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Charlemagne’s Denarius, Constantine’s Edicule, and the Vera Crux
John F. Moffitt (New Mexico State University, Emeritus)
Quidditas: Journal of the Rocky Mountain Medieval and Renaissance Association, Volume 28 (2007)
In 806 a much-discussed silver denarius bearing the likeness of Charlemagne was issued. This is called the “temple-type” coin due to the (as yet unidentified) architectural structure illustrated on the reverse side, and which is explicitly labeled as representing the epitome of “Christian Religion.” By examining different kinds of archeological and documentary evidence, this building can now be finally identified. It is, in short, the “Edicule” built by Constantine the Great in 326 to cover the Tomb of Christ (or Holy Sepulcher) in Jerusalem.
Both Europeans and Americans (their colonial cousins) owe a great deal to the Emperor Charles the Great, Carolus Magnus, and now most commonly known by his later appellation as “Charlemagne.” Although already familiar to medievalists, the basic chronological parameters for my arguments are as follows. Born in 742, the son of King Pepin the Short (ca. 714-768), Charlemagne ruled as king of the Franks after 768, then sharing the kingdom with his brother Carloman, until the death of the latter in 771; he later additionally ruled as Emperor of the West, from 800 until his death in 814. Three centuries later, he became himself a “saint,” and literally so: Charlemagne was, in fact, canonized in 1165, and his sainted status remained effective for centuries, that is, until he was reduced to beatus, “blessed,” by Pope Benedict XIV (1740-58). Due to Charles’s driving will, his vast empire came to stretch from the North Sea to the Mediterranean, and from the Atlantic to the River Oder, so prefiguring the present-day European Union. His capital, the seat of his pan-European power, was placed in what is now northwestern Germany, at Aquae Grani, now known as Aachen. After the death of its founder, in 814, the Carolingian dynasty survived until 987, when Hugh Capet, the ancestor of a long line of famous French kings, succeeded, and the Capetians and their followers always rested their authority upon the now-legendary Charlemagne.