Saturday, November 17, 2012

Charlemagne and the Irish

Coronation of Emperor Charlemagne

Emperor Charlemagne is well known for his political and cultural achievements in what is termed the Carolingian Renaissance. The court of Charlemagne was a meeting point of three cultural and scholarly traditions, the Irish, Italian and English. Many Irish scholars contributed to this European cultural revival. Among these wandering Irish scholars was the famous Clement of Ireland (c. 750 – 818) who was a teacher under the patronage of Charlemagne. His arrival to the continent was mentioned in the medieval ‘Life of Charlemagne’ by Notker Balbulus (c. 884).
“Now it happened, when Charlemagne had begun to reign alone in the western parts of the world, and the pursuit of learning had been almost forgotten throughout all his realm, and the worship of the true God was faint and weak, that two Irishmen came from Ireland to the coast of Gaul along with certain traders of Britain. These Irishmen were unrivalled for their skill in sacred and secular learning: and day by day, when the market crowds gathered round them for trade, they exhibited no goods for sale, but cried out and said, "Everyone that desires wisdom, let him draw near and take it at our hands; for it is wisdom that we have for sale."
Now they declared that they had wisdom for sale because they said that the people cared not for what was given freely but only for what was sold, hoping that this might incite them to purchase wisdom along with other goods; and also perhaps hoping that by this announcement they themselves might become a wonder and a marvel to everyone: which indeed turned out to be the case. They continued shouting their proclamation and in the end those who wondered at them, or perhaps thought them insane, brought the matter to the ears of King Charlemagne, who always loved and sought after wisdom. Charlemagne ordered them to come with all speed into his presence and asked them if it were true, as fame reported of them, that they had brought wisdom with them. They answered, "We both possess it and are ready to give it, in the name of God, to those who seek it worthily." Again he asked them what price they asked for it; and they answered, "We ask no price, O king; but we ask only for a fit place for teaching and quick minds to teach; and besides food to eat and clothing, for without these we cannot accomplish our pilgrimage." This answer filled the king with a great joy… he made one of them named Clement reside in Gaul, and to him he sent many boys both of noble, middle and humble birth…and he set aside for them buildings suitable for study. But he sent the second Irish scholar into Italy and gave him the monastery of Saint Augustine near Pavia, that all who wished might gather there to learn from him.”

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