Patrick Healy

title.none: Giese, Textfassungen der Lebensbeschreibung (Patrick Healy)

identifier.other: baj9928.0702.011 07.02.11

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Patrick Healy, Mount Holyoke College,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2007

identifier.citation: Giese, Martina. Die Texfassungen der Lebensbeschreibung Bischof Bernwards von Hildesheim. Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Studien und Texte, 40. Hannover: Hahnsche Buchhandlung, 2006. Pp. xxviii, 137. $30.00 3-7752-5700-4. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 07.02.11

Giese, Martina. Die Texfassungen der Lebensbeschreibung Bischof Bernwards von Hildesheim. Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Studien und Texte, 40. Hannover: Hahnsche Buchhandlung, 2006. Pp. xxviii, 137. $30.00 3-7752-5700-4. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Patrick Healy
Mount Holyoke College

Bernward of Hildesheim (ca. 960-1022) is a classic example of the prince-bishops who flourished in Germany during the Ottonian period. Born into the Saxon noble family of the Immedinger, Bernward was marked out for promotion and command at an early age. At the cathedral school of Hildesheim, the young Bernward was not only instructed in the seven liberal arts but also developed an abiding interest in metalwork, painting and architecture. After completing his studies he was ordained a priest by Archbishop Willigis of Mainz (975-1011) but helped for a time in the comital administration of his maternal grandfather--the count palatine of Saxony, Adalbero (982)--before joining the royal court as a chaplain in 987. In 989 he was entrusted by Empress Theophau (991) with the education of the young Otto III (983-1002) and was eventually rewarded for his service at court with the bishopric of Hildesheim in 993.

Bernward's tenure as bishop was a remarkable success. A loyal advisor to Emperors Otto III and Henry II (1002-1024), Bernward successfully defended his diocese from Slav incursions and helped to fortify the cities in his care. He also promoted monastic reform in his diocese, helping to found the abbey of St Michael at Hildesheim in 1001 and endowing this new foundation with two magnificent bronze doors, which contain biblical scenes that are masterpieces of Ottonian art. More than a century after his death in 1022, local veneration for Bernward in Saxony began to cohere in a movement that demanded his canonization. This campaign culminated successfully in 1193 when Pope Celestine III declared Bishop Bernward to be a saint.[1]

One incident in Bernward's career allows us to observe some of the central concerns of his episcopate. This is the so-called "Gandersheim dispute," which is also central to the various versions of Bernward's Vita that have been meticulously studied by Martina Giese in her monograph for the MGH.[2] The nunnery of Gandersheim was founded in 852 at Brunshausen by Liudolf--the ancient ancestor of the Liudolfing kings of Germany--and the nunnery was moved to the wooded retreat of Gandersheim in 856. Performed in order to achieve a worthy seclusion from the world, this transfer had the unanticipated consequence of technically placing the nunnery in the diocese of Mainz. The latent problems inherent in the move of 856 became manifest after the death of Emperor Otto II (973-983) and the entry of the emperor's daughter, Sophia, into the nunnery of Gandersheim in 989. She, it is alleged, did want wish to be under the administration of a mere bishop and preferred the jurisdiction of the archbishop of Mainz, a preference that Willigis of Mainz was happy to satisfy. Naturally the bishops of Hildesheim resented any diminution of their authority and resisted the attempts made at Gandersheim to secede from their jurisdiction. In this dispute Bishop Bernward of Hildesheim staunchly defended the prerogatives of his church, successfully petitioning royal and papal support in 1001 and 1006. The successive archbishops of Mainz proved tenacious, however, and Archbishop Aribo (1021-1031) only finally renounced the Mainz claims to Gandersheim in 1030, eight years after Bernward's death.

Bernward's defense of Hildesheim in the Gandersheim dispute helped inspire Thangmar--master of the cathedral school and later dean at Hildesheim--to write his famous Vita Bernwardi. One of the more accomplished and affecting medieval biographies, the Vita Bernwardi has been, however, the object of much scholarly debate and dissatisfaction. The reason for this debate, as Giese points out in Die Textfassungen der Lebensbeschreibung Bischof Bernwards von Hildesheim, is the edition of the Vita published by G. H. Pertz for the MGH in 1841.[3] The manuscript exemplar used by Pertz (Hannover, Niedersächsisches Hauptstaatsarchiv, Ms. F 5; denoted Ha by Giese) is in fact an expanded form of the original Vita that was compiled to assist the process of Bernward's canonization in late 1192/early 1193.[4] Pertz incorrectly thought that Ha derived from the eleventh century and his mistake has led to doubts about the authenticity of the Vita and about Thangmar's authorship of the text. However, a process of rehabilitation began in 1997 when Marcus Stumpf published his study on the manuscript transmission of the Vita Benwardi. Stumpf argued persuasively in favor of Thangmar as the author of an authentic text, which was begun in Bernward's lifetime and completed after the bishop's death in 1022.[5]

