Autocephalous Catholic Church of Alexandria
The Autocephalous Catholic Church of Alexandria (formerly The Imperial Church of the Alexandrians) is the state church of the Empire of Alexandria. Founded around 600AD by St Luis it has experienced two schisms in it's long history and though it remains the state church, it no longer bears Imperial patronage. Headed by the Patriarch-Archbishop of Port-Réal, the Church is administrated by the See of St Luis which has it's official and ceremonial base at the Basilica of Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows in the Imperial Capital District.
Until ___________________, the church was known as The Imperial Church of the Alexandrians because of it's Imperial patronage. With the Emperor at it's head, the church was considered to be an extension of the Emperor's possessions in state but his role was limited with much of it's administration and direction led by the most senior cleric, the Archbishop of Port-Réal. When Imperial patronage was removed from the church, a council of the most senior clergy was convened at the Basilica of the Most Sacred Blood in Valenciennes where a new constitution for the governance of the church was authored and promulgated. The resulting constitution declared that the church would be renamed as The Autocephalous Catholic Church of Alexandria.
Autocephalous was to denote the break from the Crown's authority and refers to the power the See of St Luis holds to govern the church, it's doctrine and it's members. In this instance, the word "Catholic" is used in it's traditional form to mean "universal". This proved controversial and some suggested that the declining role of the church and a shortfall in membership suggested that the church had no rights to impose it's seniority on other Christian churches or other faiths which are represented in modern day Alexandria. Regardless of this, the ______________ constitution of the state church was later ratified by parliament and so officially it remains 'The Autocephalous Catholic Church of Alexandria'.
Introduction of Christianity to Alexandria
The first documented existence of Christian structures and writings appear in texts housed in the Imperial Library which were collected in the 16th century from all existing monastic houses. Before this time, the vast majority of the population could not read or write and only monks were trained as scribes to document important national events. As a result, early church history was collated in the abbeys, monasteries, convents and seminaries which began to spring up around 600AD following the success of St Luis in introducing Christianity to Alexandria. By the 9th century AD, the entire population of Alexandria was Christianised. The Royal Church of St Luis the Missionary was the first formal state sponsored Christian church to exist in Alexandria and was established by decree of King Josephus I (later St. Joseph de Markion) in 810AD.
The early church was simply an extension of the King's authority from temporal to spiritual matters. The Church was organised so that not only was the King head of the church but he also had supreme authority to name all clerics and to establish and form new dioceses. Josephus I demanded that all clergy take an oath of allegiance to him which many were unwilling to do and were martyred as a result. With a new administration installed which approved (at least publicly) of the King's patronage, the Church began to issue it's first documents in around 812AD and included the First Catechism and the Royal Book of Days. Both of these texts have since been revised or even dispensed with but in the 9th century, these were documents which governed every day life throughout the Kingdom of Alexandria.
The Luisian Doctrine
The early church based almost it's entire catechism on the writings and teachings of St Luis. Collectively, these teachings were known as 'Luisian Doctrine' but today the term is used to denote two specific teachings which resulted in a major schism in the Royal Church in the 16th century. Luisian Doctrine in it's entirety governed much of the daily life of ordinary people. It prescribed twice-weekly confession, days of abstinence and other devotionals which were seen as canon. But it also dictated how worship should be conducted and even detailed how churches should be built and the rules which governed them. What is today known as 'The Luisian Doctrine' refers specifically to part of a text written by St Luis the Missionary which insists:-
"And let not a man or woman or child who hath not the blessing and state of holy ordination step from among you to the place where the Saviour dwells for in this way the people shall defile the sanctity of that place and shall cause no prayers to be heard within it"
In the early church, the Chancel (the space around the altar, including the choir and the sanctuary) was therefore a forbidden space to anyone who wasn't ordained or had taken holy orders. The faithful were split from the Chancel by an enormous grill made of wood or metal which was only unlocked for the celebrant of the Mass to bring the sacrament from the altar down into the gallery where it would be given to those who were free of mortal sin and could therefore receive it. The interpretation of the doctrine had been debated and challenged many times but the ruling remained unchanged. The faithful were not only forbidden from entering the Chancel but they were also forbidden from seeing the Mass celebrated. The phrase "hearing Mass" is still used today and is a reminder of a time when the only participation in the Mass allowed to most was to hear the words said by the priest and the chants of the choir.
But many churches interpreted the doctrine differently from the canon. By the 12th century, most had constructed a second grill which divided the nave and the narthex. The faithful would gather in the narthex (the entrance lobby to the church) and would try to hear mass there. Those considered to be "in holy estate" (those who had confessed and were free of any mortal sin) were allowed through the Narthex Gate and led by monastics to the gallery where they received the eucharist but were still barred from witnessing the actual Mass which took place on the altar in the sanctuary. This arrangement was open to abuse. Side chapels were built by rich patrons who would be allowed to sit in the side chapels and whilst still barred from the view of the Chancel by the grill, they could hear the Mass far more audibly than the ordinary faithful who gathered in the Narthex. Some monastics (called Narthexers) were known to accept bribes to allow people through the narthex grill to hear Mass in the nave as they had before and this led to resentment among many who felt that the church was only accessible to those who could afford it. In rare cases, priests were found to accept bribes to allow people through the Chancel gate to witness the Mass but this was rare as it carried a death sentence, usually by burning or by hanging in chains from the local battlements.
The first real opposition to the Luisian Doctrine came in 1564 when St Ricardo de Souza ordered the monastics within his church in San Martín to break down the grills which stood at the narthex and the chancel and celebrated Mass for the first time in full view of the congregation. Such was the anger that the church was set fire to by an angry mob who seized St Ricardo and buried him alive. Across Alexandria, priests and bishops began to follow Ricardo de Souza's example and by the end of 1564, the country was thrown in a religious war between those who opposed the change and those who supported it. Those who upheld the interpretation of the doctrine with it's insistence on forbidden areas and high gates within the church complex were known as Traditionalist Catholics. Those who wished to remove the doctrine were known as Liberated Catholics. Violence was so widespread that King Charles VII ordered that anyone who identified themselves as 'liberated' was to be excommunicated. A decree was passed that denied basic human rights to those who were excommunicated - this included barring them from holding tenancies (which many poor Alexandrians depended on to earn a living) and from being baptised, buried or married. For many, this reduced them to "persona non grata" and many who were excommunicated found themselves charged with vagrancy or other crimes for which harsher sentences were handed down by traditionalist magistrates keen to uphold the King's ruling.
Most of these liberated Catholics headed for the Rio Grandé where they settled and established their own houses of worship. There were harsh punishments for those who attended or established such places of worship and so much of this worship was conducted underground and secretively. Most services were held in cellars or even in caves and made no attempt to hide the Mass from the faithful. Those who practised in this way were known as "The Videans", a bastardised pejorative formed from the Latin 'ut videatur' - to be seen. The Videans continued to be persecuted for their opposition to the Luisian doctrine for the next two hundred years. These laid the foundations for the Videan Schism which would later embrace protestant theology and become the Protestant Communion of Churches which still exists to this day. Whilst the Royal Church continued to uphold the doctrine, it was finally reinterpreted and mostly abolished in 1712.
All Chancel gates were removed by royal order in 1705 to allow people to see Mass. Narthex gates became illegal to use to limited church corruption but many Narthex gates can still be found in many churches and abbeys today. In the early 18th century, the Royal Church issued a new ruling on Luisian Doctrine. It held that St Luis regarded that no lay person be allowed onto the sanctuary - where the Mass was actually celebrated on the altar - and that this could still be upheld even if the faithful were able to see Mass. However, the actual moment of transubstantiation remained closed from view until the mid 1950s. Priests were allowed to make their own arrangements as to how to keep it from view but no gates were allowed to be used. Until that time, priests celebrated the majority of the mass facing the congregation but at the moment of consecration turned their backs. Other churches used canopies or movable screens to shield the consecration from public view. Since 1950, the Luisian Doctrine has been largely abandoned and only in the most traditional of churches (known as High Churches) will one see the consecration celebrated away from public view.
