Vignettes of Fulda Monastery

Annals were medieval histories—usually written by monastic chroncilers—which catalogued the most important events of the day in a year-by-year format. One of the most well-known annals of the Carolingian era is the Annals of Fulda. The monastery of Fulda was founded by St. Sturm, a disciple of the famous martyr St. Boniface as part of his mission to Germany. St. Boniface was interred there after his death at the hands of the Frisians in 754. In Carolingian times, Fulda was an important center of education and boasted a considerable library. Carloman (uncle of Charlemagne) placed the monastery under his direct protection in 774; Charlemagne himself praised Fulda as a model of his educational reform.

The Annals of Fulda are the most comprehensive history of the latter Carolingian empire. Composed by multiple authors over several decades, the Annals of Fulda tell of the deeds of the descendants of Charlemagne up to the year 900. Because the chroniclers were monks, they occasionally included stories of miracles, visions, portents, and events deemed important from an ecclesiastical perspective. Here we present a series of vignettes from the Annals of Fulda of such tales spanning the years 847 to 896. The following excerpts can be found in The Annals of Fulda: Ninth Century Histories, Volume II in the Manchester Medieval Sources series, translated and annotated by Timothy Reuter (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1992).

The False Prophetess Thiota (Anno Domini 847)

At this time a certain woman from Alemannia called Thiota, a false prophetess, came to Mainz; she had disturbed the diocese of Bishop Salmon [of Constance] not a little with her prophecies. For she said that she knew a definite date for the ending of the world, and other things known only to God, as if they had been divinely revealed to her; she predicted that the world would see its last day that same year. As a result, many of the common people of both sexes were struck by fear; they came to her with gifts and commended themselves to her prayers. Still worse, men in holy orders, ignoring the teaching of the Church, followed her as a teacher sent from heaven. She was brought into the presence of the bishops at St. Alban’s [Mainz]. After she had been carefully questioned about her claims, she admitted that a certain priest had coached her in them and that she had made them in hope of gain. For this she was publicly flogged by the judgment of the synod and ignominiously stripped of the ministry of preaching which she had unreasonably taken up and presumed to claim against the custom of the Church; thus shamed, she finally put an end to her prophesyings.

The Heresy of Gottschalk (Anno Domini 848)

A certain priest called Gottschalk, who held wicked opinions about predestination, namely, that the good were predestined by God to life and the evil to eternal death, was condemned at an episcopal synod, reasonably as it seemed to many. He was sent to Hincmar, his own bishop, at Rheims, but first took an oath that he would never return to the kingdom of Louis [the German].

[Another manuscript of the Annals of Fulda for the same year reads]:

Gottschalk, who was called a heretic, was condemned at Mainz by Archbishop Hrabanus [i.e., Rabanus Maurus] and many other bishops rightly, as it seemed to many, though he persisted afterwards in his opinion.

An Evil Spirit Stirs Up War (Anno Domini 849)

The Bohemians in their usual fashion denied their loyalty and planned to rebel against the Franks. Ernest, the dux of those parts and chief among the king’s [Louis the German’s] friends, was sent with not a few counts and abbots and a large army to crush these treacherous moves. The heathen, however, promised through legates sent to Thachulf [of Thuringia] that they would give hostages for their peace and safety and would do as they were commanded…

When [Thachulf] sent messengers to some of the leading Franks to report the terms offered by the [Bohemian] legates, some of them were angry with him, because they thought he wanted to be set above the others and take over supreme command. With a hurried onslaught, without consulting the others [of the Frankish lords], they renewed the attack on an enemy seeking peace, and immediately learnt what the power and boldness of the quarrelsome can do without the fear of God. For the [Bohemians] were victorious and pursued them with slaughter to their camps, and removed the arms of the dead undisturbed before their eyes, frightening them so much that [the Franks] thought they were absolutely without hope of escape. They were forced to give hostages to those from whom they had scorned to receive them, so that they might return unharmed straight down the main road back to their home country.

So that there might be still more confusion for the proud and for those over-confident in their own strength, it happened in the same year (849) after a short time in the villa of Höchst in the territory of Mainz, that an evil spirit announced through the mouth of a possessed man that he had been in charge of the Bohemian war and his allies had been the spirits of pride and discord through whose treacherous machinations the Franks had fled from the Bohemians.

The Starving Man of Grabfeld (Anno Domini 850)

In the same year a severe famine struck the German people, especially those living along the Rhine…at that time also a certain man from the Grabfeld set out for Thuringia with his wife and small son to see if they could find some relief from hunger. On the journey he said to his wife, “Surely it would be better to kill the boy and eat him than that we should all die of hunger? “She refused to allow so great a crime to be committed, but he, driven by hunger, at length seized the son from her arms by force and would have carried out his intention, if God in His mercy had not prevented him. For as he afterwards told to many when he came to Thuringia, when he had drawn his sword to kill his son, and had, vacillating, put off the murder, he saw at a distance two wolves standing on a deer and tearing its flesh. At once he spared his son and hurried to the corpse of the deer, where he drove off the wolves and took away some of the flesh which they had begun to eat, and then returned to his wife with their son unharmed. For before, when he had taken the boy away from his mother’s hands, he had gone off a little way, so that she would not see or hear the dying boy. She, on her husband’s return, seeing the fresh meat dripping with blood, thought that the boy had been killed and fell almost lifeless. He came to her and comforted her and lofted her up to show that the boy was still alive. Then she recovered full consciousness and gave thanks to God that she had been allowed to have her son back well; so did he, that God had thought it fit to keep him innocent of killing the child. Both, however, were driven by necessity to strengthen themselves by feeding on the meat which the law prohibits (1).

Theft of the Treasures of St. Boniface (Anno Domini 853)

On September 1, thieves broke into the church of St. Boniface the Martyr [at Fulda] by night and took away part of the treasure. Up to the present day it is still the case that the criminals have not been identified nor has any trace of the treasure been found.

The Evil Spirit of Caput Montium (Anno Domini 858)

There is a certain villa not far from the town of Bingen called ‘Caput Montium’ [present day Kempten] because the mountains along the valley of the Rhine begin here (though the common people corrupt the name to ‘Chamund’). Here an evil spirit gave an open sign of his wickedness. First, by throwing stones and banging on the walls as if with a hammer, he made a nuisance of himself to the people living there. Then he spoke openly and revealed what had been stolen from certain people, and then caused disputes among the inhabitants of the place. Finally, he stirred up everyone’s hatred against one man, as if it were for his sins that everyone had to suffer such things; and so that he might be more hated, the evil spirit caused the very house which the man entered the catch fire.

As a result, the man was forced to live outside the villa in the fields with his wife and children, as all his kin feared to take him in. But he was not even allowed to remain there in safety, for when he had gathered in and stacked his crops, the evil spirit came unexpectedly and burnt them. To try to appease the feelings of the inhabitants, who wished to kill him, he took the ordeal of hot iron and proved himself innocent of the crimes which were alleged against him. Priests and deacons were therefore sent from the town of Mainz with relics and crosses to expel the wicked spirit from that place. As they were saying the litany and sprinkling holy water in a house where he had been particularly active, the old enemy threw stones at men coming there from the villa and wounded them.

After the clerics who had been sent there had departed, the same devil made lamentable speeches in the hearing of many. He named a certain priest and said that he had stood underneath his cope at the time when the holy water was being spread around the building. Then, as men crossed themselves in fear, he said of the same priest, ‘He is my servant. For anyone who is conquered by someone is his servant; and lately at my persuasion he slept with the daughter of the bailiff of this villa.’ This crime had not before been known to anyone except those who had committed it. It is clear that as the Word of Truth says, ‘nothing is hidden which will not be revealed’ [Matt. 10:26]. With these and similar deeds the apostate spirit was a burden to the above-mentioned place for the course of three whole years, and he did not desist until he had destroyed almost all the buildings with fire.

