From My Tuscan Window

Chapter 22
You Gotta Be Kidding!
(8th to 9th Centuries A.D)

“You gotta be kidding!” I said to myself. “Are you going to tell me that Charlemagne hung out in Gioviano?” I continued, making fun of myself for even thinking that there was the remotest possibility that the first Holy Roman Emperor would have even been within 100 miles of our fair village.

When I was around eight years of age, my mother informed me that I was a direct lineal descendant of Charlemagne. What she didn’t tell me was that there are literally millions of people who are related to Charlemagne, who fathered no less than 18 children with four successive wives and at least five concubines, all of whom bred and multiplied for generation after generation until I, among millions, was either the many times great legitimate grandson of Charlemagne or the bastard grandson of Charlemagne. I would much rather think that I am the bastard grandson. I find that far more intriguing.

If Jesus and his wife Mary Magdalene had a child and that child was fecund, then it is possible that both you, the reader, and I are direct descendants of Jesus Christ himself, which is another intriguing thought. This will be explored in more depth should I ever finish writing my book, The Pope Must Die. And speaking of Popes, many of whom definitely passed beneath my Tuscan window over the centuries, it is certain that I am related to one or more, as they tended to beget many children who then begat many others and so on until this day. You can bet your bottom dollar that if I am not the bastard great grandson of Charlemagne to the 10th power, nor the legitimate inheritor of a Jesus gene, then it is certain that all children of the early Popes were little bastards.

I digress. Now back to Charlemagne whose father, Pepin was very anxious to conquer the Longobardi in Italy. Pepin made two forays into Italy, one in 755 and the other in 756 in an attempt to subdue these people whose Tuscian capital was in Lucca. When Pepin died, and his son, Charlemagne, inherited the throne, he continued in his father’s footsteps and laid siege to the Longobard capital of Pavia in 774. Upon conquering the city, Charlemagne became Rex Francorum et Longobardorum, King of the Franks and Lombards.

I just discovered by checking my map that Pavia is 108 miles north of Gioviano. Had Charlemagne stopped there, he never would have made it to within 100 miles of Gioviano as I had predicted before conducting my research into the matter. But Charlemagne did not stop at Pavia and return to his Palace in Aachen, never to return to Italy. Instead, Italy was still on his agenda.

Apparently the Longobardi who had controlled Tuscia (Tuscany) from their Capital in Lucca weren’t totally convinced to pledge allegiance to their new king, so back to Italy Charlemagne went in 776 to suppress these people once again. Apparently, it didn’t take much convincing for the Lucchesi to capitulate, just a few small skirmishes in the outskirts.

Europe was aware of the fact that Charlemagne and his men had chopped the heads off of 4,500 Saxons in one day alone, after which he went to worship the baby Jesus. Killing in the name of Jesus was very fashionable in those days just as it is today. The Giovianini were very proud of their heads and relished the idea of keeping them attached to their living bodies.

Charlemagne made Lucca the Frankish capital of Tuscia, and then he captured and made prisoner, Peredoro, the Bishop of Lucca. Afterwards, he continued on down to Rome to celebrate Easter with the Pope. When he returned to Aachen, he took with him the Bishop of Pisa as well. The Longobardi had ruled Lombardy and Tuscany for 206 years, from 568 until 774, and now it was the Franks turn to rule over this beautiful land, which included Gioviano of course. Charlemagne’s next visit to Italy took place in 787. Altogether he made at least four trips to the Italian peninsula, and possibly more. It is known that he went to Ravenna on at least three occasions to loot the city of many ancient artifacts with the permission of the Pope.

Because of a tactical series of arranged marriages between the Franks and the Longobardi, the transition to the Carolingian era was relatively peaceful. Charlemagne even appointed the Lombard, Wicheramo, as Duke, to rule Tuscany from the now Frankish capital in Lucca in 800. Charlemagne was no doubt passing through Lucca once again to worship the Volto Santo, the amazing figure of Christ that mysteriously landed off the coast near Luni in 742 and was taken to Lucca, where it can be seen to this very day in the Cathedral of San Martino.

Charlemagne was on his way to Rome to be crowned by the Pope as the first Holy Roman Emperor, an event that occurred on Christmas Day, 800 A.D. On his return he visited Ravenna to both admire the ancient shrines of Christendom, including the sixth-century church of Sant’Apollinare in Classe, where all four of our children were baptized. It is indeed fortunate that he didn’t decide to chip off the great mosaic of Christ and haul it off to Aachen with the other looted items

Now back to the question that precipitated this discourse. Did Charlemagne pass beneath my Tuscan window? If Charlemagne had never come here, your eyeballs would neither be glazed over trying to get through this chapter if you hate my history sections, or bright with enthusiasm, curiosity, and eager anticipation if you are a history nut. At this point I hope that you are the latter and enjoy piercing the veil that shrouds so much of the transition from the Dark Ages to the Middle Ages.

In the latter days of the eighth century there were very few viable routes from Aachen through Pavia and Lucca and on to Rome. There was the Via Aurelia that skirted the coast, which at that time was dangerous and malarial. There was also the Via Clodia, which proceeded from Lucca northward up the Serchio Valley to Castelnuovo di Garfagnana. At Castelnuovo, the traveler could either turn right to go up into the Apennines to San Pellegrino in Alpe and beyond toward Modena, or take the left fork that led to Aulla and up to Monte Bardone and on toward Pavia.

There were alternative routes that were associated with what became known as the Via Francigena, or road of the Franks, the major pilgrims’ road from northern Europe to Rome and on to the Holy Land. One route passed through the Roman city of Luni on the Via Aurelia, which was in decline after the sixth century as the areas around Lago di Massaciuccoli were infested with mosquitoes carrying malaria, and many ports such as Pisa had been silted in due to deforestation by the Romans.

It seems more than logical that Charlemagne, on one or more of his trips to Lucca and on to Rome would have chosen the Via Clodia as his road to Rome for any of four reasons. First, it would have been safer from a health standpoint. Second, it would have meant much cooler traveling weather, especially in the warmer months. Third, he would have been able to visit the mummy of San Pellegrino, the son of a 7th-century Scottish King because Charlemagne was obsessed about anything Christian. Fourth, and most importantly, he would have wanted his presence known throughout the Garfagnana and the Valley of the Serchio in order to maintain the submission and allegiance of the Longobardi who had long controlled the territory.

Now, for these reasons, I can say with all seriousness, “I am 99% certain that Charlemagne did indeed pass beneath my Tuscan window on at least one of his trips to Lucca.” Could it also be, considering his apparently out-of-control libido, that he stopped overnight to woo one of the beautiful fanciulline (young girls) of Gioviano? If that were true, I might be related by blood to not only Charlemagne but to an ancestor of the current residents of our fair village. Sometimes, gazing from the Palazzo loggias or from my bedroom window, I feel as if I have always been here in one form or another from the beginning of time. Wine sometimes has that effect on me if consumed in large enough quantities.

Updated December 21, 2009
Copyright 2005-2009 George H. Russell
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