Charlemagne as Pilgrim? Requests for Relics in the Descriptio Qualiter and the Voyage of Charlemagne

  • Anne Latowsky
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


The real Charlemagne never traveled to the East, yet by the tenth century the tradition of his journey to Jerusalem and Constantinople had already taken shape.1 In the coming centuries, this fictitious addition to the biography of the Carolingian king would appear in prose, verse, and image, and eventually comprise a major chapter in such official Lives of Charlemagne as his 1165 canonization Vita and the Grandes Chroniques de France.2 Two of the most significant versions of the voyage east are the Latin prose Descriptio qualiter,3 a late eleventh-century document linked to Saint-Denis, and the late twelfth-century vernacular poem, the Voyage de Charlemagne à Jerusalem et à Constantinople (hereafter Voyage).4 Both of these works are, in essence, translatio narratives that recount, albeit quite distinctly, Charlemagne’s acquisition of relics of the Passion in the east. The Descriptio qualiter is an ecclesiastical document designed to authenticate relics held at Saint-Denis, whereas the Voyage is a humorous poetic send-up of the pious pretensions of the Descriptio qualiter and the culture that promoted it.


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© Matthew Gabriele and Jace Stuckey 2008

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  • Anne Latowsky

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