Charlemagne in Hell

Chapter 16
Charlemagne in Hell

Richard Kay

Ten years after the death of Charlemagne, a monk named Wetti had a vision in which he saw the late emperor standing in hell, “and his genitals were being mutilated by the gnawing of a certain animal.”1 At about the same time, two other visionaries also encountered Charles in the afterworld, and although both agreed that prayer could save the emperor, neither report suggests why the emperor did not go directly to heaven.2 Naturally, all three accounts have provoked scholarly investigation, but to my knowledge no one thus far has inquired why (and how) an obscure monk at Reichenau came to be obsessed with Charles’s sex life.3 To answer this question, we must first review the circumstances and sources for Wetti’s vision; from these materials we can next attempt to reconstruct what Wetti himself reported about his vision; and then we will be well placed to inquire why Wetti had his amazing vision of Charlemagne in hell.4

The Sources

Wetti’s vision is attested by two extant sources, both in Latin: first, a prose account written soon after the event, late in 824 or early 825, by Heito, the emeritus abbot of Reichenau; and second, a poem by Walafrid Strabo, completed at Reichenau5 three years later, in 827, when he was just 18.6 Both authors were close to the events they narrate, but most of Walafrid’s account is derived from Heito’s, to which he occasionally adds new and sometimes important details.7 Further details are supplied in a preface and table of contents to Heito’s account, most probably composed by Walafrid himself.8 The reliability of these accounts can best be established by reviewing briefly the circumstances of Wetti’s vision.

Wetti was a learned monk of Reichenau. On Saturday, October 30, 824 he and several other monks drank a “customary” potion for their health,9 which caused him to vomit for two days; he was able to eat again on Monday, however, but on Tuesday his nausea returned at the evening meal, so he was bedded down alone in a warm room next to the refectory, where he remained for the remainder of his short life.10 While the rest of the monks finished their Tuesday dinner, Wetti experienced a brief, horrifying vision that came to him as he dozed between sleep and waking. The devil appeared, disguised as a monk, and announced that he would torture Wetti when he died the next day; then a horde of demons filled the room and threatened him until they were driven off by good monks, one of whom declared that the time had not yet arrived when Wetti would get what he deserved. Then his guardian angel appeared, dressed in purple,11 and Wetti assured him that he was prepared to accept God’s judgment but suggested that he, like all humankind, needed special help from the saints and angels “because we are more fragile (fragilliores) in these times.”12 With this thought—that sins of the flesh were now especially prevalent—the first vision ended abruptly.

When he woke up, Wetti found that Tatto, the prior of Reichenau, and another monk were now with him, and he told them what had happened. He was afraid that he would be damned, so they prayed for his (unstated) sins, sang psalms, and finally, at his request, read a passage from Gregory the Great’s Dialogues.13 Then, at Wetti’s suggestion, they all lay down to rest.14 When Wetti had fallen into a deep sleep, the same angel returned to him (dressed now in white) and escorted him first to hell and then to heaven.15 After this tour, the angel told Wetti that if he wanted to save his soul, he must publicly declare what sins he had seen punished, including monastic laxity and illicit lay sexuality, but especially sodomy.16 Therefore, when Wetti awoke shortly before dawn on Wednesday, he was frantic to make his report. First he told it all to the prior and his companion; then he wanted the abbot to come, but since this was not immediately possible, he insisted that it all be written down on wax tablets, lest he be unable to communicate it before he died. Finally Abbot Erlebald did come and heard the whole story from Wetti in the presence of at least three other trustworthy witnesses, including Heito the ex-abbot, Tatto the prior, and Thegmar, a senior monk.17 The whole of the next day, Thursday, November 4, Wetti spent alone with Walafrid Strabo, to whom he dictated 15 farewell letters to friends; when night came, he died, as had been foretold to him.