In her monograph for the Studien und Texte series of the MGH, Martina Giese builds on Stumpf's work and offers a new appraisal on the genesis and development of the Vita Bernwardi throughout the course of the Middle Ages. She offers seventeen new exemplars of the text and concludes--with the aid of formidable erudition--that eleven discrete versions of the Vita are discernible throughout the course of its genesis and elaboration. The earliest version of the Vita is represented in a manuscript emanating from Hildesheim (Dresden, Sächsische Landesbibliothek, J. 206; denoted Dr by Giese). This manuscript, Dr, contains a copy of the "Hildesheim memorandum" on the Gandersheim dispute. The first part (fol. 1r-19r) of this copy of the "Hildesheim memorandum" contains material corresponding to chapters 12-22, 28-37, 39 and 43 of the Pertz edition of the Vita Bernwardi for the MGH. It was compiled after Otto III's death in 1002 and recounts the early part of the Gandersheim dispute until the reconciliation between Archbishop Willigis of Mainz and Bishop Bernward of Hildesheim at the synod of P?hlde in January 1007. The second part (fol. 19v-20v) contains material corresponding to chapters 44, 45, 48 and 54 of the MGH edition of the Vita Bernwardi. This narrative describes the succession of Erkanbald to Willigis at Mainz in 1011, the renewed outbreak of hostilities under Archbishop Aribo of Mainz (1021-31), and the death of bishop Bernward on 20 November 1022.[6]

It seems clear that a now-lost original of the "Hildesheim memorandum" was the basis for the earliest text of the Vita Bernwardi as well as being the exemplar for Dr. It is also possible that Thangmar was involved in compiling this memorandum, which would later serve as a major source for his biography of Bernward. Giese stresses that the "Hildesheim memorandum" was compiled primarily as a dossier in support of the jurisdictional claims of Hildesheim over the nunnery of Gandersheim. If Bishop Bernward emerges as a key figure in this document, it is because he personifies the legal claims of his church. Out of this legalistic portrait of an influential courtier Thangmar later fashioned the more sensitive and holy bishop of the Vita Bernwardi.

The next really important version of the Vita Bernwardi (Giese's Textstufe 2) is the Gotha version, which has been most impressively reconstructed by Giese from two fourteenth century manuscripts. The Gotha version (and its derivative, Textstufe 3) lacks chapters 51, 52, 56 and 57, together with the epitaph at the end of c. 55, which are present in the fourth redaction of the Vita. The fourth redaction is an augmentation of the original text that reflects the nascent desire to have Bernward canonized which developed ca. 1150. This version was certainly in existence by 1192 when the monks of St Michael at Hildesheim contributed to the Roman canonization of Bernward by compiling what Giese calls the "canonization version" of the Vita (Textstufe 5). This "canonization version" is represented by the manuscript Ha, i.e. the one unhappily chosen by Pertz to be his exemplar in 1841. Of the other versions, mention should be made of the legendary redaction (Giese's Textstufe 8) of the Vita, which developed in the fourteenth century. This version clearly had a wide currency and is represented in nine extant manuscripts.[7]

Giese has performed an invaluable service to any future editor of the Vita Bernwardi. As she rightly asserts, it is necessary to establish the identity of the eleven redactions of the text--and the relations of these eleven to each other--before any critical edition can be attempted. Also, the edition with parallel versions of the text that Giese suggests would allow scholars to observe the progressive augmentation and elaboration of the text from the eleventh to the fifteenth century.

This book is divided into four main sections: first, a general introduction; second, a description of the twenty-seven manuscripts that contain the Vita Bernwardi; third, a long and important section of the various redactions of the text; fourth, a conclusion. The main text is supplemented with an appendix in four parts, which includes a most interesting discussion of the interpolations into three manuscripts of the Vita executed by Henning Rose, a monk at Hildesheim in the early sixteenth century. The bibliography that precedes the text, and the indices that follow it, are as thorough as one would expect in a publication of the MGH.


[1] A concise overview of Bernward's career is contained in the Lexikon des Mittelalters, 1 (Stuttgart, 2003), 2012.

[2] The dispute is described in A. Hauck, Kirchengeschichte Deutschlands, 3 (Berlin, 1958), 268-70.

[3] Thangmari Vita Bernwardi, episcopi Hildesheimensis, ed. G. H. Pertz, MGH Scriptores, 4 (Hannover, 1841), 754-82.

[4] Giese, Textfassungen, 12, 39-43, 97.

[5] M. Stumpf, "Zum Quellenwert der Vita Bernwardi", Deutsches Archiv, 53 (1997), 461-96.

[6] Giese, Textfassungen, 9-10, 31-4.

[7] An overview of the redactions is provided by Giese, Textfassungen, 97-9.