Who was Clovis the Franconian

  Much ado about the "baptism of France"The Frankish King Clovis was baptized 1500 years ago. France is arguing today whether this should be seen as a key event in European history or as an inflated occasion for Catholic ceremonies.

The old gods had failed. The battle seemed lost. The king felt his last hour approaching and in his agony, conjured up the Christian god worshiped by his wife. Pleading for bare survival, he promised him that he and his followers would be baptized.

This, at least, is reported by the legend of Clovis I, king of the Salian Franks who lived on the Lower Rhine. The battle took place around 496 near Tolbiac, today's Zülpich, 30 km southwest of Cologne. The called party apparently entered into the trade, because Clovis finally defeated the superior Alemanni and had himself and his entourage of 3000 men baptized on Christmas Day of the same year in the eastern French city of Reims.

The 1500th anniversary of this legendary baptism is currently moving the history-obsessed minds of France. The publications on "Clovis" are increasing, in addition to a few comic strips, fourteen strong works have already appeared this year. Conferences, scholars unveiled, pilgrims make a pilgrimage, the students of the Institute of Applied Sciences in the city of Rennes launched a rocket called "KLOVIS", mustard named after the old Frankish king is already on the market. Catholics and atheists argue about the anniversary and especially about the Pope's planned visit; The Holy Father and most likely many of his opponents will go to the official Clovis celebrations in the baptismal city of Reims in September.

A cheap baptismIn the papally celebrated confession of the Frankish king, in addition to religious enlightenment, cool power-political considerations were probably also involved. Said battle was just one of several that all resulted in the same goal: the rise of the Franks and their royal family, the Merovingians, in the area of ​​the crumbling Western Roman Empire. Baptism should prove beneficial.

After the departure of the last Roman emperor in 476, Clovis also made a clean sweep of the province of Gaul. He defeated the last governor of Rome, Syagrius, in 486 near the city of Soissons. Paris was chosen by Clovis as the center of the Frankish empire, which was now enlarged from the Rhine to the Loire. There was a seamless takeover of power in Northern Gaul: the Roman upper class was replaced by the Franks. Until then they were allies and mercenaries of the Romans and thanks to their experience in fighting and directing they were finally able to remove their decadent teachers and take over their province.

In the ensuing arguments with the far more powerful Goths, who were also courting for Roman silverware, the military significance of Clovis' baptism was revealed. The pretentious confession of the previously rather minor king and his victories over the Romans and Alamanni were a provocation and warning for the Visigoth king Allaric II and the Ostrogoth Theodoric the Great (493-526). The latter had fourteen generations of royal dignity, Clovis was just the third of the Merovingian clan. With the mass baptism in Reims, Clovis particularly injured the religious sensitivity of his opponents. The Goths were followers of so-called Arian Christianity. They viewed Jesus as a person with outstanding qualities but only as a person; in their eyes he was not the Son of God but the Son of man gifted by God. This stood in irreconcilable contradiction to the image of Christ of the popes and the Christian emperors in falling Rome. The latter had no difficulty recognizing Jesus as the birth son of God due to their history anchored in mythology - the city founder Romulus himself was the son of the god of war Mars. Under Emperor Constantine, at the Council of Nicaea (325), the "consubstantiality" of father and son was raised to dogma, and the Arian belief of the Goths was henceforth regarded by the Catholic Church as heresy. The baptism of Clovis was an expression of the anti-Arian dogma, it took place in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

The Catholic belief in the Son of God Jesus had spread in the Roman province of Gaul. The baptized Clovis was therefore very popular with the Gallo-Roman population, which in the south was subject to the rule of the Visigoths of different faiths. He thus had an easy time of the inevitable argument with Allarich. He could also rely on the help of the bishops in Gaul after his baptism. Under such favorable conditions he defeated Allaric II in 507 and conquered Aquitaine in southwest France. The mighty Allaric was killed and the Visigoths were pushed to the Iberian Peninsula. Clovis dedicated the victory to St. Martin of Tours (316-397), an atypical Roman legionnaire who shared his cloak with a freezing beggar and one of the most passionately revered personalities in Gaul. This only increased the reputation and power of the crafty Frankish king. Thanks to the wise creed, his empire expanded to the Pyrenees and later to the Mediterranean. After the death of Clovis in 511, his sons conquered parts of the Thuringian Empire and in 534 Burgundy. A new kingdom had arisen in Europe; two ethnic groups of different ethnological origins, the Celtic Gauls and the Germanic Franks, had united under Clovis to form a nation. In the 8th century, the Merovingians finally had to surrender their royal dignity to their now powerful house masters, the Carolingians: in 751 Pippin the Younger, the father of Charlemagne, became the Frankish king. "Clovis", changed to "Louis", remained a French royal name until the 19th century.

