|"The Justification of Leo III" by Raphael|
With the letter informing Charlemagne that he had been unanimously elected pope, Leo sent him the keys of the confession of St. Peter, and the standard of the city. This he did to show that he regarded the Frankish king as the protector of the Holy See. In return he received from Charlemagne letters of congratulation and a great part of the treasure which the king had captured from the Avars. The acquisition of this wealth was one of the causes which enabled Leo to be such a great benefactor to the churches and charitable institutions of Rome.Share
Prompted by jealousy or ambition, or by feelings of hatred and revenge, a number of the relatives of Pope Adrian I formed a plot to render Leo unfit to hold his sacred office. On the occasion of the procession of the Greater Litanies (25 April, 799), when the pope was making his way towards the Flaminian Gate, he was suddenly attacked by a body of armed men. He was dashed to the ground, and an effort was made to root out his tongue and tear out his eyes. After he had been left for a time bleeding in the street, he was hurried off at night to the monastery of St. Erasmus on the Cœlian. There, in what seemed quite a miraculous manner, he recovered the full use of his eyes and tongue. Escaping from the monastery, he betook himself to Charlemagne, accompanied by many of the Romans. He was received by the Frankish king with the greatest honour at Paderborn, although his enemies had filled the king’s ears with malicious accusations against him.
After a few months’ stay in Germany, the Frankish monarch caused him to be escorted back to Rome, where he was received with every demonstration of joy by the whole populace, natives and foreigners. The pope’s enemies were then tried by Charlemagne’s envoys and, being unable to establish either Leo’s guilt or their own innocence, were sent as prisoners to France (Frankland). In the following year (800) Charlemagne himself came to Rome, and the pope and his accusers were brought face to face. The assembled bishops declared that they had no right to judge the pope; but Leo of his own free will, in order, as he said, to dissipate any suspicions in men’s minds, declared on oath that he was wholly guiltless of the charges which had been brought against him. At his special request the death sentence which had been passed upon his principal enemies was commuted into a sentence of exile. (Read more.)