Consequently we can be sure that Wetti’s visions were well attested, first by his oral reports to Tatto and his associate, which they immediately wrote down, and then by his retelling of the story to the abbot and other witnesses, including Heito. Moreover, Walafrid himself had an extended opportunity to ascertain further details. Therefore the content of Wetti’s dreams was attested well beyond the expectations of modern psychoanalysts, for it was not only recorded promptly and exactly but also could be controlled by the recollections of six or seven witnesses, at least four of whom were experienced and responsible observers. Although, as we shall see, Heito did suppress some details, still he insisted that what he did record was an unembellished account of Wetti’s reports.18 Thus for our purpose, Heito’s Visio Wettini, especially when corroborated by Walafrid, is as trustworthy a source as a historian could hope to find.

The Purpose of Wetti’s Vision

Wetti’s state of mind between his first and second visions largely explains why he saw what he did. Having heard that he was about to die and go to hell, he was desperate to resume the interrupted conversation with his guardian angel in order to learn how he might be saved. The second vision provided him with the answer he sought, proceeding in three stages: first he was shown the torments inflicted on certain sinners; next he was taken to heaven, where he learned that God would pardon him if he corrected the evil he had done by his life and teaching; and finally his guardian angel told him in practical terms precisely what he had to do. The dream begins where the first vision left off, with the sins of humanity that are a current problem because, as Wetti had protested, “we are more fragile in these times.”19 Nothing in the first stage suggests that the sins punished in hell are Wetti’s own, and indeed Wetti’s personal faults are never explicitly stated.

Nonetheless, the general nature of Wetti’s sins is made apparent in the second stage, when God, speaking from his throne in response to three sets of blessed intercessors, makes the monk’s offenses progressively clearer by describing them three times. The interceding sainted monks, including Benedict of Aniane,20 are simply told that Wetti “should have given edifying examples to others but did not.” The martyrs at first are told that he misled others “by teaching badly (male) by the example of his depravity,”21 but when God explains how Wetti can make amends, it becomes apparent that he has been teaching his brothers at Reichenau by words as well as deeds.22 Finally, the virgins interceding for Wetti are told that there is hope for him “If he teaches good things and provides good examples and corrects those to whom he offered bad examples ….”23

Wetti the dreamer was evidently concerned that he had offended not only in his conduct as a monk but also in his capacity as a teacher. As it happens, his teaching career at Reichenau is well attested. Walafrid introduces him with the following sketch:

Wetti was a teacher of great renown, instructed in the seven arts in the manner of our ancestors. Fortune granted that he be charged with those scholarly pursuits which it is usual for fresh-faced and frivolous youth to enjoy. But, nevertheless, so far as we can judge from the outside, he humbly conducted his life with unstained morals. Men’s praises of him reached many ears.24

Indeed, Wetti was certainly Walafrid’s own teacher, his “wise master (sapiente magistro),” whose death left him without a mentor.25 This relationship explains why, during Wetti’s last day, Walafrid served as his amanuensis and companion.26 But Wetti was more than just a teacher; he was Reichenau’s outstanding intellectual, as the preface to the prose vision makes clear:

Here [at Reichenau], Wetti humbly led the true monastic life, as was made clear in the end. By his erudition, he made progress in the monastic life; moreover, in his teaching efforts, he displayed a grasp of theology and the liberal arts that surpassed that of any one else living in the neighborhood at that time.27

Wetti’s stature as a scholar is all the more impressive because this was Reichenau’s golden age as a center of learning.28 His reputation and authority as a teacher explains why the judgments God delivered in the vision insisted that Wetti must correct his false doctrina. Since Wetti was the monastery’s outstanding intellectual, his opinions had the power to lead (or mislead) not only his students but all of the monks.

But what were these false doctrines? The voice from God’s throne had declared only that Wetti must correct his life and doctrine; to discover in what specific ways he had offended, we must listen to Wetti’s guardian angel, who spelled it out for him. This final stage of Wetti’s vision consists of three well-defined sections, which we shall consider in turn.

