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St Paschal I

(817—824)


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(24 Jan. 817–11 Feb. 824)

Born in Rome and educated in the Lateran school, he was ordained priest by Leo III and, after long service in the papal administration, when elected pope was abbot of St Stephen's monastery, near St Peter's, a post in which he had especial responsibility for the pastoral care of pilgrims, which may have been one of the factors governing the electors' choice. He was consecrated the day following his election, the exceptional haste reflecting anxiety in Rome to anticipate interference from the Holy Roman emperor, now protector of the holy see; but Paschal was careful to announce his accession at once to Louis I the Pious (814–40), stressing that he had not sought office but that it had been thrust upon him. Not long afterwards, in response to his request for the renewal of Rome's long-standing relationship with the Frankish crown, Louis issued a statute (the pactum Ludovicianum), the terms of which he had worked out with Stephen IV. Under this he confirmed the pope in the possession of the papal states and of the patrimonies outside them, bound himself (in contrast to Charlemagne) not to interfere in the papal domains unless invited, or obliged by the claims of the oppressed, to do so, and guaranteed the freedom of papal elections—the right to take part in the election was extended to ‘all Romans’, i.e. the nobility—requiring only that after being consecrated the new pope should notify the emperor and renew the treaty of friendship.

The harmonious relationship presupposed by these concessions continued for most of Paschal's reign, and papal envoys frequently visited the court and imperial envoys Rome. Thus when Louis sent Archbishop Ebbo of Reims (c. 775–851), chosen to evangelize the Danes, to Rome in 822, Paschal not only commissioned him, along with Halitgar of Cambrai (d. 830), but appointed him papal legate for the northern regions. When Louis's son Lothair, crowned as co-emperor in 817, came to Italy in 823, Paschal invited him to Rome and, doubtless with Louis's agreement, solemnly anointed him again on 5 April, Easter Sunday, presenting him also (this was the first occasion of the ceremony) with a sword as a symbol of the temporal power needed for the suppression of evil. From now onwards the pope's right to crown the emperor, and Rome's to be the place of his coronation, came to be increasingly recognized. While in Rome, however, Lothair seems to have decided that firmer control of the papal state than was presupposed in Louis's statute was desirable. Exercising his royal rights, he held a court and gave judgement for the abbey of Farfa (40 km north of Rome), exempting it from tribute claimed by the holy see. His vigorous action kindled anti-Frankish feelings in Rome; at the same time upper-class opponents of Paschal's high-handed rule turned to the young monarch for support against the clerical party. After Lothair's departure two leaders of the pro-Frankish party, the chief notary Theodore and the nomenclator Leo, were blinded and then beheaded in the Lateran because of their loyalty to him; the culprits belonged to the papal household, and rumour linked Paschal himself with the foul deed. Although he dispatched disclaimers to Aachen, the emperor sent an investigating commission to Rome. Paschal deemed it prudent, like Leo III before him, to take an oath of purgation before a synod of 34 bishops; he added that the murdered men had been lawfully executed as traitors.

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Subjects: Christianity.


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