The event celebrated today as the "Baptism of France" was neither the beginning nor the end of the Christianization of Gaul. Martin von Tours had already zealously evangelized. The religious aura of St. Genoveva (422-502), the patron saint of Paris, was more important than that of Clovis. There were already numerous bishops in Gaul; Clovis could count on their support during his conquests. The rural regions of France, on the other hand, were not Christianized until the 10th and 11th centuries. However, Clovis established an important principle of the Middle Ages: the connection between the Catholic Church and royal power in Europe. Thanks to Clovis, the importance of the church as a state-supporting power became apparent as early as the 5th century. Only the revolution of 1789 put an end to this in France.

For Clovis and against the PopeThe official celebrations in September and the Pope's visit cannot keep up with the traditional revolutionary pomp of July 14th, but nevertheless some sensitive atheists see the foundations of the secular republic threatened. The reverence for the high round number of the approaching jubilee lets reconciling tones arise after the initial bagarren. The Sorbonne professor François-Georges Dreyfus wrote that the French republic could also turn to Clovis without fear of contact. His baptism was a founding element of the French nation and, moreover, the Christian faith is one of the republican fundamental values ​​anyway. So it is only natural that the event should be celebrated with dignity. The Catholic President Chirac did not wait for this permission, however, he received the Pope in September and already in April convened a commission to think about how France can best its origins and especially the "grand unificateur", the great unifier, could celebrate. In times of the highest unemployment and wild reforms in all areas of society, Clovis' anniversary serves as a state-wise evocation of the nation's durability. To honor Clovis, a 100 franc coin has already been minted, on which the monarch standing in the baptismal font and the republican slogan "Liberty, equality, brotherhood" are carved next to each other without hesitation. The sometimes European euphoric daily newspaper Le Monde warns that on the way to "European nirvana" national symbols must be cultivated. Clovis is not only the first Frankish king to be baptized but also the founder of the French nation - this is also the compromise formula here. In the absence of attractive contemporary staff, the right-wing extremist Jean-Marie Le Pen would also like to join the old baptized person, who was actually an immigrant in Gaul Front National give some historical shine and present Clovis as one of his own. He is already trying to do the same with the national saint Jeanne d’Arc, on whose special day he would like to coin May 1st.

Despite the general veneration of Clovis, the Pope must expect protests in France, which is 80% Catholic. Every month on the 22nd (on this day he comes to the champagne city of Reims in September) at 6 p.m., a banner with the inscription “Avortons la venue du Pape - Let's drive off the papal visit” is unfurled in front of the cathedral there. On the Internet, the "Réseau Voltaire" fights against AIDS and the visit of the Holy Father, for condoms and secularism. Freemasons and thinkers join the protests and see one of the most important achievements of the French Revolution, the separation of church and state, undermined by the papal visit. In this environment, affected city administrations have difficulty in getting funds for the papal reception. Loyal Catholics, on the other hand, do not hesitate to take one of the worst insults in France from the arsenal: a festival is spoiled in a petty way, the opponents of the Pope are nagging spoilers and do not know how to celebrate.


To make matters worse, the excitement about this year's celebrations is based on a mistake: not only is there a celebration in September instead of Christmas, but Clodwig's baptism probably did not take place until 498 or later. The traditions of Clovis's deeds and his legendary oath to Tolbiac come mainly from the historian Gregor von Tours, who died in 594. The "French Herodotus", however, summarized the events in five-year periods, only from the eighth century onwards did the Franks number the years individually from the birth of Christ. It is therefore likely to be impossible to determine the exact year of baptism. 496 is almost completely ruled out by historians. But it is certainly the centenary of the 1400th anniversary of the baptism. In 1896 doubts about the date did not yet exist, and the celebrations took place without hesitation.