1. Putting first things first, the angel begins by treating the sexual offenses of mankind: he “began to explain in how much evil filth humanity was groveling.”29 Nothing offends God more, he declares, than “sins contrary to nature,” which he equates with the sin of Sodom (scelus sodomiticum). This sin, the angel explains, is not only committed by males but also by married couples.30 Having explained this somewhat diffusely, the angel gets to the point:

“So you are ordered by divine authority to proclaim this publicly. Also (etiam) do not hide how much danger there is in the luxury of concubines. In the end, those polluted in this obscenity will never deserve entry to the kingdom of heaven.” Wetti said to him, “Lord, I do not dare to pronounce this in public, since I do not consider nor feel myself suited to this on account of the baseness of my person (propter vilitatem meae personae).” The angel responded with great indignation, “What God wishes and commands you to do, through me, do not dare put off.”31

From this it is clear that one purpose of Wetti’s vision was to make known to mankind that certain sexual acts are especially offensive to God. One of these sins surely is concubinage, but it is distinguished from sodomy by being the subject of a second and separate command, introduced by etiam. Strictly speaking, what these two sins have in common is that both are instances of the “evil filth [in which] humanity was groveling,” which Heito states was the general subject of this discourse, but concubinage is nonetheless associated with sodomy for rhetorical effect. As James Brundage has remarked, Carolingian authors “assumed that linking other sexual aberrations to homosexual practices would impress their readers forcefully with the wickedness of the particular sin they were denouncing.”32 To what extent these revelations were unprecedented novelties remains to be seen, but there can be no doubt that a mission was being imposed on Wetti to report what had been revealed to him by the angel. The sins in question do not seem to be Wetti’s own, because there are few opportunities in the monastic life for concubinage or marital sodomy.

2. Having charged Wetti to reveal the dangers of concubinage and sodomy, the angel turned to a new topic: “After this he began to warn him in a different way for his conversion (de emendatione sua).”33 Wetti has displeased his guardian angel by “selling his religious dedication (consecrationem suam) to a harlot,” as Samson did to Delilah.34 Just in what ways Wetti had been less than a perfect monk is not stated expressly, perhaps because his confession was regarded by Heito as confidential, but their general nature can be inferred from the offenses against which Wetti is told to warn other monks, since we know that to be forgiven he not only had to mend his ways but also to correct those to whom he had been giving a bad example.35 Monks should be admonished, the angel explains in a long, rambling list, that the spiritual life is endangered by things of this world. Specifically, the angel warns against avarice, gluttony, fancy dress, and pride; moreover, he recommends that monks should only drink water, “since it is natural.” Monks, especially in Gaul and western Germany, should be told that their salvation depends on leading the life of apostolic poverty and humility in imitation of Christ.36 In response to this tirade, Wetti asks, “Where is the rule of the apostolic life preserved uncorrupted?” “In regions across the sea,” is the angel’s reply.37

3. After Wetti’s guardian angel had assigned him the twofold task of denouncing the worst sexual sins and of warning monks to live the apostolic life, he went on to add “almost innumerable other things,” which Wetti apparently reported in detail, although Heito omitted most of them for the sake of brevity.38 The angel began by condemning sodomy again; then he went on to name the other vices one by one, although he kept coming back to sodomy until he had mentioned it “five times or more.”39 To this summary Heito appended three other highlights excerpted from the angel’s final discourse: the plague of 823 was both a punishment of sin and a sign that the end of the world was at hand; religious services should be conducted diligently without boredom or negligence; and count Gerold, a great benefactor of Reichenau, where he was buried, was usefully revealed to be among the martyrs in heaven.40 In sum, the third and last of Wetti’s vision, or at least Heito’s account of it, lacked the cohesion of the first two parts. Except for the repeated condemnations of sodomy, it was unrelated to Wetti’s mission and need not concern us further.

Consequently, the first two parts present a coherent whole, the purpose of which was to prepare Wetti for two distinct missions: one to make public God’s displeasure with sodomy and concubinage, the other to admonish monks to live the apostolic life. Together they fulfill the object of Wetti’s dream, which was to show him how he might be saved by correcting his poor conduct and false teaching. We now have established the key principle that will enable us to understand in retrospect why Wetti saw certain sins and sinners punished in hell.

