Christianity is an important factor in the history of France. Normally, Charlemagne comes to mind as the first true hold that Christianity was able to take over the land that is now France. However, with a closer look at archaeological finds at Saint-Denis, a town near Paris, the rich history of Christianity in France becomes even richer as we examine how deep-rooted the relationship between the church and state was in France.
The first bishop of Paris, Denis, was buried in a necropolis located in the town. The town’s basilica is located over that necropolis. It is an example of the works of architecture put in place by rulers in the area from 400 AD until the separation of church and state was put into place. Aristocratic Francs had buried their dead in Saint-Denis since the fifth century, but the town’s first well-known royal family was the Carolingians, who increased their political power through an alliance with the church in Rome. They demonstrated their alliance through the coronation of Pepin the Short by Pope Stephen II that was held in the basilica at Saint-Denis in 754 AD.
The Carolingians did not only increase their own political power, but the political importance of Saint-Denis through the coronation. They began to pay closer attention to the town and to assert their influence on it. Pepin the Short hired an architect after his coronation and rebuilt the abbey-church. Tombs were enlarged and the basilica rebuilt in later years. This close relationship between the church in Rome and royalty increased the power of both the church and the royal family. Through the alliance, kings in France were able to grow in power and, eventually, to use the church to promote the divine right of kings so that they may have absolute power.
The town remained largely monastic from a long time and kings and abbots continued to add onto the basilica. The abbey in Saint-Denis was a royal abbey, which signifies the close ties between the church and the political rulers of the time as well as the political and religious importance of Saint-Denis. Pepin the Short was even educated in the monastic school, thus giving it a good reputation.
Unfortunately, the strong relationship between the church and state caused the monasteries to fall into disuse after the revolution. It is because of the deep-rooted association between the church and the aristocracy that many church properties and buildings were confiscated by the government and given away for other uses. However, even in this facet of Christianity’s history in France, it is evident that when joined together, the church and aristocracy represented an unprecedented power that caused the revolutionists to want to shut down both. It is a relationship that lasted over 1000 years. Now, that is history.