Category Archives: French History

Today in Catholic History – The Chinon Parchment and the Knights Templar

On 20 August 1308, Pope Clement V secretly absolved the Knights Templar of the charges brought against them by the Inquisition.

The Knights Templar had been one of the largest of the medieval Catholic military orders and had acquired a great deal of political and financial influence in Europe. French King Philip IV, who owed the Templars a significant amount of money, used rumors about the secret rituals of the Templars to bring charges of heresy against them. He wanted to suppress the Templars in Europe and to obtain their wealth for himself. He brought a good deal of pressure against Pope Clement V to support his attacks against them. In 1307, many Templars in France were forced to give false confessions and burned at the stake.

The Chinon Parchment reveals that Pope Clement V gave the Grand Master of the Templars and other heads of the Templars absolution from the charges of heresy and permission to receive the sacraments. At this time, Clement still hoped to be able to save the Templars from the wrath of Philip IV. However, Philip threatened military action against Clement if he did not dissolve the Templars and at the Council of Vienne in 1312 issued the bull Vox in excelso – which abolished the Order of Templars on the grounds of the many scandalous accusations which had been brought against them. Though, Clement V also noted that his decision to abolish the Templars “[was] not without bitterness and sadness of heart”.

The Chinon Parchment


#242 – The Tarasque

A long time ago, the Tarasque was a terrible monster terrorizing the people of Nerluc. Today, the Tarasque is a popular figure for the people of Southern France and Northern Spain along with being friend to all children.

Video of the Tarasque festival [in French]

Photo of La Tarasca by Chosovi

The Tarasque and the Tarascaires

Post card with a child dressed as St. Martha leading the Tarasque

Be sure to check out the CUTH blog for more on the history of the Catholic Church

Also check out the other great podcasts at the Starquest Production Network

Send e-mail questions and comments to or leave voice mail at 1 740 936 4354

To listen, just click on the link below:

podcasticon#242 – The Tarasque

Today in Catholic History – Carcassonne falls to the Albigensian Crusade

On 15 August 1209, the city of Carcassone fell to the armies of Papal legate Arnaud Amaury.

The siege and capture of Carcassone was part of the Albigensian Crusade called by Pope Innocent III. The Albigensians or Cathars inhabited southern France. The Cathars did not accept the doctrine and teachings of the Catholic Church. They believed that there were two forces or gods – one that created the material world and was evil and the other who was pure spirit and was good. Since the good god was pure spirit, they denied the possibility of anything like the incarnation or the crucifixion – good spirit could not join evil matter. They also attacked what they called the corruption of the Catholic Church.

The Albingensians or Cathars did not take these names upon themselves. They were called Cathars [or Pure Ones] or Albigensians [for the French town of Albi where many of the Cathars lived] by others.

The spread of Albigensianism alarmed the Pope and he sent St. Dominic and his followers to call the Albigensians back to orthodox Catholicism. However, these missionary efforts did not meet with much success. After one of the Pope’s legates was murdered by a suspected Cathar, Pope Innocent III called for a Crusade against the Albigensians and promised their land to any who would wage war against them

Several towns were taken by the Crusaders. The Crusaders destroyed the town of B├ęziers, killing thousands of Cathar and Catholic alike.

While the town of Carcassone was strongly defended, it was full of refugees who had fled the Crusade. It fell on August 15. While the townspeople were not killed, they were forced to leave the town. One source says they were forced to leave the town naked, another says they were forced to leave “in their shifts and breeches”.

While the Crusade officially ended in 1229, the Catholic Church continued to act against the Cathars through the use of the Inquisition.

Today in Catholic History – The Battle of St. Quentin

On 10 August 1557, the combined forces of Spain and England defeated those of France at the Battle of St. Quentin. This was the first military victory of Philip II as King of Spain.

At this time, Philip II, also the Holy Roman Emperor, was allied with England as a result of his marriage to Queen Mary of England. Spain and France had been at war for some years over which country would have greater dominance over Europe.

The battle took place on the feast day of Saint Lawrence, so Philip constructed the palace El Escorial [now the Monastery of Saint Lawrence] as a memorial to the victory and in the saint’s honor. One tradition holds that palace was constructed in the shape of a gridiron which was the shape of the instrument of Lawrence’s martyrdom. Others argue that the palace was constructed in the shape of the Temple of Solomon. The palace was completed in 1584.

Spain’s victory did not have much of an effect on the kingdoms of France, Spain or England but it did enable the Duchy of Savoy to obtain its independence from France.

Today in Catholic History – The End of the Holy Roman Empire

On 6 August 1806, the Emperor Francis II abdicated ending the Holy Roman Empire which had existed from the time of Otto I in 962.

After Napoleon’s defeat of the Austrian armies at the battles of Ulm and Austerlitz in 1805, Francis II was forced to sign the Treaty of Pressburg on 26 December 1805. This treaty required the Francis to cede much of his German territory, including Bavaria and Wurtemberg, to Napoleon and his allies. Napoleon would use this territory to form his Confederation of the Rhine.

While Francis II held the title of Holy Roman Empire, this empire was really understood as the German Empire and as a later letter from Napoleon to the Diet of the Holy Roman Empire noted, now that Bavaria and Wurtemburg as well as other fourteen other German states belonged to the Confederation of the Rhine, it was inappropriate to speak of the continued existence of a unified Holy Roman Empire. The end of the Empire did not cause much of a stir in Europe, Goethe noted that news of it concerned him less than an argument involving his coachman. Indeed, the decline of the Holy Roman Empire had been taking place for quite some time.

With his abdication, Francis II Holy Roman Emperor became Francis I Emperor of Austria.

