Syncretism: the presence of Roman augury in the consecration of English monarchs.




Karlson, William R.

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



The purpose of this study is to offer insight into the reason for an eagle’s presence in the English royal consecration of the monarch. This trans-era study examines the impact of the Roman practice of augury on the ecclesiastical history of the early Church and the medieval French and English churches. Fresh insight is also provided regarding the possible meanings of the dove at Jesus’ baptism for Luke’s authorial audience. The prevalence of augury in the milieu of the early church likely led the first-century readers of the gospels to interpret the descent of the dove at Jesus’ baptism to be functionally the same as Roman augury regarding royal inauguration but antithetical in form from the bird usually associated with divine confirmation of emperors, the eagle. Several times in the early church, the flight of a dove functioned in the likeness of Roman augury in the selection and divine confirmation of ecclesiastical leaders. This study provides information on additional examples on how the Greco-Roman culture influenced the early and medieval Christian Church and the impact of augury on Christian thinking. There is little doubt that the English eagle Ampulla was an adaptation of the French Sainte Ampoule. This ninth-century French myth was preceded by the miraculous Visigothic royal anointing of Wamba in an effort to bolster the royal claims of the king over would-be contenders. The French legend followed with the account of miraculous avian delivered oil, which first appeared during the reign of Charles the Bald as a means of strengthening the French king’s assert to the throne and later bolstering French claims to having the supreme Christian King of the world. The English adapted the French legend with the myth of St Thomas’ Holy Oil under the reign of Edward II. Richard II later altered the story once again to include the Roman symbolism of an eagle that reflected his imperial aspirations. The eagle Ampulla failed to secure Richard’s kingship and never reached the political significance that he French Sainte Ampulla achieved.


Includes bibliographical references (p. 240-255).