Chapter 11 A New Civilization in Western Europe: the Rise of Latin Christendom, 476-1350
The Germanic invasions into the Roman Empire transformed
European society. People no longer looked to the imperial forces of Rome for
security, but rather sought protection at a local level from Germanic kings.
This transfer of power resulted in a less stable and less unified society in
Western Europe. Yet it did not, as many later historians came to believe, plunge
Europe into a "dark age" void of civilization. Rather, Europeans
created a new culture that blended Roman, German, and Christian traditions. This
new civilization would prove more flexible and dynamic than any yet seen.
On Christmas Day in the year of the Lord 800 (by the Christian calendar), a great host gathered for mass in Saint Peterís Church in Rome. They came to rejoice and pray in honor of the birth of their Savior, Jesus Christ. At the high altar, Pope Leo III was to sing the mass and preside over Holy Communion. Among the congregation were bishops, nobles, Roman senators, and Charles, king of the Franks.
Moved at the thought of being in the place of Saint Peter's martyrdom,
Charles knelt to pray. Behind him the congregation was hushed and expectant. As
the king rose from praying, the pope moved suddenly to his side. Before the
entire congregation, the head of the most Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic
Church lifted on high a golden crown. Placing the crown upon the Frankish king's
brow, he proclaimed:
"To Charles Augustus, crowned by
God, great and pacific emperor of the Romans, life and victory!"
Three times the pope and all
those assembled shouted these words in homage. After more than 300 years, Rome
had another emperor at last.
Yet despite the rejoicing, the empire that Charles ruled was not that of
ancient Rome, but rather a new civilization rising from its ashes.