Wetti’s Vision of Hell

Wetti’s vision of hell is remarkably short, taking up only two of seven pages of Heito’s prose version in Dümmler’s edition. Yet, coming as it does at the beginning of Wetti’s dream, it reflects most vividly his subconscious concerns, which, as we have seen, were focused on his sins as a teacher and monk. The vision came to him as a revelation in the most literal sense, showing him that certain of his opinions, about which he must have had some doubt, had in fact been wrong. Sex and monastic laxity, the two subjects of his mission, are the predominant, familiar themes, but what Wetti learned about them was surprisingly new, and thus sufficient to cause him to reform his teaching and conduct. The novelties that were revealed to Wetti in hell can best be identified by first considering in turn each of the five scenes he reported.

a. The first scene is a river of fire in and around which “an innumerable multitude of the damned” were punished, including many of Wetti’s unnamed acquaintances. Only one group is described and explained:

He saw among these many clerics,41 both in major and minor orders, who were standing in clinging fire, tied in back with straps. The women defiled by them were tied in a similar way in front of them. They were immersed in the same fire up to their genitals. The angel said that every other day42 without fail they were beaten on their genitals with rods. Wetti said that he knew many of them.43

Although their sin is not named, it may best be termed clerical concubinage.44 This is evident because the males are all clerics who are paired with their female partners, and lest there be any doubt that the sin was sexual intercourse, their genitalia are punished in accordance with the principle that the punishment should fit the crime.45

It was no news to Wetti that clerical concubinage was a sin;46 instead, the novelty is revealed in his escort’s commentary. The occasion of the sin, he explains, is high living at the Carolingian court. “Most clerics covet the rewards of this world and devote themselves to the affairs of the palace,” where they lead a life of luxury, with fine clothes, feasts, and finally with loose women.47 The point of the first episode, then, is to warn the clergy by a worst-case scenario that they can be damned by leading a courtier’s life, especially with courtesans. The angel explains, moreover, why the palace is such a perilous place for those in holy orders: because its delights distract them from their duties as intercessors, so they seek profit (lucrum), not for the souls of others but only for themselves.48

b. That is almost all Wetti has to say about the torments of those who are eternally damned, for the next three episodes deal with temporary punishments inflicted on those who will eventually be saved. Since Wetti eventually is shown another example of eternal damnation (e), it appears that in his afterworld, purgatory is a specialized region of hell rather than an independent realm.49

Wetti is first shown the place where monks from all over are gathered together “in one congregation for their purgation.” This place is a roughly constructed stockade (castellum) from which sooty clouds emerge, suggestive perhaps of fumigation, though tradition suggests a more ardent affliction.50 All forms of monastic laxity are apparently expiated here, but only one is specified, namely the use of community funds for personal purposes, which is appropriately punished by being shut up in a lead strongbox until the Last Judgment.51

c. While common monks are purged in the smoking stockade, the abbots, who are their superiors, are fittingly assigned to a loftier place. The angel shows Wetti a high mountain and tells him that on its top the most recently deceased abbot of Reichenau, Waldo by name, is exposed to constant wind and rain in order to purge him of his sins, which seem to be those of a negligent supervisor.52 Moreover, and most significantly, the angel indicated that Waldo’s sufferings could be alleviated by prayer, and that a bishop named Adalhelm, who three years ago had refused to pray for Waldo, was therefore guilty of negligence, for which he himself is now being punished on the other side of the mountain of negligent administrators.53

d. Wetti sees one more scene in purgatory, and it is the one we have been waiting for—Charlemagne in hell. But before analyzing it in detail, however, let us place it in context by seeing how Wetti’s tour of hell ended.

e. In the last scene, Wetti is shown a vast collection of precious objects, such as textiles, horses, and vases of gold and silver, which were the possessions of avaricious counts, who had accumulated them either by seizure or as bribes. These treasures are waiting in hell for the counts as their eternal reward, and the spectacle prompts the angel to denounce the unjust behavior of the counts at length.54 Evidently Wetti had passed from purgatory to another section of hell that in his dream was linked to Charlemagne by a loose association of ideas.

