to show it)? It's something that has kept me up for a few nights...

Anyone else have any reasons, thoughts or explanations why this could have happened? (the artifacts are not fake... so please rule that out)

I have some pictures from the trip, if anyone's interested: I'll post them in the pictures board.
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Re: Charlemagne and Christianity (Musings about Pagan Spolia

Postby kbs2244 » Fri Sep 13, 2013 11:08 am

Well…
It was, after all, the Holy ROMAN Empire.

Although there is some dispute over whether he wanted the title of Emperor of the Roman Empire because of possible anti-Roman social unrest back home, he never rejected it once he had it

He was primarily a military conquest type. He use the power of the Church as a moral justification, and morale booster for his troops, and fulfilled the public image well. But he enjoyed the popular belief that reality was above the law and rules. He was not pious in his personal life. He had multiple wives and concubines and thus children.

As the New World Encyclopedia says:

It is frequently claimed by genealogists that all people with European ancestry alive today are probably descended from Charlemagne. However, only a small percentage can actually prove descent from him. Charlemagne's marriage and relationship politics and ethics did, however, result in a fairly large number of descendants, all of whom had far better life expectancies than is usually the case for children in that time period. They were married into houses of nobility and as a result of intermarriages many people of noble descent can indeed trace their ancestry back to Charlemagne. He is without a doubt an ancestor of every royal family of Europe.

That being the case it is not surprising that there is little negative written about him.
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Re: Charlemagne and Christianity (Musings about Pagan Spolia

Postby Minimalist » Fri Sep 13, 2013 12:02 pm

The point is that I'm wondering how, especially a Frankish people based in West Germany, could unite the idea of Christianity (which at that time had very strong ideals, and was very intolerant) with the use of Pagan art


Why did the early church usurp pagan holidays and incorporate them into their religion?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eostre


Ēostre or Ostara (Northumbrian Old English: Ēostre; West Saxon Old English: Ēastre; Old High German: *Ôstara) is a goddess in Germanic paganism who, by way of the Germanic month bearing her name (Northumbrian: Ēosturmōnaþ; West Saxon: Ēastermōnaþ; Old High German: Ôstarmânoth), is the namesake of the festival of Easter. Ēostre is attested solely by Bede in his 8th-century work De temporum ratione, where Bede states that during Ēosturmōnaþ (the equivalent to the month of April) feasts were held in Eostre's honor among the pagan Anglo-Saxons, but had died out by the time of his writing, replaced by the Christian "Paschal month" (a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus). In her various forms, she is a "Spring-like fertility goddess" associated with dawn, and is connected to numerous traditions and deities indigenous to Northern Europe.


http://thetruthandlight.wordpress.com/2008/12/25/saturnalia-the-real-roots-of-christmas/

In the 4th century The Roman Catholic Church adopted the Saturnalia festival hoping to take the pagan masses in with it.


So, as always when religion is involved, the answer as to why they did something or other comes down to "marketing."
Something is wrong here. War, disease, death, destruction, hunger, filth, poverty, torture, crime, corruption, and the Ice Capades. Something is definitely wrong. This is not good work. If this is the best God can do, I am not impressed.

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Re: Charlemagne and Christianity (Musings about Pagan Spolia

Postby kbs2244 » Sat Sep 14, 2013 10:43 am

Actually, I think it was something the Church learned form the Roman style of conquest.
The Romans were very tolerant of local religion, customs and trade. They just put themselves as a layer on top of them.
“Keep on with business as usual. Just pay the taxes to us now.”
(The Jews were something of an exception because of their mix of religion with government at the rebellion. The rebel leaders were religious zealots.)

The Church did it for centuries.
And not just in Europe.
Look at South and Central America and the Philippines.
“Keep doing what you have been doing, just bow down to the Cross.”
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Re: Charlemagne and Christianity (Musings about Pagan Spolia

Postby uniface » Sat Sep 14, 2013 7:11 pm

What is presented today as what Christianity has "always been" and what you can find evidence of in reliably date-able documents differs significantly. Christ himself (at least as a figure of central importance) seems to have come long surprisingly late. Even the original of Magna Carta cites, as I recall, "God and the Virgin" as the central figures of Religious importance.

Which, in turn, aligns pretty well with Fomenko et al. (I.e., his 33 year career correlating with the supernova of 1353 [the Star in the East that signaled his birth] and the eclipse of 1386 [at the crucifixion] but with nothing any further back).

PS : Note that the Gothic Cathedrals were dedicated to the (Black) Virgin.
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Re: Charlemagne and Christianity (Musings about Pagan Spolia

Postby kbs2244 » Sun Sep 15, 2013 3:20 pm

We are starting to veer into theology here.
So I will state this opinion and bow out.

There is an overwhelming temptation by those in any kind of power or prestige situation to retain and increase that power. Often that means compromising some of the principles that got you there in the first place.

