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Thursday, March 3, 2011



Thursday, July 8, 2010



[This section follows from Part III, below]


On July 8, 2010, I traveled to Hildesheim, a city located west of the Elbe River, in Lower Saxony, in the district of the same name, about 40 km southeast of Hannover. I was there to visit the Church of St. Michael’s, one of Bishop Bernwald’s cathedrals. Within this Church, among other outstanding materials of Romanesque Art, is the black column of Bishop Bernward, a bronze column depicting scenes from the life of Jesus, which I described in Part III of this blog entry. Nearby, at the Römer und Pelizaeus Museum Hildesheim, are the Bernward Doors, also in bronze, which are one of the most outstanding achievements of Ottonian Romanesque Art, and the style of which replicates the craftsmanship and the spiritual gravity of the black column discussed in Part III. [See Part III below]


[click on images to expand their size]

Bernward’s Door at Hildesheim Cathedral of St. Mary’s

[For a series of complete photographs of the doors, see the following blog site:]

The richly sculptured doors closing the western portal of the Hildesheim Cathedral are now at the Römer und Pelizaeus Museum Hildesheim. Their importance to Bishop Bernward, who commissioned them, is probably due to the fact that he intended them to be meant for the two entrances leading from the transept to the ambulatory surrounding the crypt of the Church of St Michael’s, where he planned to be buried. The doors were finished in 1015, the year the crypt was consecrated. He probably got the idea from Byzantine and Roman bronze doors he saw during his visit to Rome. But the doors are different from their predecessors in that they are divided into horizontal fields rather than vertical panels. The sectional frame system, with its division into four equally sized compartments, was possibly made after the example of the bronze doors of the Cathedral at Mainz. Each horizontal field contains a biblical scene in high relief from the Old and New Testament. The images from the Old Testament on the left wing, read from top to bottom, beginning with the Creation of Man and ending with the Fratricide. Below is a detail of the panel depicting the Creation of Eve:

The Creation of Eve

The doors also differ from anything Bernward may have seen in Rome due to the style in which the Biblical personages were depicted by the artists he commissioned. Once again, as in the Bernward column, we see the stark realism and expressionism of German Ottonian Art, with its tortured representations of both human beings, plants, animals and decorative motifs, starkly and startingly depicting the emotional content of the vision rather than attempting a naturalistic imitation of reality. This is clearly the case in the famous panel which shows the expulsion from the Garden of Eden. H. W. Janson describes the panel as follows:

The expulsion from the garden

“[The panel] shows Adam and Eve after the Fall. Below it, in inlaid letters remarkable for their classical Roman character, is part of the dedicatory inscription, with the date and Bernward’s name. . . . The entire composition must have been derived from an illuminated manuscript; the oddly stylized bits of vegetation have a good deal of the twisting, turning movement we recall from Irish miniatures [specifically the Lindau Gospels]. Yet the story is conveyed with splendid directness and expressive force. The accusing finger of the Lord, seen against a great void of blank surface, is the focal point of the drama; it points to a cringing Adam, who passes the blame to his mate, while she, in turn, passes it to the serpent at her feet.” (H.W. Janson, History of Art, New York, 1971, 207).

At the bottom of the left wing is the depiction of the fratricide:

Cain and Abel (Genesis, 4)

The right wing of the set of doors constitutes a response to the left wing depiction of Old Testament images read from top to bottom, by contrasting it with a set of fields which depict scenes from the New Testament and convey the eye of the beholder upwards towards Heaven and Redemption, instead. The positioning of Eve and Mary on opposite sides underlines the topical structure of Guilt and Redemption, which dominates the imagery on the door. Read from bottom to top, the right wing begins with the Annunciation on the bottom, whereas the topmost image depicts the risen Christ, who, like a "new Adam" has atoned for the guilt of Man and overcome Death.

The Empty Tomb: The visit to the Sepulchre of Jesus (Mark, 16, 1-8)

Christ before Pilate (John, 18, 28-38)

The Bernward doors are the door to Heaven. The Ottonian artist, or artists, have created a gate that leads to the salvation of Mankind, which lies behind and beyond it. As the faithful reaches and faces the door, he sees the Fall of Man on his left, from the Creation on the top to the war between brothers on the bottom. To his right, however, she sees the hope of Mankind in the story of Jesus, beginning at the bottom with the Annunciation and rising, through the depiction of the sad story of Jesus, to the Resurrection above.


The bronze doors are said to have been designed by Bernward himself for the entrance to his tomb. The tomb of Bernward, as planned, is in the crypt (Krypta) of the Church of St. Michael’s. The western choir (shown on the left of the reconstructed plan below) has a raised floor above the level of the rest of the church, so as to accommodate a half-subterranean basement chapel, or crypt, apparently a special sanctuary of St Michael, now the Bishop’s Tomb, which could be entered both from the transept and from the west. The crypt was roofed by groined vaults resting on two rows of columns, and its walls were pierced by arched openings that linked it with the U-shaped corridor, or ambulatory, wrapped around it. The bronze doors described above, were most likely designed to guard the entry from the transept to the ambulatory.

Choir screen above the crypt

The tomb of Bishop Bernward seen from the ambulatory

View of the crypt with the tomb of Bishop Bernward in the foreground

The mosaic in the background of the crypt was added in the nineteenth century. It has a Wilhelminian look to it, like the mosaics in the great Dom of Berlin.

Modern statue of Bishop Bernward

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