During this Easter season I’ve been exploring the history of Christianity with a focus on architecture, music, and liturgy as a way for us to enjoy and expand our own understanding of those elements of our own faith tradition that seem perhaps just a little farther away right now.
This week my focus is the Frankish Domination of the Church (750-1073 CE). When Constantine created his capital of Constantinople, the political power of his unified empire shifted east, leaving the western regions vulnerable to internal corruption and outside invaders. In what is now modern day France and Spain, the kingdom of the Franks has been experiencing their own internal struggles until Charles Martel (d. 741) seized control and his sons Pepin III (d. 768) and his grandsons Carloman (d. 771) and Charlemagne (d. 814) established the Carolingian empire. Pope Stephen II in Rome signed an alliance with them to protect Rome from the Lombards and anointed them kings in 754.
The Carolingian monarchy wished to cement the relationship between the Roman church and their kingdom by establishing uniform worship in the Roman style, but what evolved was more of a hybrid between the earlier Roman style and the native Frankish Christianity that had existed before. The monarchy also wanted to evoke the power and grandeur of the early Constantine era by emulating the styles that existed in the fourth and fifth century. For example, the basilica style of churches, which had waned over the centuries in favor of more varied and multi-purpose buildings, was brought back. But the newfound stability and optimism now present in Europe created a surge in the practice of pilgrimages across the region and into the Asia Minor, which saw purported relics being brought back to Europe for preservation and veneration. This in term cause the creation of reliquaries and private chapels which could also be used for private masses (another liturgical innovation occurring at the time). Now instead of just a main worship space with a single altar, churches because subdivided into additional smaller worship spaces, side altars, chapels, etc. Barriers were also established to further isolate and control the flow of traffic in these spaces as to both keep the laity (especially women) away from certain areas, while allowing them to others. Examples of this are the Ambulatory, a passageway behind the apse which would allow pilgrims to visit the major relics of a church without moving through the main area.
In music, it is during this time that the familiar form of Gregorian chant was developed, a fusion of Roman and local Gallic chants. This was also the period in which music, with early notation for multiple parts, was also seen. These “neumes” existed more as a way for trained vocalists who had been taught the music to remember, rather than to be “sight read” like musical notation is used today.
Church began to see new kinds of books during this time: hymnals, lectionaries (passages of Scripture selected for each Sunday to be read), and liturgical guides possessing impressive illustrations and artistry. However these books only served to increase the distance between the clergy and the laity. Sacred vessels became smaller and more ornate as the theology of the presence of Christ in the Eucharistic elements became sharper and more defined, even at the cost of comprehending Christ’s presence elsewhere in the world. Bread would be placed on tongues, not hands, and wine drunk through a small tube in the chalice, rather than sipped from the cup as a way to prevent accidents during the Eucharist. Eventually the cup was removed as part of the public consumption of the Eucharist altogether, and ornamentation began to replace community-oriented vessels.
Yours in Christ,