WOYM: The link between natural sources and health has ancient roots | Story

Ray Cox Special at the Roanoke Times

The water of love at the bottom of the earth

But there is no water here to find

Water has often flowed through the stories found here.

More recently, the subject has surfaced in a series of reviews of the significance and lost culture surrounding the long-extinct (mostly) resorts once associated with the region’s mineral springs.

Part of this untold story was the sources’ long history as health and recreation centers dating back to ancient times. One of these very important geysers was located in what is today the city of Aachen in western Germany.

The location, known to the French as Aix-La-Chapelle, was popular for its thermal springs since the days of the bath-loving Romans, when Gaul (France) was part of their Empire.

Aix-La-Chappelle later reached imminence when it was chosen by Charles the Great as its seat as King of the Franks and ultimately Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Charlemagne, as Charles is known to English speakers, chose the location for various reasons which we will return to.

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Let us first recall that by ambition and force of arms, Charlemagne (748-814) united most of what is today Western Europe – France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, parts of Switzerland, Spain and Italy included – under one banner. Reigning as a Christian monarch, he ensured that the religion spread widely in once reluctant regions which had known only paganism.

Say it for him too, unlike the heartbroken lover in Dire Straits’ metaphor, he always knew where to find water let alone love.

Although himself almost illiterate early in his life, Charlemagne as king championed learning, the arts, sciences and music. He was the most devoted father to the many children he had fathered with three wives and an assortment of concubines, loving his beautiful daughters so much that he forbade them to marry, but was tender-hearted towards their illicit romances and their illegitimate offspring. The children accompanied him everywhere, even in the countryside, the boys by his side.

King Einhard’s biographer, who knew him as a friend and a benefactor, tells us that Charlemagne was “by nature the most ready to make friendships.” Another historian, the monk of St. Gallen Notker Balbulus (“the stutterer”) called Charlemagne “the sweetest of men”.

The good humor of the king had its limits, especially when it came to the North Saxons, a Germanic people described by Einhard as “a fierce people, given to the worship of demons, and hostile to our religion” who also “did not consider not it is dishonorable to transgress and violate all laws, human and divine.

Reluctant converted Christians and frequent invaders of these Saxons (the war lasted 33 years), the exasperated king ordered after an attack that all barbarian boys and children be “measured with a sword” and those taller than the weapon should be ” shortcuts of a head ”, in the words of the Stutterer.

On other occasions, when barbarians refused Christian conversion, the king acted quickly. Einhard wrote that in such dealings with the pagans, the king “never allowed their unfaithful behavior to go unpunished”. Charlemagne has already had 4,500 stubbornly unreliable pagans rounded up and beheaded in a day’s work.

Citing contemporary primary documents, Norman P. Zacour wrote that following this exercise in law and royal order “the king went to a winter camp… and celebrated Christmas and Easter there as usual. “.

Although Charlemagne’s armies were almost constantly at war with various Danes, Basques, Moors, Lombards, Visigoths and Huns and the king often led these missions, he knew how to have fun in peace.

Which brings us back to the sources and the choice of Charlemagne of Aix-La-Chapelle as the seat of his empire and the site of his greatest public work, the magnificent cathedral designed by the architect Eudes de Metz and completed in 798.

The king was athletic, a rider and a sportsman who was fond of hunting. Standing taller than most of his contemporaries, he was strong, with fair hair, shining eyes and a thick neck with a face that Einhard described as “laughing and happy.” The king had a kind of guts on him but it was not particularly unattractive because it was proportional to the rest of his body. The royal nose was on the long side.

Despite being a predominantly temperate man who scorned drunkenness, the king argued and ultimately ignored the doctors who implored him to forgo roast meats because boiled was a healthier preparation. At the camp, the king continues to insist on being served directly on the spit.

In addition to the rigors of hunting and vigorous warfare, the king exercised in the pool and “often practiced swimming, in which he was so skilled that no one could surpass him; and it was from there that he built his palace at Aixla-Chapelle, and lived there constantly during his last years until his death.

In the palace complex, the springs and swimming pool were part of a 50-acre lot dedicated to their use. Charlemagne “would invite not only his sons to his bath, but his nobles and friends, and from time to time a troop of his retinue or bodyguard, so that a hundred or more people sometimes bathed with him”.

Scholars have long wondered whether the king realized he was going to be crowned the first Holy Roman Emperor when he was summoned by Pope Leo III to Rome. The Pope was in trouble locally after being accused of various immoralities and at one point his enemies gouged out his eyes and cut off his tongue. The holy man asked the king for protection.

The king spent this winter in Rome “to put order in the affairs of the Church, which were in great confusion”. When the Blind Lion crowned him emperor, Einhard indicated that the king was initially reluctant to participate in the ceremony, his motives being unexplained. There was nothing to explain as to the significance of the date of this event.

It was Christmas Day 800.

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