Frenemies in Christ

In the middle of the eighth century two religious men became great rivals. They had so much in common, their ages, upbringing, learning, careers, teachers, and, most of all, their mentor and leader, one of the greatest churchmen of the middle ages, that it drove them apart, as it often does with ambitious men.

First we have to talk about Boniface. You’ll get more in another post, but it is sufficient to know that he was, in the words of Norman Cantor1.One of the few scholars to make truly accessible popular medieval history. “one of the truly outstanding creators of the first Europe, as the apostle of Germany, the reformer of the Frankish church, and the chief fomentor of the alliance between the papacy and the Carolingian family.” Boniface traveled widely and hobnobbed with kings and popes. He was a very big deal.

One of the methods he used to enhance the power and influence of the church was to recruit from noble families for priests and missionaries. Lullus and Sturm were two of these young men.

Most of what is known about Sturm comes from the Vita Sturm,2.Found in Noble’s collection of saints lives, p.165. written early in the ninth century by one Eigil, one of his successors at Fulda. Sturm was born in 705, and met Boniface in 735. Lullus was born in 710, and met Boniface in 737. Boniface sent both of them to the abbey at Fritzlar to be educated by an English monk named Wigbert. They probably met there. Sturm became a priest in 740, and Boniface then sent him east with instructions to find a location to establish a monastery. In 744, with Boniface’s help, Sturm established the monastery at Fulda (Boniface convinced Pepin to donate the land), took a year in 747 at Monte Cassino to better learn the Benedictine rule, and served as abbot for the rest of his life.

Meanwhile Lullus had been ordained in 747, and by 752 he was auxiliary bishop of Mainz under Boniface. A couple of years later Boniface, getting old, resigned as bishop and appointed Lullus his successor. Lullus was more political than Sturm (which is probably why Boniface appointed him bishop), and focused on establishing relationships with the Frankish nobility more than his work with Rome. It is difficult to say, but it appears that this is where ambition began to create friction.

Boniface was martyred (killed in action, so to speak) in Frisia in 754. After his followers recovered his body, Eigil says Lullus was strongly opposed to the transport of Boniface’s body from Mainz to Fulda, where Boniface specifically wanted to be buried. Possession of such powerful remains would mean a great boon in pilgrim traffic and spiritual significance. It took a visitation from Boniface in a dream of one of the assembled ecclesiastics to finally convince them to allow his body to be moved. Even then, however, Lullus forced the deacon who had received the visitation to place his hand on the altar and take a vow before relenting.

Eigil then implies that it was Lullus, perhaps under the influence of “the bitter enemy of the human race,” who supported several men who made unspecified accusations against Sturm to King Pepin. When faced with the accusation Sturm refused to engage in debate, instead insisting that “my witness is in heaven.” Unmoved, Pepin exiled him to a monastery in Normandy in 763. This subterfuge did not go unnoticed, and Lullus was believed to be behind the accusation by the monks of Fulda.

With Sturm out of the way Lullus “by giving bribes, obtained from King Pepin permission to place the Abbey of Fulda under his jurisdiction.” He then installed his own man as abbot. The monks, however, continued to work for Sturm’s return, first removing Lullus’s man and appointing one of their own instead. After a couple of years Pepin relented and allowed Sturm to return as head of the Abbey. There is a marvelous scene in the Vita that recounts the conversation and reconciliation between king and monk.3.Noble, Soldiers of Christ, p.182 Pepin also released him from the jurisdiction of Lullus, which must demonstrate that Pepin was aware of the enmity between the men.

Sturm went on to receive the favor and gifts from Charlemagne when he ascended the throne. Charlemagne, perhaps mindful of the attempted removal in 763, reaffirmed the right to chose its own abbots in a charter from late 774, granting that, “whenever the abbot of the monastery leaves this mortal life the brothers shall have permission to chose from their number a shepherd or abbot with God’s favor and with our consent.”4.Loyn, Reign of Charlemagne, p.141 A few years later the king used Sturm as a special emissary to Bavaria. Lullus also established an abbey at Hersfeld, on which Charlemagne also showered many gifts.

Sturm died at Fulda on December 17, 779. Lullus was made the archbiship of Mainz in 781, and died October 16, 786, at Hersfeld Abbey.

Here is where it gets interesting. While no Vita was ever composed for him (which might in itself be telling, Lullus is mentioned often in Boniface’s correspondence and in the life of Boniface. To read those documents you would get the impression that Sturm was a virtual non-entity, barely mentioned. Yet clearly he was a figure of import and worth, and was abbot at the monastery where Boniface asked to be interred. What gives, why the disconnect?

It just so happens that Lullus was the one who commissioned his biography and the collection of Boniface’s correspondence! As patron of those efforts he would have been in a good position to squash any rumors of his earlier jealousies or indiscretions, not to mention belittling Sturms accomplishments and importance. For example, the life of Boniface goes into oddly explicit detail to report that Lullus wasn’t even in Mainz when the body arrived, while the vita Sturm is quite explicit and detailed.

While there are no more stories of the two men butting heads, on his deathbed Sturm had this to say. “[I]f I have committed any fault among you through human frailty or wronged any unjustly, fogive me as I also forgive all those who have offended or wronged me, including Lull[us], who always took sides against me.” I think it is safe to assume that the two men met at Fritzlar, sometime around 738, and for the next forty years they battled, in realms spiritual and temporal.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. One of the few scholars to make truly accessible popular medieval history.
2. Found in Noble’s collection of saints lives, p.165.
3. Noble, Soldiers of Christ, p.182
4. Loyn, Reign of Charlemagne, p.141

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