f. At this point, Heito pauses between his accounts of hell and heaven to remark that he has omitted much more that Wetti saw in both places: “Wetti recalled that he also saw a countless number of lay people and others from the monastic orders, from different regions and convents, some of them in glory and others sunk in punishment … and innumerable other things—which we have excluded as unsuited to the cursory style of a compendium ….”55 While this admission is susceptible of various interpretations, I think it most likely that Wetti’s account was reproduced by Heito pretty much as he received it until the end of the Charlemagne episode (a–d); thereafter Heito abridged the account drastically, but he retained the revelation concerning the counts (e), placing it at the end as a sort of appendix. This seems likely because Heito similarly preserved a fragment concerning the good count Gerold, which he likewise placed at the end of the vision of heaven.56 Therefore I am inclined to regard the episode of the counts’ treasures as an isolated fragment that does not reflect the same concerns as the scenes that preceded it.

The structure of Wetti’s vision of hell becomes apparent once its extraneous last scene has been set aside. It begins with the inexpiable sins punished in the river of fire, which are exemplified by men in holy orders who, distracted by the pursuit of personal profit and pleasure, fail to perform the function for which they were consecrated. After these unforgivable faults come those that can in time be expiated in purgatory, starting with what seemed to Wetti the worst and proceeding progressively to the least: first, failure to observe monastic vows, next negligence in abbatial administration, and finally, the sexual peccadilloes of Charlemagne, which did not impede his effectiveness as a ruler. The order presupposes a descending hierarchy of responsibility created for the clergy by consecration, personal vows, and administrative duties, and finally, for laymen, by Christian morality. In other words, Charlemagne’s sex life was the least of Wetti’s concerns.

Nonetheless it did trouble Wetti’s dreams, and we want to know why. A major clue emerges from the foregoing survey of his vision: what he sees in hell forms the basis of the twofold mission that was assigned to him in heaven, namely to correct his life and doctrine concerning monastic laxity on the one hand and on the other sodomy and concubinage. Since the monastic elements of Wetti’s vision are obviously irrelevant to Charlemagne’s sin, we must concentrate for the moment on concubinage pure and simple, for none of the examples in hell concern sodomy, which must accordingly be considered to have been nothing more than a rhetorical red herring.57 Let us then pursue the theme of concubinage by at last confronting Heito’s account of Charlemagne in hell.58

Wetti’s Vision of Charlemagne

He also said that he saw a certain prince standing there who formerly ruled the kingdoms of the people of Rome and Italy. His genitals were mangled by the bites of a certain animal, while the rest of his body remained immune from laceration. Wetti was stunned by a strong stupor and wondered how such a man, who seemed to be very special among others in defending the Catholic faith and the rule of the Holy Church in the modern world, could be afflicted by a punishment so degrading. Immediately he was answered by the angel, his guide, that although he did many things admired and praised and accepted by God—and he would not be deprived of the recompense for them—he was demoralized by the charms of illicit sexual intercourse. He wished to finish his life by offering his other good deeds to God so that, because of the freedom conceded to human frailty, a somewhat minor obscene act might be buried and destroyed by the greatness of so many good deeds. He said, “Nevertheless, he is predestined to the fate of the elect in eternal life.”59

Heito knew the sinner’s name but suppressed it, as his “quendam principem” makes clear;60 nonetheless he indirectly indicated the prince’s identity, since in modern times (“moderno seculo”) there was only one deceased ruler of both Rome and Italy—Charlemagne himself. Moreover, Wetti recognized him without any prompting, as is evident both from his amazement and from his recitation of the emperor’s distinctive achievements.61 In Walafrid’s versified version of the passage, the least doubt was removed by using the opening letter of each verse to spell out the acrostic CAROLVS IMPERATOR.62

