The ‘Louis’ charter celebrates its 1,200 year anniversary!


On Saturday 13 April 2019, the Ghent City Museum (STAM) celebrated a particularly special anniversary. It was on this day in 819, exactly 1,200 years ago, that Louis the Pious (778-840), emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, signed the charter relating to Saint Bavo's Abbey. This makes it the oldest intact official document to be held in Belgium which also concerns Belgian territory.

The charter confirmed the autonomy of the abbey and its land, giving it 'immunity' against the authority of the provincial count of Ghent. The abbey was even permitted to issue its own fines and punish crimes on its own territory. However, in return for protecting its rights and freedom, the abbey was expected to do Louis the Pious a few favours: pray for him, his wife and children, and for stability in the kingdom, as well as give gifts and perform military duties. This enabled the emperor to gain the loyalty of abbeys in order to keep the empire together.

The text was drawn up in the emperor's chancellery in Aachen, the empire's administrative centre. It was written in Latin, on parchment, in so-called Merovingian italic writing, presumably with a goose feather. The seal is made of white bees' wax, which is covered with an additional layer of brown varnish. Louis the Pious probably signed the document himself, quite likely by adding the horizontal line through the monogram.

This charter has a common nickname … ‘Louis’.

You can still come and see it in the STAM in Ghent until 28 May 2019.