The Congress of Gniezno

The Congress of Gniezno







More than 1,000 years ago, Holy Roman Emperor Otto III tried to realise the concept of uniting Europe under his leadership. This "federation" was supposed to have been made up of Italia, Galia, Germania and Sclavinia, i.e. the Polish lands which, at the time, were ruled by Bolesław Chrobry (Boleslaus the Brave).

Otto"s pretext for visiting Bolesław Chrobry was to make a pilgrimage to the grave of St. Wojciech, whom the emperor had known. The prince was already the frontrunner for the crown at the time. An archbishopric had been created in Gniezno in 999 and the associated formalities were to have been completed during the emperor"s visit.

Otto set out from Rome in late 999, crossed the Odra (Oder) near Szprotawa at the end of February 1000, and reached Gniezno in early March. The emperor covered the last four miles to Gniezno on foot - as tradition demanded. He later paid homage to the relics of the martyr in the cathedral.

The sumptuous reception the Polish prince prepared for the emperor was widely commented upon in chronicles later. Those days 7-15 March 1000 have gone down in history as a great triumph for Bolesław. This underscored the wealth and hospitality of the Polish prince and his desire to "sell himself". Otto III publicly placed his own imperial diadem on Bolesław"s head and handed him a copy of the lance of St. Maurice - one of the most important regal Christian relics at the time - and a nail from the Holy Cross. Bolesław repaid the gift with a reliquary containing the shoulder of St. Wojciech. At the same time, Otto ceded his ecclesiastical and political authority over the territory ruled by Bolesław Chrobry, together with any territory conquered by him in future, to the prince. The church in Gniezno became the see of a metropolitan archbishop. This covenant was later ratified by the pope.

Nothing much came of the emperor"s plans. Otto III died two years after the Congress of Gniezno and his successors were disinclined to implement the idea. Of all the presents Bolesław received from the emperor in 1000, only the copy of the lance of St. Maurice remains on Polish soil. This is now kept in the Wawel Castle treasure house.

 

 

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