Louis the Pious (814-840)
Second Issue - after 818-9

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A Visitor's Guide to Carolingian France
I: Paris and the North

Home page (and contact info) Carolingian coins Visitor's Guide Home Page (DW)


Notre Dame de la Basse is a Carolingian church, dated to the end of the 10th C. It was close to another church, St. Pierre, which were both substantially destroyed to build the Gothic cathedral that now occupies the site. Only three of the nave's bays remain extant, and they're attached to the existing church. The image (left) is from Conant (p53). In 2004 Notre Dame de la Basse was not accessible, due to what were we told was structural weakness. When it is accessible, entry is from inside the cathedral. The image to the right shows the close proximity of the two buildings.

Charles the Bald  (840-877)

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AR denier, 19mm, 1.67g. Obv: +CAROLVS REX FRAN, central cross. Rev: +BELGEVACVS CIVI, central KRLS monogram, with 'S' at the bottom. This coin is additionally unusual in that the obverse legend ends in 'FRAN.' Mint is Beauvais. R1293 (solely as CB); MG 1375 (solely as CS); Dep 9-F1, 136 (26 examples as CB linked to both MG 784 (CB) and 1375-6 (CS)). MEC 909 as an anomalous CB coin, noting 'these are the earliest Carolingian coins from Beauvais' which hoard evidence places with contemporary CB class 2 coins.


If you are here and hungry for Carolingian detail, there are no ruins but the museum has Carolingian pottery. The abbey church that was here dated from the 9th century. Corbie is 15 - 20 KM due E of Amiens, between the Somme and the Ancre.

Abbey de Jouarre

This is an interesting site in that the abbey church is separate from the location of the crypt. If you follow the map, you see the location of the church and following the dotted lines takes you to the stand alone crypt. The crypt is available only by guided visits, which meet at la mairie (mayor's office and tourist center) to the right of the abbey church.

The abbey was founded about 635 by Adon on private family lands. Adon was an officer in the court of Dagobert. The abbey was initally established as an all male community, but soon a companion group of nuns established their own community here. The male component of this faded by the start of the 8th C and only the women's group remained. The crypt served as a family burial site for the founders.

If you look at the third image, a schematic of the crypt, you can get a sense of the general layout. The abbey is entered from the left of the first image. Most of the tombs are set up along the opposite wall, and in the adjoining crypt to the right as you enter. The second image shows a detail of the 7th C stone work that is one wall of the crypt.

The abbey flourished during the 7th century. There is no historical record of what what occurring during the entire 8th C, into the beginning of the 9th. Two possibilities are that the abbey suffered as a result of conflict between the early Carolingians and the founding family, and that some of the property of the abbey was seized for private purposes. Things picked up in the mid 9th C when the relics of St. Potentien were transferred to Jouarre and the abbey became a pilgrimage site.

Louis II (877-79) and Louis III (879-82)

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AR denier, 21mm, 1.4 gr. Obv: +MISERICORDIA DI REX, central Lvdovicvs monogram. Rev: +TVRONES CIVITAS, central cross. Mint is Tours. R1608 as Louis II or III; MG 1255 as Louis II or III; Dep 13 F1, 1041v (cites DEI, 121 examples) as Louis III; Prou 453-58 as Louis II or III; MEC 967 as L III; Nouchy Louis III #4.

Louis the Stammerer visited the abbey in 872, on a journey to Compeigne. In the winter of 887-888 the abbey was sacked by Normans. At this time Eudes was defending Paris from this invasion and called on Charles III for help. Charles' response was to offer the Normans the chance to portage around Paris and winter in (ie., sack) Burgundy. Jouarre was a victim of this policy. Jouarre became a fortified town at this time. Jouarre flourished in the 12th C, suffered during the 100 Years War, revived, suffered again during the Revolution, and after a struggle, recovered again in the 20th C. This is a working abbey today.

Given it's long and troubled history, it is remarkable that the tombs and art works have survived as well as they have. The first picture below is a bas relief at the head of the tomb of bishop Agilbert (7th C). The second picture is of the cenotaphe de Ste. Theodechilde, the first abbess (7th C).

 Jouarre is E of Paris 67 km. It is about 20 km E of Meaux heading out the D407. In Fert sous Jouarre head south on the D402 about 3 km.


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Charles the Bald AR denier, 20mm, 1.71gr. Obv: +GRATIA D-I REX, central KRLS monogram. Rev: +LVGAVNI CLAVATI, central cross. Laon mint. R 1364; MG 794; Dep 11 A1, 482 (143 examples); not in Bel; Nouchy CB139.