Today in Catholic History – Pepin the Short is Crowned by Pope Stephen II

On 28 July 754, Pope Stephen II anointed Pepin the Short as King of the Franks and Patricius Romanorum [Patrician of the Romans] in the Basilica of Saint Denis in Paris. Pope Stephen would also anoint Pepin’s sons Carloman and Charles – later known as Charlemagne.

This anointing ceremony would become part of the ceremony for the crowning of French Kings until the French Revolution in 1789.

The title of Patricius had originally belonged to the representative of the Byzantine Empire in the West. However, the Byzantines were no longer able to protect Rome from the invading barbarians, so Pope Stephen looked to the rising power of the Franks for help.

When Pepin pledged to protect the Pope from the power of the Lombards who were moving against Rome, a thankful Stephen traveled to France to anoint Pepin. In 756 Pepin would attack the Lombards and the land he captured from them would be given to Pope Stephen as the “Donation of Pepin” beginning the Papal States and the temporal authority of the papacy.

The crowning of Pepin would strengthen Pepin’s claim to the French throne against the rival Merovingians and begin a long history of close links between the French throne and the papacy. The crowning will also show the turn of Rome to the West and mark the growing split between East and West eventually leading to the schism of 1054.

Today in Catholic History – The Battle of Bouvines

On 27 July 1214, the forces of Otto IV of the Holy Roman Empire, King John I of of England, and Count Ferrand of Flanders were defeated by the forces of Philip II Augustus of France at the Battle of Bouvines.

Otto IV had come into conflict with Pope Innocent III over whether the right of conferring the crown of the Holy Roman Empire belonged to the pope alone. Innocent III claimed that the pope had the authority to decide whether a candidate chosen by the German princes to become Emperor was worthy of that dignity. While Innocent had initially supported Otto, they became opponents in 1210 after Otto decided to restore Imperial power in Italy. Innocent was greatly upset at this, believing that a Holy Roman Empire with the addition of Italian territories would be a threat to the Papal States. Innocent would excommunicate Otto and give his support to Frederick II Hohenstaufen as a rival claimant to the title of Holy Roman Emperor.

While the forces of John I and Otto IV [25,000] outnumbered those of Philip II [15,000], the French forces were more experienced – having fought in the Crusades. the three hour battle saw around 2,000 casualties and about 9,000 captured. Philip II was nearly killed in the battle after being de-horsed several times.

After the Battle of Bouvines, Otto IV would be forced to resign and Frederick II would become the new emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. John I would also be forced to sign the Magna Carta by his nobles.

Today in Catholic History – Henry IV becomes Catholic

On 25 July 1593, Henry IV of France converted to Catholicism.

Henry was raised as a member of the Huguenot or Calvinist faith in France at a time in which there was much conflict between Catholics and Protestants. Just six days after his wedding in Paris in 1572, the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre took place during which several thousand Protestants who had come to Paris for the wedding were killed. Henry saved his own life by converting to Catholicism, but would return to Protestantism after he escaped Paris in 1576.

In 1584, he became the heir to the French throne. While Henry was given aid by Elizabeth I in his quest to claim the throne from his Catholic opponents, Henry decided that adoption of Catholicism was the best way to gain the support of the French population. Legend purports him claiming, “Paris is well worth a Mass”. He would proclaim his conversion at the Church of Saint Denis.

While his conversion earned him the hostility of England, it did give him the support he needed to become king and he was crowned King of France on 27 February 1594. Still, he did not forget his Protestant roots and would later issue the Edict of Nantes which gave limited toleration to the Huguenots in France and bring an end to the French Wars of Religion.

Today in Catholic History – The Civil Constitution of the Clergy

On 12 July 1790, the French National Assembly passed the Civil Constitution of the Clergy which placed the Catholic Church in France under the authority of the French government.

The National Assembly, dominated by representatives who had been deeply inspired by the Enlightenment’s anti-Catholic views. Since France was struggling with a deep debt, they believed the best way both to weaken the power of the Catholic Church as well as to help solve the problem of the French debt was to restrict the power of the French Catholic church both politically and economically.

Therefore the Civil Constitution nationalized all Church property, bishops and priests were no longer appointed but instead were to be elected [moreover the electors did not have to be Catholic], no longer would the Pope have any voice in the election and appointment of bishops in France and all clergy were to sign an oath of loyalty to the Civil Constitution and the French Government.

Needless to say, Pope Pius VI vehemently opposed the Civil Constitution and warned the clergy that anyone who swore an oath to it would be excommunicated. The vast majority of bishops of France refused to agree to the Civil Constitution but the majority of priests did accept it. Thus a schism was created in the French Church between the those who swore the oath to the Civil Constitution and those who refused to do so. This schism would not be resolved until 1801 when Pius VII and Napoleon I agreed to a new relationship between the French Government and the Papacy.

The Civil Constitution of the Clergy
Pius VI’s response to the Civil Constitution

Today in Catholic History – Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges

On 7 July 1438, King Charles VII of France issued the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges. This document was part of the Concilliarist attempt to limit the power of the papacy by arguing that a General Council, to be held every ten years, would have the highest authority within the Catholic Church.

Additionally, the Pragmatic Sanction also required bishops to be elected rather than appointed by the papacy and limited the authority of the papacy in France.

The popes, themselves, were greatly opposed to the Pragmatic Sanction and attempted to get the kings of France to repeal it but only attaining success with a new concordat with France in 1516.

While the document held an important place for those in the Gallican movement which desired a Catholic Church more independent of the papacy, the text itself was used by the French kings to justify placing the Catholic Church under royal authority.

The Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges