The oldest town twinning in Europe
Today there is a wide network of towns and regions working together to promote a united Europe. In this context it would be only right to make reference to one of the oldest twinning arrangements in Europe, that of Le Mans with Paderborn, which has lasted almost twelve centuries!
During the reign of Louis the Pious, third son of Charlemagne, the special destiny of two cities, Le Mans and Paderborn was decided by two bishops. Given the strategic position of Le Mans during the era of the Carolingian dynasty, it became vital to elect a trustworthy bishop. Aldric, who had connections to the reigning dynasty and was the king’s private confessor, was appointed to fulfil this role.
Charlemagne had chosen Paderborn as the seat of his authority and as a suitably located outpost for carrying the Gospel to neighbouring Saxony. In 799, following the meeting between Charlemagne and Pope Leo III, the decision was taken to create a new diocese. Badurad, a noble of Saxon origin and also closely connected to the imperial court, was appointed as the second bishop. He set out to locate some religious relics, essential for strengthening the faith of believers and for steering the missionary zeal of this brand new diocese.
The relics offered by Bishop Aldric to Bishop Badurad were those of St. Liborius, one of the earliest bishops of Le Mans. As the companion of Martin of Tours, Liborius had a wide reputation for loving kindness. When he died, a great many pilgrims afflicted with gallstones prayed to him for a cure. The transfer of these relics was decided after the signing of a treaty of eternal friendship between the two dioceses and their cathedral chapters.
What is remarkable about this twinning is the constancy of contacts between these two towns, even during times of great trial and hardship, including wars which keep springing up in the history of Europe. The cathedral chapters corresponded on a regular basis and the tone of their letters goes far beyond common courtesy, expressing concern about each other’s fortunes. Friendship, to be lasting, has to be put to the test. That was the case for Paderborn which received support from Le Mans after the signing of the Treaty of Westphalia. In return, Le Mans received support during the troubled period of the French Revolution.
In the period immediately following the Second World War, the brotherly spirit again came into play on the question of French-German reconciliation, and in the service of peace. One of the Paderborn priests, Fr. Diebecker, a chaplain in one of the German POW camps in the Le Mans region, undertook to go back to the twinned town, travelling through Paris and Chartres, where Franz Stock was rector of the ‘barbed-wire seminary’.
A delegation from Paderborn retraced the Le Mans route in 1952 and was warmly welcomed. The following year, students of the youth movement Jeunesse Etudiante Chrétienne, led by Fr. Houdouin, went over to Germany to visit their counterparts there. Since that time, particularly at the urging of the St Liborius Brotherhood, parishioners and priests have been meeting on a regular basis at meetings organised during the feasts of St Julian and St Liborius, the patron saints of Le Mans and Paderborn. Priests from Paderborn become curates and chaplains in the Le Mans diocese, and it is usual for seminarists to visit both dioceses during their training courses and study missions. In parallel, Catholic schools organise educational exchanges. The twinning between the two municipalities was finally made official in 1967.
Cardinal Degenhardt, Archbishop of Paderborn, during a reception for the Robert Schuman Gold Medal at Metz, declared : “The bishops Aldric of Le Mans and Badurad of Paderborn could probably never have imagined, despite their foresightedness and the strength of their faith, that their pact would have lasted as long as it has as a sign of a western community, nor that their bishops would be meeting each other, after more than 1150 years, not in an Empire but in a democratic European Community.”
At the heart of this European Community, this friendship extending over many centuries may serve to encourage other types of exchange, with the only trading links being where top priority is given to the spiritual values of respect for the person, mutual trust, spirit of sharing and brotherly communion.
Fr. Hervé-Marie Cotten
priest in the Le Mans diocese, chairman of the St Liborius Brotherhood.
Translated from the original text in French