Meantime two events occurred, which cannot but have hardened the resolve of the pope to find a champion. These events were the occupation of Ceccano in the duchy of Rome by Aistulf and the appeal of the emperor to the pope that he should go to Pavia and attempt to persuade the Lombard king to give up Ravenna and the cities he had lately taken. The appeal of the emperor must have assured the pope, if indeed he had any doubt about it, that the emperor, so far as Italy was concerned, was helpless; while the occupation of Ceccano made it doubly obvious that the Lombard intended, now that the empire was helpless, to be absolute master throughout the peninsula.
[Illustration: Colour Plate S. GlOVANNI EVANGELISTA]
Stephen considered what course he should pursue, received two other Prankish envoys in Rome, consented to go to Pavia on behalf of the emperor, and determined at the same time to visit Pepin in the north. He set out for Pavia upon October 13, 753, leaving Rome with a vast concourse of people, which accompanied him some distance along the Way, out of the Flaminian Gate. His mission on behalf of the empire was naturally entirely fruitless, and early in November the pope left Pavia with the hardly won consent of Aistulf to cross the Alps by the Great S. Bernard—a difficult and dangerous business at that time of year—and to meet the Frankish king at S. Maurice in the valley of the Rhone. In the latter he was disappointed. Pepin had been called away to deal with an incursion of the Saxons, and now awaited his amazing visitor at Ponthion in Champagne, but he sent his son Charles, destined to be the first emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, a hundred miles down the long roads to meet the pope, and it was in the company of this youthful hero that upon the Feast of the Epiphany 754 Stephen entered Ponthion at last, and was greeted by Pepin, who cast himself upon the ground before him and walked as his lackey beside him as he rode.
The result of their interview is given in the Liber Pontificalis: “The most blessed pope tearfully besought the said most Christian king that by means of a treaty of peace (? with him the pope) he would dispose of the cause of the blessed Peter and the republic of the Romans, who by an oath there and then (de praesenti) satisfied the most blessed pope that he would obey all his commands and admonitions with all his strength and that it pleased him to restore by every means the exarchate of Ravenna and the rights and territories of the republic."
[Footnote 1: As this is very important I give the original Latin “Ibidem beatissmus Papa praefatum Christianissimum regem lacrimabiliter deprecatus est ut per pacis foedera causam beati Petri et reipublicarae Romanorum disponeret. Qui de praesenti jurejurando eundem beatissimum Papam satisfecit omnibus ejus mandatis et ammonitionibus sese totis nisibus obedire, et ut illi placitum fuerit Exarchatum Ravennae et reipublicae jura seu loca reddere modis omnibus.”]