The Holy Land – a narrative playlist

Childeric III, last of the Merovingians

The Last of the Merovingians by Evariste-Vital Luminais (1822-1896)

A weak king, whose lineage itself is questionable, Childeric III (c.717-c.754) was placed on the throne by the men known as the ‘mayors of the palace’, who by the eighth century held the power over the Merovingian line.

Together, Pope Zachary and one of the mayors of the palace, Pepin the Short, conspired to remove Childeric from the throne. In a deeply symbolic act, they had Childeric’s long, flowing hair cut. A Merovingian king’s hair was a crowning symbol of his majesty. Tonsured, he was visually transformed into a monk – and that was what they forced him to become.

Pepin the Short took the throne with the support of Pope Zachary. Pepin would be the father of Charlemagne. A shady background to the great Carolingian dynasty! Interestingly, the Carolingians began wearing their hair short. Perhaps they were trying to differentiate themselves from their predecessors. Or perhaps they were afraid someone might shave them and take away all their glory…

The beginning of the Great Schism – 1054

This is the year traditionally seen as the year of the Great Schism between Eastern Orthodox and Western Catholic Christianity. In truth, events unfolding after those of the year 1054 more complexly and slowly lead to the great break in the Church, but there were dramatic dividing events during 1054.

A man called Cardinal Humbert was legate to Pope Leo IX and in 1054 he was in Constantinople. He was not the most tactful diplomat and he and the Patriarch Michael Cerularios of Constantinople did not get along.

The problems had all started when Normans conquered southern Italy. This region had been under Byzantine control and held to the customs of the Greek church. The Normans started imposing western Latin customs on the church in southern Italy and suddenly everyone was worried about previously insignificant details like the type of bread used for the Eucharist. The Patriarch of Constantinople was not pleased about the Greek traditions being replaced by Latin ones in Southern Italy, so in anger he suppressed the Latin churches under his own control in Constantinople itself.

Then things got heated really heated in some letters sent between Pope Leo IX and Michael Cerularios. The pope was sending out letters to make sure it was remembered that Rome had highest authority in the Church but Michael Cerularios was incensed enough to write a letter back, calling Pope Leo IX ‘brother’ instead of ‘father’ and claiming that the patriarch of Constantinople was ‘Ecumenical Patriarch’, which was just getting a bit too big for his boots in the eyes of Leo IX.

So Cardinal Humbert was sent to deal with Michael Cerularios. And the men just did not like each other. So Humbert, infuriated, stuck a notice of excommunication on the door of the Hagia Sofia. It wasn’t valid, wasn’t signed by the pope (who had actually already died by that time). However, tensions did not truly cease from there and ultimately, the Eastern and Western church would split apart entirely.

Saint Clotilde

Clotilde and her four sons from the Grandes Chroniques de Saint Denis, Toulouse

Clotilde (574-545) is venerated as a saint due to her conversion of her husband, Clovis I, to Catholicism. Clovis I had been an Arian Christian. His conversion established the future Catholicism of France.

In vengeance for her father’s murder at the hands of relations in her homeland of Burgundy, Clotilde incited her sons to war against her cousin, Sigismund of Burgundy. The war led to the death of Clotilde’s eldest son Chlodomer.

Chlodomer’s sons who survived him might have been heirs and Clotilde fought to protect their rights, but Clotilde’s younger sons fought against her grandchildren. Two of Chlodomer’s sons, who were Clotilde’s grandsons, were killed by their uncles, Clotilde’s sons.

After such in-fighting and torment, Clotilde retreated from politics to focus on the building of churches. She died of natural causes in the Abbey of St Genevieve, which she and her husband Clovis had built together.


Clovis I, king of the Franks

Clovis I by François-Louis Dejuinne (1786-1844)

Clovis (c. 466-511) was the man who united the Franks under a single king rather than a group of chieftains.

Clovis’s wife Clotilde was a Catholic and converted Clovis to Catholicism, even though the ruling elite of the Franks were ordinarily Arians. Catholics believe that Jesus Christ is equal to God the Father in divinity whereas Arians believed that Christ was divine but not equal to God. Clovis’s baptism into Catholicism meant that the inhabitants of Gaul would become Catholic and the decline of Arianism commenced.

Clovis was the son of Childeric I, who is considered the founder of the Merovingian dynasty, although it was Clovis who united Gaul.