On the day of the coronation he made his entrance through the Porta Castella close to St. Angelo and here repeated the oath.
Continuing Holy Roman Emperor Takes Control of the Papacy,
with a selection from History of the City of Rome in the Middle Ages by Ferdinand Gregorovius published in 1872. This selection is presented in 3 installments, each one 5 minutes long. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in Holy Roman Emperor Takes Control of the Papacy.
The Romans besought Henry to give them a good pope; he presented the Bishop of Bamberg to the assenting clergy, and led the reluctant candidate to the apostolic chair. Clement II, consecrated on Christmas Day, 1046, immediately placed the imperial crown on Henry’s head and on that of his wife Agnes. There were still many Romans who had been eye-witnesses of like transactions — that is to say, of papal election and imperial coronation following one the other in immediate succession — in the case of Otto III and Henry V; who, as they now saw the second German pope mount the chair of Peter, may have recalled the fact that the first had only lived a few sad years in Rome and had died in misery.
The coronation of Henry III was performed under such significant conditions and in such perfect tranquillity that it offers the most fitting opportunity for describing in a few sentences the ceremonial of the imperial coronation.
Since Charles the Great, these repeated ceremonies, with the more frequent coronations or Lateran processions of the popes, formed the most brilliant spectacle in Rome.
When the Emperor-elect approached with his wife and retinue, he first took an oath to the Romans, at the little bridge on the Neronian Field, faithfully to observe the rights and usages of the city. On the day of the coronation he made his entrance through the Porta Castella close to St. Angelo and here repeated the oath. The clergy and the corporations of Rome greeted him at the Church of Santa Maria Traspontina, on a legendary site called the Terebinthus of Nero. The solemn procession then advanced to the steps of the cathedral. Senators walked by the side of the King, the prefect of the city carried the naked sword before him, and his chamberlains scattered money.
Arrived at the steps he dismounted from his horse and, accompanied by his retinue, ascended to the platform where the Pope, surrounded by the higher clergy, awaited him sitting. The King stooped to kiss the Pope’s foot, tendered the oath to be an upright protector of the Church, received from the Pope the kiss of peace, and was adopted by him as the son of the Church. With solemn song both King and Pope entered the Church of Santa Maria in Turri, beside the steps of St. Peter’s, and here the King was formally made canon of the cathedral. He then advanced, conducted by the Lateran count of the palace and by the primicerius of the judges, to the silver door of the cathedral, where he prayed, and the Bishop of Albano delivered the first oration.
Innumerable mystic ceremonies awaited the King in St. Peter’s itself. Here, a short way from the entrance, was the rota porphyretica, a round porphyry stone inserted in the pavement, on which the King and Pope knelt. The imperial candidate here made his profession of faith, the Cardinal-bishop of Portus placed himself in the middle of the rota and pronounced the second oration. The King was then draped in new vestments, was made a cleric in the sacristy by the Pope, was clad with tunic, dalmatica, pluviale, mitre and sandals, and was then led to the altar of St. Maurice, whither his wife, after similar but less fatiguing ceremonies, accompanied him. The Bishop of Ostia here anointed the King on the right arm and neck and delivered the third oration.
If the Emperor-elect were fitted by the dignity of his calling, then the solemnity of the function, the mystic and tedious pomp, the magnificent monotone of prayer and song in the ancient cathedral, hallowed by so many exalted memories, must have stirred his inmost soul. The pinnacle of all human ambition, the crown of Charles the Great, lay glittering before his longing eyes on the altar of the Prince of the Apostles. The Pope, however, first placed a ring on the finger of the Anointed, as symbol of the faith, the permanence and strength of his Catholic rule; with similar formulæ girt him with the sword, and finally placed the crown upon his head. “Take,” he said, “the symbol of fame, the diadem of royalty, the crown, the empire, in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; renounce the archfiend and all sins, be upright and merciful, and live in such pious love that thou mayest hereafter receive the everlasting crown in company with the saints, from our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The church resounded with the Gloria and the Laudes: “Life and victory to the Emperor, to the Roman and the German army,” and with the endless acclamations of the rude soldiers who hailed their King in German, Slav, and Romance tongues.
The Emperor divested himself of the symbols of the empire, and now ministered to the Pope as subdeacon at mass. The Count Palatine afterward removed the sandals, and put the red imperial boots with the spurs of St. Maurice upon him. Whereupon the entire procession, accompanied by the Pope, left the church and advanced along the so-called “Triumphal Way,” through the flower-bedecked city, amid the ringing of all the bells, to the Lateran. At special stations were posted clergy singing praises, and the scholæ or guilds placed to salute the Emperor as he passed. Chamberlains scattered money before and behind the procession, and all the scholæ and the officials of the palace received the presbyterium or customary present of money. A banquet closed the solemnities in the papal palace.
Such are merely the barest outlines of an imperial coronation of this period. The ceremonies, borrowed from Byzantine pomp, had been established since Charles the Great, and had remained essentially the same, although, in the course of time, many details had been altered and others had been introduced. The magnificence of these spectacles is no longer rivalled by the pageantry of our days. The multitudes of dukes and counts, of bishops and abbots, knights and nobles with their retinues, the splendor of their attire, the strangeness of their faces and their tongues, the martial array of warriors, the mystic magnificence of the papacy with all its orders in such picturesque costume, the aspect of secular Rome, of judges and senators, of consuls and duces, of the militia with their banners, in curious, motley, fantastic attire; lastly, as the sublime scene of the drama, the stern, gloomy, ruinous city, through which the procession solemnly advanced — all combined to produce a picture of such mighty and universal historic interest that even a Roman accustomed to the pomp of Trajan’s period could not have beheld it without feelings of astonishment.
These coronation processions restored to the city its character of metropolis. The Romans of the time might flatter themselves that the emperors whom they elected still ruled the universe. The strangers who flocked to the city freely distributed their gold, and the hungry populace could live for weeks on the proceeds of the coronation.
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