Orthodoxy & Second Schism
In 1675, the first traces of another schism began to appear in the Royal Church. Unrelated to the Luisian Doctrine, the so-called Marian Superiority, was born of a decision in that same year to re-consecrate all church altars. Since the first Christian churches were built in Alexandria, it had been the custom to embed relics of saints and apostles into the altar itself. Churches were named after the patron saints they selected, usually as a result of local devotion to a particular cause. The early church fathers embraced and encouraged cult worship of saints as a key part of evangelisation. The Church had created it's first Saints in 815AD but the protocol was unclear and undefined by canon law. Most Saints were created after a cause was presented to the Holy See and with the approval of the King. Most saints were created from biblical figures in the New Testament but others were canonised because of local pressure to do so. By 1675, there were nearly 2,000 Saints in the official Book of Saintly Causes and so new rules were imposed making it harder for individuals to be declared Saints. See Canonisation.
Whilst most Saints came directly from the New Testament, not every figure within the Gospels was considered worthy of Sainthood. For the most part, this limited the number of female saints as it was believed that Christ had excluded them from his ministry and therefore they were not worthy to intercede. A handful of exceptions had been made because of local devotionals which had sprung up around religious figures in the time since the establishment of the Royal Church but a census of churches taken in 1675 showed that there were anomalies and that some churches had installed relics or chapels to individuals who were not considered to be Saints by the church at all. Whilst the new rules considered all candidates, male or female, it was decided to re-consecrate all altars to remove any possibility that the altar may be corrupted by "fake saints". All relics within the altars were removed and authenticated and some churches were allowed to retain patronage of a particular saint but around 45% were simply rededicated to either 'Christ and His Apostles' or to St Peter and St Paul.
At the Abbey of St Anne, Mother of the Virgin in Baudrix, the monastic order which cared for the altar refused to let the church remove the relics which it said contained a shawl worn by the mother of the Virgin Mary and a finger bone taken from St Anne's body. The Royal Church did not ascribe sainthood to Anne, rather it held that the Virgin Mary had been born immaculate but that Anne had been born "in sinful estate". They could attribute no miracles to her, neither could they see any reference to her sanctity other than the fact that she was the mother of the Virgin Mary. Church fathers argued that devotion to Mary's mother may deflect from full honours being given to the Virgin Mary and so whilst she was given the honorific "Holy Benefactor", she was not considered to be a Saint.
The monastics at the Abbey of St Anne refused to accept this and were threatened with eviction from the Abbey but not with excommunication. They barricaded themselves in the Chancel and refused to allow anyone to remove the relics which the Royal Church insisted were fakes. Soldiers were sent to break into the abbey but as they were not allowed to enter the Chancel, they could do nothing but wait for the monks to give up their protest. This caused local rioting when the protest interrupted services and many chose to abandon the church and worship elsewhere. The Royal Church declared the Abbey of St Anne to be "Extra Ecclesiam" or "outside of the church" and Mass was no longer allowed to be celebrated there. Monastics were not excommunicated or punished by personal intervention of Francis Joseph II who felt that adding religious divisions to growing republican sentiment would be disastrous for the Crown. The monastics continued to celebrate Mass and with the fall of the monarchy in the revolution of 1702, they petitioned the National Convention to recognise them as an independent church. They submitted their own constitution and relinquished any ownership of anything outside of the walls of the abbey. Whilst formal recognition was never granted, the monastics were never punished or kept from their own form of worship and the Abbey of St Anne was protected by order of the National Convention in an effort to encourage religious tolerance.
By time of the restoration of the monarchy, the monastics at the Abbey of St Anne had completely separated themselves from the Royal Church. With their royal patron restored, the Church hierarchy insisted that the King deal with "the Orthodox heresy" swiftly and harshly but no such measures were ever taken. By 1755, the Abbey of St Anne had placed itself within the jurisdiction of the Eastern Churches. In 1812, it declared it's independence in the orthodox tradition making the Abbey of St Anne the focal point for Orthodox Christianity in Alexandria.