QUEBEC-RESEARCH-L ArchivesArchiver > QUEBEC-RESEARCH > 2005-03 > 1111254587
Subject: Medieval France
Date: Sat, 19 Mar 2005 12:49:47 EST
Monarchs and Monasteries:
Knowledge and Power in Medieval France
(late 8th -- late 15th centuries)
By the mid-eighth century when the Carolingian family deposed the
Merovingian dynasty, the king was more than a warlord, he was also a religious figure,
the Christian leader of his subjects, the new chosen people. From the start,
his dual role spawned a potent mix of religion, politics, and culture.
Carolingian kings actively supported the study of religious texts which
prepared monks, the "soldiers of Christ," to lead their people to salvation.
Their courts served as important centers for book collection, book production,
and the dissemination of antique culture throughout the West. However, it was
abbeys and monasteries that played the leading cultural role in the
Carolingian kingdoms for it was in their scriptoria that manuscripts were produced and
studied. Among the most famous were those at Saint-Denis, Corbie, and Cluny.
The monastery of Saint-Denis' wealth and connections with Italy made it one
of the wellsprings of the Carolingian renaissance. It also became the royal
abbey and royal mausoleum, guarding the regalia and the oriflamme, a crimson
banner which accompanied the kings to battle. Monks at the monastery of Corbie
not only collected and copied books but made their own contributions to the
literature of theology, biography, and polemic. In the eighth century,
Corbie's scribes helped perfect the clear script type known as the Carolingian
minuscule. The abbey of Cluny played a critical role in the monastic reform
movement begun in the tenth century, forming the hub of a network of European
monasteries where prayer, viewed as the remedy for sinfulness, took on ever
During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, French power, culture and
authority began to pass from rural monastic centers to cities and the royal court.
Paris became the artistic and commercial hub of the kingdom, as well as its
administrative and judicial center. From the mid-thirteenth century through
the sixteenth century, the "religion of royalty" summarized by the motto "one
king, one faith" (un roi, une foi) reigned supreme in France. Royal religion
was disseminated through ceremonies and symbols preserved in manuscripts and
in the artifacts the kings commissioned.
Each royal ceremony was carefully staged and orchestrated to impress those
who witnessed it. The central ritual of the monarchy was the installation
ceremony at Rheims during which the king was anointed with holy oil believed to
endow him with the ability to heal a variety of diseases. Other occasions,
like royal marriages and ceremonies marking the king's entry into a city,
reinforced his authority which was symbolized by his regalia: the ring, the spurs,
the sword, the crown, the scepter, and the hand of justice.
Early on, French kings understood that they could derive great power and
prestige from the written word, particularly when it was embellished by
magnificent illuminations. The potent impact of these images, symbols, and texts on
the people of France is evidenced by the fury with which opponents of the
monarchy and Catholicism--the Huguenots in the sixteenth century, the
Revolutionaries in the eighteenth--sought to destroy them, as if they believed they
could eradicate the power of church and monarch by eliminating the material
traces and representations of their authority.