Kempten, where the story of the evil spirit of Caput Montium took place

The Death of a Beloved Priest (Anno Domini 859)

Probus, a devout priest, whose chaste way of life and zeal for doctrine had given luster to the church of Mainz, died on June 25. It would be a long story to relate how he worked without shirking day and night in the above church with great profit, or how he was all things to all men, that he might win all for Christ [1 Cor. 9:22]. At least some of his virtues may be committed here to memory in two verses, so that the reader may grasp from these the other things which God worked through him:

How learned, humble, patient and chaste he was
Neither speech nor writing can fully relate

Pope Nicholas and the Synod of Worms (Anno Domini 868)

Nicholas the Roman pontiff sent two letters to the bishops of Germany; one dealt with the machinations of the Greeks (2); the other concerned the depositions of Bishops Theotgaud and Gunther, in which he reported that they had committed seven capital offences and said that for this reason they could never for all time be restored to their old offices.

A synod was held at Worms in May in the presence of King Louis [the German], at which the bishops made a number of canons for the good of the church and issued suitable responses to the stupidities of the Greeks (3).

St. Emmeram Paralyzes Gundachar (Anno Domini 869)

Gundachar, Carloman’s vassal, who had often been a traitor to King Louis [the German] and his sons through perjuries and wicked conspiracies, and had left his own lord and gone over to Rastiz [of Moravia], was killed like Cataline while taking up arms against his own fatherland. He is said to have said to those over whom he had been set by Rastiz, as Carloman’s duces were hurrying up to the battle, “Fight bravely and defend your country, for I shall not be of any use to you in this battle. St. Emmeram and the other saints on whose relics I swore to keep faith to King Louis and his sons are holding my spear and sword and press down on my arms and hold me tight as if bound with ropes all over, so that I cannot even raise my hand to my mouth.” As the unhappy man said these words, our men fell on him and killed him, and thus the Lord dealt out a fitting reward for his treachery. When this was reported to the king he ordered all to give thanks together to God for the end of their dead enemy and for the bells in all the churches in Regensburg to be rung (4).

Baking on St. Lawrence Day (Anno Domini 870)

A certain woman cooked bread for sale on the Feast of St. Lawrence (August 10) while others were going to church. Her neighbors implored her to give the day the honor due to it and go to church, but she did not wish to leave what she had begun and lose her profit. But as she preferred earthly reward to reverence for the saint, she found that the loaves which she put in the oven, made from the same dough from which she had earlier baked fine bread, were suddenly blacker than ink. Bewildered, she hurried outside and showed to all present the sin which she had committed in ignoring so great a feast day and the loss she had sustained through the spoiling of her bread.

A Demon Possesses Prince Charles (Anno Domini 873)

In the month of January [King Louis the German] wanted to hold and assembly with his men coming from all parts of the kingdom in the aforementioned place [Frankfurt] to discuss the state and prosperity of his kingdom. By God’s providence his goodness was gloriously demonstrated and the wickedness of some who plotted against his life was laid bare. For when he had entered the court on January 28, a wicked spirit entered into his youngest son Charles [the Fat] and tortured him severely, so that he could scarcely be held down by six of the strongest men, in the presence of the king and of his leading men, that is to say his counts and bishops. And indeed with justice: for he who had wished to deceive the king chosen and ordained by God was himself deceived; he who had treacherously set traps for his father fell himself into the snares of the Devil, so that he might learn from his diabolical torments that there is no counsel against God. But the king and all who were with him were appalled, and wept. When he was led to the church, so that the bishops might pray to God for his recovery, he yammered, sometimes weakly and sometimes at the top of his voice, and threatened with open mouth to bite those who were holding him. Then the king turned to his namesake [his other faithless son, Louis the Younger] and said, “Do you not see, my son, whose lordship you accepted, you and your brother, when you thought to carry out wickedness against me? Now you may understand, if you would not before, that as the Word of Truth has it, nothing is hidden which will not be revealed. Confess your sins, therefore, and do penance, and pray humbly to God that they may be forgiven you. I also, as far as lies in me, grant you forgiveness.” After the devil’s attack was over, Charles said aloud in the hearing of many that he had been delivered into the power of the Enemy as many times as he had plotted against the king.