As for Charles’s sin, the angel identifies it plainly: he was “demoralized by the charms of illicit sexual intercourse—stupri inlecebris resolutus.” But the manner of his punishment expresses the fault more vividly, for it is concentrated solely on his verenda, the external sexual organs that normally are treated, as their name indicates, with awe or reverence, which decidedly is not the case in hell. The punishment fits the crime, since the organs that in life led him astray are now themselves being bitten and lacerated “by the bites of a certain animal— cuiusdam animalis morsu.” Again, cuiusdam indicates an identity known to the author but not stated, so Wetti’s dream must have been more specific, though we can only guess what animal would have been appropriate.63

Charles’s tormented genitalia serve to link his sin with that of the concubinary clerics and their concubines, who were immersed in the river of fire up to their genitals, which were beaten with rods intermittently. The different timing of the punishment suggests that the courtier clerics were guilty of only casual encounters, whereas Charlemagne’s illicit sexual activity was continuous.64 Although the emperor’s torment is more severe, it is only temporary, since he will eventually go to heaven, in contrast to the clerics, who are irremediably damned. Why the clergy are judged more harshly is not made explicit, but as we have seen (n. 47, above), the angel provided a likely reason, namely that their luxurious life at court distracted them from doing their job as intercessors, while Charles’s sex life manifestly did not interfere with his role as protector and director of the Church. Nonetheless Wetti discovered from Charlemagne’s example that lay concubinage was a sin that entailed grievous, if not permanent, consequences in the afterlife.

Why was Charlemagne the example of lay concubinage that came to Wetti’s mind? We are now ready to propose an answer to that question, which is the object of the present investigation. The answer, as I have already suggested, must be understood in Wetti’s terms, which can be discovered by careful reading of his account of the vision. Specifically, the key to the Charlemagne episode lies in Wetti’s surprise. When he recognized Charlemagne and observed his punishment, Wetti was thunderstruck and tremendously bewildered (“Stupore igitur vehementi attonitus”), which is remarkable because nothing else he saw or heard in the afterworld—not even God himself—elicited so strong a reaction. What surprised him was that he could not see “how it was possible (quomodo)” that a ruler who had done so much good could be subjected to such a disgraceful punishment. What was uppermost in Wetti’s mind were the virtues of Charlemagne, not his weaknesses. Almost certainly it was no news to Wetti when the angel explained that the emperor had been “demoralized by the charms of illicit sexual intercourse—stupri inlecebris resolutus,” because, unless we are prepared to believe that Wetti only learned this by divine revelation, the fact must have already been known to him, or else it would not have played a part in his dream.65 But Charlemagne’s lubricity did not surprise him, which is my point. Instead, he had apparently known of Charlemagne’s concubines but had discounted them. The rationale that the angel attributes to Charlemagne was most probably Wetti’s own before the vision: that the emperor’s good deeds canceled out his sexual misdeeds, especially since they were minor as such things go and could be excused “because of the freedom conceded to human frailty” (n. 58, above). This seems especially likely because Wetti in his first vision had told the angel that mankind needed all the help it could get from heaven “since we are more fragile in these times.”66 Contemporary human fragility seems to have been a stock excuse for him.

What came to Wetti as a revelation in the case of Charlemagne was that little sins count, even against outstanding benefactors of religion. He had already learned that monks, abbots, and bishops had to pay for their minor sins in purgatory, and the encounter with Charlemagne served to extend the principle to lay benefactors. It is only at the end of his journey that Wetti learned that “the luxury of concubines” is totally unacceptable to God, being tantamount to sodomy, and since he declared that this sin cannot be purged in hell, it seems likely that the angel was speaking of clerical rather than lay concubinage.67 Nonetheless, Wetti does learn from Charlemagne’s case that God will not overlook lay concubinage but instead will cause it to be punished horribly, though not permanently, in purgatory.

In consequence, my thesis is that Wetti’s vision is a palinode, that is “a work in which one attacks what one had previously praised (or vice versa).”68 Wetti, we know, was Reichenau’s leading intellectual, with an outstanding command of both the liberal arts and theology, which he used to interpret the monastic life; he was also one of the monastery’s principal teachers, who certainly taught Walafrid and perhaps the abbot Erlebald as well.69 During the last decade of his life, he composed an undistinguished life of Saint Gall.70 Despite these attainments, what impressed observers was his modesty,71 not to say humility, such as he displayed in his first vision when he learned that he was going to hell for his sins. But although he did not question God’s judgment, he was eager to avert his own damnation and hoped that intercessors in heaven would help him.72 The second vision provided the answer he was anxiously seeking: he had been teaching false doctrines, which he could correct by making his vision known to others. It follows that what the angel told and showed him were revelations that contradicted his former opinions. The Visio, then, is primarily a retraction on Wetti’s part, in which controversial issues were settled by divine revelation.

The Evidence of Controversial Issues

If this view of the Visio Wettini is correct, its revelations should take a stand on issues that were controversial in 824. In order to confirm my interpretation, and to understand the thrust of the vision in general and the function of the Charlemagne episode in particular, let us therefore seek to determine the ways in which Wetti’s vision settled questions that the monks at Reichenau and elsewhere in the Carolingian empire were debating.

Purgatory and Prayer

Heito was moved to record Wetti’s vision because it proved the value of revelation made in dreams, and especially when they revealed that prayers were urgently needed by a soul that was in purgatory contrary to all expectation. Abbot Waldo had been seven years dead before a cleric named Adam dreamt that he saw him suffering in purgatory. Waldo instructed Adam to report his predicament to bishop Adalhelm: “Ask him to send around the monasteries, requesting prayers of intercession (which they offer free) ….”73 The bishop, however, dismissed Adam’s vision as “deliramenta somniorum” and refused to comply. Three years later, Wetti was told that bishop Adalhelm was suffering in purgatory for his negligence because he “did not help by providing the comfort of his prayers, not even to the dead from his community.”74

This episode reflects an important contemporary development in the history of purgatory. By the end of the patristic period, Latin theologians, led by Augustine and seconded by Gregory the Great, were agreed that those Christians who died after a life of faith and good works would be purified from the taint of their lesser sins, and that this purgation would occur before the Judgment Day in a manner similar to the torments of the damned and probably in much the same place. Furthermore, it was believed that these temporary afflictions could be alleviated and the sufferers advanced in their spiritual life by the prayers of the living.75 In Wetti’s day such prayers were becoming organized and institutionalized, a process which began in 762, when Frankish bishops and abbots at the council of Attigny pledged to pray for any one of them that died.76 This concept of a prayer confraternity soon spread to the monastic sector, where monasteries exchanged lists of those to be prayed for. At the time of Wetti’s vision, Reichenau was on the verge of compiling its first such Liber memorialis, usually dated 826, which, though not the earliest of such compilations, proved to be the most famous and influential.77 Without Wetti’s vision, Waldo would not have received the prayers he deserved, and his case may well have prompted the monks of Reichenau to provide a system of widespread intercession for all their dead that would be independent alike of episcopal negligence and occasional divine revelations.

Benedict of Aniane

During Wetti’s lifetime, for all monks in Frankland no issue was as momentous as the monastic reforms of Benedict of Aniane (d. 821). As is well known, he began life as a courtier first of Pippin III, then of Charlemagne, but in 774 he left the palace to become a monk, and about 782 he founded his own monastery at Aniane, where he sought to return to the ideals of ancient, and especially eastern, monasticism. Eventually he persuaded Louis the Pious to reform monasticism in Francia, which was done at the synods of Aachen in 816 and 817 by requiring all monasteries to observe the Rule of Saint Benedict and furthermore to conform to the custom (consuetudo) of Inden, the monastery five miles from Aachen that Louis founded for Benedict in 815 to keep him in the vicinity of the court.78

The extent to which Reichenau was affected by these reforms is a matter of record, for we have a detailed list of the differences between the customs of Reichenau and a reformed house, which was drawn up by two monks who had been sent to observe the new model.79

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