As the Empire under Emperor Frederick Barbarossa (ca. 1122-1190) is transformed into the »Sacrum Imperium«, it seems appropriate to accord sainthood to the founder of this Empire, Charlemagne. His canonisation takes place on 29th December 1165 at the instigation of Frederick Barbarossa by the Cologne Archbishop Rainald von Dassel (1114/20-1167) as well as Bishop Alexander of Liège (died 1167) in the presence of the Emperor and his consort Beatrix in the framework of a court assembly in Aachen. Antipope Paschalis III (1164-1168) recognizes the canonisation. The following year, Aachen receives municipal rights and numerous privileges from Frederick Barbarossa, without which Aachen would never have become the city it subsequently developed into. Since his canonisation, Charlemagne is – alongside the Mother of God – the second patron of Aachen Cathedral as well as patron of the city itself.
There will never be a saint, whose life is impeccable: King David as adulterer and murderer nevertheless becomes the progenitor of Jesus; Paul, the persecutor of the Church, becomes Apostle to the Gentiles; Augustine, a criminal and rake, becomes bishop and Doctor of the Church. If Charlemagne is in that, which can be held against him, a child of his time, then against this must be set his high degree of personal commitment for the proclamation of the Gospel, the spread of Christianity, the development of the Church and not least his profound piety. He calls scholars and advisors to his side, who bridge gaps between peoples with faith and reason, promote and disseminate science and art, develop fair legislation and – as he himself does to an extraordinary degree – provide care for the poor. His extensive worry is for a public Christian life, which is only rarely to be found in political leaders – before him, after him and even today.
The Apostolic Nuncio in Germany, Archbishop Dr. Jean-Claude Périsset, emphasises at the 2013 Feast of Charlemagne in the Imperial Cathedral in Frankfurt am Main, »that in Charlemagne we are able to see a believer, who seriously incorporated his faith into his political office, even though he was aware that he was a sinful person in his life. What Charlemagne achieved for his people, for the Empire, for Europe, is a motivation and a model for our responsibility today to prefer nothing whatever to Christ (Regula Benedicti 72, 4).«
Although since 1176 the local veneration of Charlemagne is permitted by the Church, his feast on the anniversary of his death, 28th January, is not registered in the »Martyrologium Romanum«, the Roman Calendar of Saints. The veneration of the great Emperor, which continues through the centuries up to the present-day, induces Rome to permanently tolerate the Feast of Charlemagne. Widespread celebrations in honour of Charlemagne take place in many parts of Germany – particularly in Aachen, Osnabrück and Frankfurt am Main, but also in many places in France, Italy and Spain. These are, however, characteristic Aachen feasts: »In Nativitate sanctissimi Karoli« (28th January); »In Octava sanctissimi Karoli« (4th February); »In Translatione sanctissimi Karoli« (27th July). The 27th July represents the anniversary of the solemn completion of the Charlemagne shrine in 1215. Pope Benedict XIV (1740-1758) recognizes the celebrations for individual locations. From 1828 to 1857, they are specified in the Cologne liturgical calendar as Aachen’s own celebrations. The re-establishment of the Aachen diocese in 1930 sees their reintroduction; the »Translatio« feast is discontinued since 1932. The Octave on 4th February is performed up to 1955. In the present-day post-conciliar liturgical calendar of the Aachen diocese, the 28th January is marked for the city as the »Hochfest« (Solemnity) of St. Charlemagne. The Feast of Charlemagne is the actual festival of Aachen for the city to invoke their patron saint and commemorate him. As the political, religious, cultural and artistic hub of Charlemagne’s Christian Empire, Aachen preserves the eternal heritage of the Carolingian Court Church with devoted loyalty. For centuries this church is associated with the tradition of artistic liturgical chant.
The Karlsoffizium (Charlemagne Office) »Regali natus«, the Karlsmesse (Charlemagne Mass) »In virtute tua« as well as the famous Aachen Karlssequenz (Charlemagne Sequence) »Urbs Aquensis, urbs regalis« comprise the core of the Charlemagne liturgy. In all these texts, Charlemagne is praised as the »bold soldier of Christ«, as the Propagator of the Faith, Founder and Preserver of Rights, a ruler, who knows how to live the Christian virtues. It is his liturgical veneration that spiritually binds together the medieval empire.
Text: © Dr. Michael Tunger 2013
Photo: © Edition SINFONIA SACRA e.V.: Aachen, Dom, Oktogonkuppel innen, erbaut 796-804