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The Crowning Of Charlemagne
by [?]

Charlemagne, the great king, had built himself an empire only surpassed by that of ancient Rome. All France was his; all Italy was his; all Saxony and Hungary were his; all western Europe indeed, from the borders of Slavonia to the Atlantic, with the exception of Spain, was his. He was the bulwark of civilization against the barbarism of the north and east, the right hand of the church in its conflict with paganism, the greatest and noblest warrior the world had seen since the days of the great Caesar, and it seemed fitting that he should be given the honor which was his due, and that in him and his kingdom the great empire of Rome should be restored.

Augustulus, the last emperor of the west, had ceased to reign in 476. The Eastern Empire was still alive, or rather half-alive, for it was a life without spirit or energy. The empire of the west had vanished under the flood of barbarism, and for more than three centuries there had been no claimant of the imperial crown. But here was a strong man, a noble man, the lord and master of a mighty realm which included the old imperial city; it seemed fitting that he should take the title of emperor and rule over the western world as the successor of the famous line of the Caesars.

So thought the pope, Leo III., and so thought his cardinals. He had already sent to Charlemagne the keys of the prison of St. Peter and the banner of the city of Rome. In 799 he had a private interview with the king, whose purpose no one knew. In August of the year 800, having settled the affairs of his wide-spread kingdom, Charlemagne suddenly announced in the general assembly of the Franks that he was about to make a journey to Rome. Why he went he did not say. The secret was not yet ready to be revealed.

On the 23d of November the king of the Franks arrived at the gates of Rome, a city which he was to leave with the time-honored title of Emperor of the West. “The pope received him as he was dismounting; then, on the next day, standing on the steps of the basilica of St. Peter and amidst general hallelujahs, he introduced the king into the sanctuary of the blessed apostle, glorifying and thanking the Lord for this happy event.”

In the days that followed, Charlemagne examined the grievances of the Church and took measures to protect the pope against his enemies. And while he was there two monks came from Jerusalem, bearing with them the keys of the Holy Sepulchre and Calvary, and the sacred standard of the holy city, which the patriarch had intrusted to their care to present to the great king of the Franks. Charlemagne was thus virtually commissioned as the defender of the Church of Christ and the true successor of the Christian emperors of Rome.

Meanwhile, Leo had called a synod of the Church to consider whether the title of emperor should not be conferred on Charles the Great. At present, he said, the Roman world had no sovereign. The throne of Constantinople was occupied by a woman, the Empress Irene, who had usurped the title and made it her own by murder. It was intolerable that Charles should be looked on as a mere patrician, an implied subordinate to this unworthy sovereign of the Eastern Empire. He was the master of Italy, Gaul, and Germany, said Leo. Who was there besides him to act as Defender of the Faith? On whom besides could the Church rest, in its great conflict with paganism and unbelief?

The synod agreed with him. It was fitting that the great king should be crowned emperor, and restore in his person the ancient glory of the realm. A petition was sent to Charles. He answered that, however unworthy the honor, he could not resist the desire of that august body. And thus was formally completed what probably had been the secret understanding of the pope and the king months before. Charles, king of the Franks, was to be given the title and dignity of Charles, Emperor of the West.