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Charlemagne and St. Boniface had very different ways of converting the Saxons to Christianity, and these methods varied because of them, depending on the personalities of the men in question; their reasons for wanting to convert the Saxons, and the resources they had available to them. On one hand, Charlemagne, while a Frankish Christian king, had more to gain from the Saxon conversion as a Frankish king than as a Christian. Focusing on the political aspect of the conversion and the military campaign against the Saxons, he was far more ruthless and more willing to use staggering displays of violence to subdue the Saxons.

He had a strong disciplined army accredited to be the most superior field army in Europe at the time at his disposal, which only lent to this methodology. On the other hand Boniface, or St. Boniface, was a professional clergyman. Thusly, he went about the business of converting the Saxons in a determined and overall peaceful manner. Boniface preferred instead to take the theological route. His everyday method of conversion was a confusing attack on the gods, twisting the words of the pagans to exasperate them so as to sow doubt in their minds about their religion. A great example of this is contained in the letter written to Boniface by Bishop Daniel of Winchester, advising him on how to convert the heathen, written about the year or When they have been forced to admit that their gods had a beginning, since they were begotten by others, they should be asked whether the world had a beginning or was always in existence.

If they maintain that the universe had no beginning, try to refute their arguments and bring forward convincing proofs As a way of ministering to the Saxons, Boniface, with characteristically dramatic flair, chopped the tree down. The stories say that he brought an axe down on the tree, and that the first strike brought the tree down, and that the Oak split in four upon hitting the ground.

However, while attacking their religion, he cared enough to not attack the pagans themselves. Plus, while said occupying force was there, they being the more heavily armed and better trained faction present would enforce the decrees of the Frankish crown.

Charlemagne Facts

This capitulary outlines crimes against the new order, including not being baptised, a crime punishable by death7; cremating your dead in the pagan way, a crime punishable by death8; and making an offering to the heathen gods in a sacred grove, a crime punishable with a hefty fine. This practise of occupying Saxon towns and issuing decrees and levying tithes and fines was seen by many to be a betrayal of Christian practise.

Certainly to give tithe is good practise; but it is better that tithe should be lost than their faith. In the grove was a temple, and a totem representing Eormensyl, the world tree known more commonly by its Norse name of Yggdrasil. In three days of concentrated work, Charlemagne destroyed the totem, torched the sacred trees in the grove, despoiled the temple and shared the treasures contained therein amongst his men.


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The event in question was the infamous Massacre of Verden. Charlemagne had returned to Saxony after his brief absence from the front had goaded the Germanic warlord Widukind to raise an army, ambush, and decimate a Frankish army headed further east to fight the Slavs. Terrified, the Saxon leaders handed him warriors.

This incident clearly signifies that Charlemagne was engaging in conversion primarily for political purposes, i. Conversely Boniface managed to instil the same amount of awe in the pagans albeit of the opposite kind without ending a single life [that was recorded at least]. Ultimately, the reasoning behind the radically different tactics of Charlemagne and St Boniface cannot be summed up with one quick phrase or solution. Rather, it comes down to a host of reasons. Firstly, personality was a major factor. Boniface was dramatic and zealous, but not prone to violence.

Charlemagne however, was a warrior. The Frankish king was also a rash, stubborn man. His actions at Verden clearly show this. Charlemagne was a career soldier, and so looked at the Saxon conversion campaign as just that: a campaign.

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He saw the Saxons as a fierce warrior people to be conquered and pacified. He saw them as people to incorporate into his kingdom as subjects, and this caused him to believe that he should do what he can to pacify them, and if that meant massacring thousands to keep the rest quiet, that was fine with him. Their actual conversion would just have been a bonus to him. If they would maintain their pagan ways but still swear service to him and pay his taxes that would have likely sufficed for him.

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Boniface however, was clergy. Opinions regarding his methods and goal of Christianisation aside, it would be hard to argue that Boniface was motivated by anything but a love of these people, and a desire to see their souls in his heaven. This is likely the most important factor though, as stated, by far not the only one separating the two men.

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He managed to, running with his theme of critical blows to heathenry without actually killing any heathens, topple the most sacred site in Saxony possibly in the whole of the heathen world without directly causing the deaths of heathens. Or should they fight to defend their culture? Indeed one that had long-lasting implications for Franco-German relations over the following years. Most of that coming conflict can be traced back to hurt from the contradictory messages espoused by forces of Christian conversion in Saxony: Jesus Christ is a loving Lord, so embrace him The Conversion of Europe.

London: HarperCollins Publishers, Scholtz, Bernhard W.

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Carolingian Chronicles. Detroit: University of Michigan Press, The idea is broached in the chapter about the start of the Viking era different in every country : in Britain it notoriously started with the brutal attack on Lindisfarne monastery in Ferguson links this to the extremely violent and intimidating campaign of Charlemagne to convert northern Europe to Christianity which got underway in the s and targeted the Saxons who lived south of Denmark. Wherever the Danish, Swedish and Norwegian attackers landed, they went out of their way to loot and destroy churches and monasteries and to torture, rape and kill priests, monks and nuns.

Those within converted Europe, the Christians who wrote what records we have about the Vikings, the victims who were attacked again and again and again from about to about , they disagree about where the Vikings came from, whether they were blonde or dark-haired, what language they spoke etc — but on one thing they all agreed — they were heathen, pagani, unbelievers, infidels, illiterate outsiders, fired by terrifying ferocity and anger against everything connected with Christianity, going out of their way to loot and desecrate.

This is a marvellous book, all the more awe-inspiring and romantic for the scrupulous care with which every scrap of evidence and every conflicting theory or interpretation is weighed and assessed. You are commenting using your WordPress. You are commenting using your Google account. You are commenting using your Twitter account. You are commenting using your Facebook account.

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