Louis the Pious in Purgatory (Anno Domini 874)

In Lent, when [Louis the German] had left of dealing with secular affairs and was spending his time in prayer, he saw in a dream one night his father, the Emperor Louis, in dire straits, who addressed him in Latin speech in the following way: “I implore you by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the Triune Majesty that you will save me from these torments in which I am held, so that I can at last come to eternal life.” Horrified by this vision he therefore sent letters to all the monasteries of his kingdom, asking urgently that they might intervene with the Lord through their prayers for a soul placed in torment. From this it may be understood that although the said emperor had done many praiseworthy things pleasing to God, nevertheless he allowed many things against God’s law in his kingdom. For if—to mention nothing else—he had strongly opposed the heresy of the Nicolaitans [5] and taken care to observe the warnings of the Archangel Gabriel which Abbot Einhard wrote down in twelve chapters and offered to him that he might read them and carry them out, perhaps he would not have suffered such punishments. But since God, as it is written, does not let any sin go unpunished, and since according to the Apostle not only those who do evil deeds but those who consent to them are worthy of death [Rom. 1:32], so he has deservedly been condemned to suffer penalties, since he would not correct the errors of those who had been entrusted to him while he could, even after he had been warned.

The Closure of St. Peter’s Basilica (Anno Domini 878)

Lambert, son of Wido, and Adalbert, son of Boniface, entered Rome with a large army, and, after placing John [VIII], the Roman pontiff, under guard, forced the leading men of the Romans to affirm their allegiance to Carloman [son of Louis the German] with an oath. After they had gone, the same pope came to the church of St. Peter’s and took all the treasures which he found there to the Lateran and covered up the altar with sackcloth and closed all the doors of the church. No service was celebrated there for many days, and—shame to tell—entrance was denied to all those who had come there to pray, and everything there was in utter confusion. The said pope then took a ship across the Tyrrhenian sea to Charles [the Fat’s] kingdom and remained there almost a year.

The Emperor Learns of the Murder of Pope John VIII (Anno Domini 883)

[Emperor Charles the Fat] celebrated Christmas in Alemannia. From there he gradually made his way towards Bavaria and spent Easter with ceremony in the city of Regensburg. There he held a meeting, and having heard a number of things from Italy, returned to that country. For at Rome, the bishop of the apostolic see, John by name, was first poisoned by his relative and then, as he was thought by this man and other companions in his crime to be likely to live longer that would suit their desires—for they wanted both his treasure and to seize the ruling bishopric—was struck with a hammer until his skull was bashed in, and died. But the perpetrator of this evil deed, terrified by the raging crowd around him, was seen to die on the spot, though he was not wounded or harmed by anyone.

The Cadaver Synod (Anno Domini 896)

At Rome Pope Formosus died on the holy day of Easter [April 4]; in his place Boniface was consecrated, who was attacked by gout and is said to have survived for barely two weeks. In his place a pope called Stephen [VI] succeeded, a man of notorious reputation, who in unheard-of fashion turned out his predecessor, Formosus, from his grave, had him deposed by proxy and buried outside the usual place where popes are buried.

(1) The law referred to here is that of the Old Testament Law of Moses, which forbade the eating of carrion flesh. See Exodus 22:31 and Deuteronomy 14:21.
(2) The letters were also addressed to Charles the Bald and Louis the German, asking them to summon a synod of bishops to deal with the problems of the Photian schism and the Bulgarian mission in hopes of presenting a united front of the Latin church to the Greeks.
(3) The Synod of Worms of 868. See:
(4) St. Emmeram (600-652) was the founder and patron saint of the church of Regensburg.(5) The Nicolaitans are mentioned and condemned in Revelation 2:14-15. The nature of their ancient heresy is unknown, but in the Carolingian era “Nicolaitan” was a derogatory term for sexually active clerics. The implication is that Louis the Pious did not do enough to stomp out concubinage among the clergy and promote celibacy.

Phillip Campbell, “Vignettes of Fulda Monastery,” Unam Sanctam Catholicam, April 15, 2022. Available online at: