In the mid 880s, a monk of St. Gall known as Notker the Stammerer wrote an unfinished text called The Deeds of Charlemagne. Most of the first book of the text consisted of an odd collection of tales concerning Charlemagne and the bishops in his lands. The second book of the text transitioned more into Charlemagne’s foreign policy and often digressed into other stories about the great king’s predecessors and successors. Although Notker the Stammerer was writing a biography, his writing style can be frustrating to people seeking historical information on the life of Charlemagne. Notker often neglected to mention names, locations and dates, making many of the tales collected in his text virtually impossibly to validate. In addition to this, many of Notker’s stories were fantastical in nature, featuring monsters, demons and overt, flashy divine interventions, making them unpalatable to most modern historical narratives. Nevertheless, the odd tales of Notker the Stammerer can give a glimpse into the mind of a 9th-century monk and have value, even if only for the sake of entertainment.
In one of the digressions away from the main subject of his text, Notker the Stammerer began commenting on Pippin III (r. 751-768), the first Carolingian king of the Franks and the father of Charlemagne. After briefly recounting how Pippin attacked the Lombards on the behest of the Pope, Notker transitioned into telling a few select stories about the king.
One of the tales was about a supernatural battle between Pippin and a demonic creature. The alleged event took place at an unknown date when King Pippin was readying himself for a bath in a natural hot spring located in the city of Aachen. The king sent his chamberlain and guards to assure that the water was clean and, when the purity of the water was confirmed, the king had the troops set up a perimeter around the hot spring to keep anyone from disturbing his bath.
Eager to enter the hot waters, Pippin began stripping off layers of clothing. He had taken off everything except a linen gown and slippers when something caught his eye. It was a humanoid shape, a dark mass that resided somewhere between the corporeal and spirit realms.
The demonic creature, or “the old enemy” as Notker called it, suddenly attacked Pippin. Using the sign of the cross, Pippin was said to have been able to stun the demon, buying himself enough time to draw his sword. Pippin then stabbed at the dark entity, driving his sword through the shadowy mass, not stopping until his blade was lodged deep in the ground. The wound seemingly killed or banished the creature, causing it to dissolve into a pool of blood and slime that polluted the hot spring. In an odd end to the tale, Notker the Stammerer wrote that King Pippin III merely waited for the current of the spring to carry away the dark grime and, when the water was once again clean, he nonchalantly took his bath.
Written by C. Keith Hansley.
Picture Attribution: (cropped and modified Pippin III painted by Louis-Félix Amiel (1802–1864), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- Two Lives of Charlemagne, by Einhard and Notker the Stammer, translated by David Ganz. New York: Penguin Classics, 2008.