Laon doesn't have any clear Carolingian ruins I can find but there is one possibility. The Roland Gate, pictured on the left, might have Carolingian foundations, buried in the later gate. Nevertheless, it is an important city in Carolingian history. Charles the Bald lived here, as did Charles III, Louis IV, Lothar and Louis V. The city is perched on a height overlooking the surrounding countryside. The picture on the right shows the church and some of the outer walls.  The local museum, located near the Templar's chapel, has Merovingian and Gallo-Roman artifacts. Perhaps also Carolingian? Laon is 140 km NE of Paris on the N2, NE of Soissons and NW of Reims.

Charles the Bald (840-877)

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AR denier, 21mm, 1.73gr. Obv: +CARLVS REX FR, central cross. Rev: +PARISII CIVITAS, central temple. R1313; MG 827; Dep 9,B-1, 762 (24 examples).

The Louvre should be on every visitor's list of key stops in Paris. Most people head to the paintings in the Sully wing. Across from it, in the Richelieu wing, is a wonderful room with Carolingian decorative art, including a small sculpture of Charlemagne (or Charles the Bald) mounted on a horse.

The Bibliotheque Nationale has a significant manuscript collection, as well as some decorative arts, from the Carolingian era. Worth a visit. Both images are from Beckwith. The colored image (Beckwith image 53) is a scene of the Ascension from the Sacramentory of Bishop Drogo, Metz (826-855). The B&W image (image 47) is King David playing the harp and is from either Count Vivian of Tours Bible or the first Bible of Charles the Bald. It dates from 843-851.

The Hotel des Monnaies is located on the Left Bank, just across from the downstream end of Ile de la Cite. It fronts the Seine. This is a museum of  French monetary history and has an extensive collection of Carolingian coins on display. It also has a shop with related books. Worth a visit.
  Sens: Saint-Pierre-le-Vif

The church has a crypt dating from the mid 9th C. (Conant 146). I'm trying to find out if it is still there. There is no mention of it in Michelin Burgundy/Jura.

St. Denis
The church is the historic burial place for kings of France. It was largely trashed during the Revolution but the crypt is definitely worth a visit. It is a great example of how churches were built on each other and recent archeology on the crypt has revealed the earliest levels. There is a Carolingian crypt that is fairly extensive and available for viewing but not walking about. There is also a monument to all the French kings going back to Merovingian times. The picture top left is St. Denis today. Next to it is a sketch of the crypt. The Carolingian elements are in the small section just above the word 'crypt.'


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Charles the Bald AR denier, 20mm, 1.60gr. Obv: +CRATIA D-I REX, central KRLS monogram. Rev: +SCI DIONVSII M, central cross. St. Denis mint. R1483; MG 843; Dep 11 A1, 896 (165 examples); MEC 897; Bel 156/7v; Nouchy CB199; Pr 344.

The image to the left of the coin is part of the 12th C crypt. The image to the left here is looking into the oldest section of the crypt, into the Carolingian and Merovingian levels. St. Denis is a short way out of Paris and accessible by metro and RER.

Soissons Abbey of St. Medard

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Charles the Bald AR denier, 20mm, 1.63gr. Obv: +CRATIA DI REX, central KRLS monogram. Rev: SVESSIO CIVITAS, central cross. Soissons mint. R1435; MG 808; Dep 11 - A1, 937 (107 examples); Bel 162; Nouchy CB210; Prou 278. In 841 Charles the Bald attended the dedication of the crypt of St. Medard in Soissons. This coin was in my pocket when I visited the crypt in 2001, becoming a nice example of physio-temporal asynchroneity.

The abbey of St. Medard is less than an abbey ruin today. There is a crypt that is not open to the public but easily accessible. In fact, in 2001 it looked like a play area for neighborhood children. It is in a residential area on the outskirts of Soissons, about ½ hour walk from the center of town. The site is unmarked but the crypt is impressive. Charles the Bald was here for its dedication in 840/41. There is early paint on the walls and when we were there we had it to ourselves, which allowed a feel for what it might have been like. The top picture shows the outside of the site, essentially the half buried crypt of the old abbey church. Above left is longer view along the axis of the crypt, with typical Carolingian barrel vaulting. The right picture is a small seat or statuary niche. Perhaps Charles the Bald sat here in 840. :) Below is a later coin of the abbots of Medard.

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Abbey of St. Medard AR denier, 20mm, 1.27gr. Obv: SCI MEDARDI CAPAT, central head right. Rev: Legend unclear, central design. Mint is Medard in Soissons. R1062v (10th and 11th C); Boud 1900v (CAPVT); PdA 6513. He writes a long critique of another cataloguer who said this was a modern imitation.

Soissons is 100 km NE of Paris. Take the N2 which branches off the toll road to Lille. There is also train service from Paris. Take an taxi to the abbey and walk back to town.