Paul warned of this kind of Christian “apostasy” in 2 Thessalonians and by Constantine’s time it was well established from a local religious stand point. Constantine took advantage of those strengths for political reasons. He created a “universal” or “catholic” church.

I think most historians will agree that Constantine was the pivot point in the history of the Church from a purely religious theme to one that married religion and politics. The un-official edict was “what ever it takes.”

By Charlemagne’s time is was the rising tide that he rode.
He even proposed to the Byzantine Empress in an attempt to combine the Eastern and Western churches.
That proved to be a classic fail when she was disposed because her citizens felt she wasn’t fast enough to refuse him.
He turned his attentions northward.
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Re: Charlemagne and Christianity (Musings about Pagan Spolia

Postby Minimalist » Sun Sep 15, 2013 4:42 pm

Actually, Clovis was the first xtian king of the Franks.

http://historyarchaeology.wordpress.com ... ll-franks/


Convert the king and make all his subjects fall in to line. The church did not really give a rat's ass what they believed or what they did, as long as they called themselves xtians.
Something is wrong here. War, disease, death, destruction, hunger, filth, poverty, torture, crime, corruption, and the Ice Capades. Something is definitely wrong. This is not good work. If this is the best God can do, I am not impressed.

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Re: Charlemagne and Christianity (Musings about Pagan Spolia

Postby nicolas.fox » Mon Sep 16, 2013 1:22 am

Interesting points.

It still makes me wonder how they could live with the obvious contradiction(s), both on an intellectual (theologic) and personal level. I guess the ruling class did not care at all, it just had to look to the public eye that they were devout Christians (maybe they had to have the Christian communities' - financial - backing?). The local common folk either were too stupid (I tend not to believe in the all round stupidity of people though), or not Christian enough (yet) to actually get offended by the situation. And I guess they plain ignored the complaints of the 'intellectual' community of theologians (probably a small group anyway), who simply HAD to get annoyed by the situation if they used their brains for 5 seconds.

I think it shows an interesting period of Christian development. In the beginning (Roman times and later in the East) there was a lot of 'intellectual' debate going on about the foundations of Christianity and what diversions could be allowed and not. They also incorporated Pagan elements, but it made more sense geographically and they tended to destroy the most obvious Pagan symbols as well. (If they didn't just steal and change them) Talking about the Carolingian Cross of Lothair: Putting a Roman (highly religious Pagan) Emperor on a Christian cross for no apparent reason (they're not adapting an old custom or something) shows a complete different style of thinking. There is no angle here, no reason, nothing that can be attributed or changed into a Christian symbol. It's just plain laziness, and the fact that they like the shiny cameo (if not for the reasons I mentioned above). Somehow I doubt that they would have been putting a Nero cameo on a cross in 300 AD. It's interesting because it shows a lack of belief, it feels more like everyone (populace and ruling class at least) just goes through the motions. Like the Church back then was just a huge powerful institution which they had to please somehow, but didn't truly belief. That would change shortly though. A few (I use 'few' very loosely) years later we're talking crusades (11th C) and inquisition (12th C), and these were actually backed by theologic explanations and got the a lot of the populace and ruling class involved. Sure there were more worldy aspects involved, but to me it feels different than Charlemagne's period. You also see a strong decline in the use of Pagan symbols and Roman spolia used in Christian buildings and artifacts, and I'm sure they destroyed more as well.

It's funny (but not really) to see how quickly 'going through the motions' can change into fanatical devotion if the times are right and when there is a 'cause'.
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Re: Charlemagne and Christianity (Musings about Pagan Spolia

Postby kbs2244 » Mon Sep 16, 2013 10:30 am

At it’s basest level, the attraction of ground troops to armies for thousands of years was the opportunity for adventure, plunder, and rape.
(Not necessary in that order.)
You have to remember these people were serfs that were “married to the land.”
These sign up opportunities for wars or crusades were their only chance for self determination.

This was true from the Babylonians to Napoleon.
(An exception was the Romans who invented the idea of a professional soldier.
The army as a profession, like a miller, baker, blacksmith, whatever.
The idea died with the Empire.
A standing army is expensive.)
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Re: Charlemagne and Christianity (Musings about Pagan Spolia

Postby nicolas.fox » Tue Sep 17, 2013 5:44 am

I put up a selection of pictures, for those interested.

See: viewtopic.php?f=6&t=3394

or: http://s982.photobucket.com/user/nicola ... t=6&page=1

Enjoy!
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Re: Charlemagne and Christianity (Musings about Pagan Spolia

Postby E.P. Grondine » Tue Sep 24, 2013 10:17 am

Would anyone else here like to see SOME Crusader castles torn down and their stones used to re-build the structures they were taken from?
Usually people believe what they want to believe until reality intrudes.
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