Thirteenth Bishop of Hildesheim, Germany, b. about the middle of the tenth century; d. 20 November, 1022. He claimed descent from a noble Saxon family, which counted among its members men of distinction in Church and State. His grandfather was Athelbero, Count Palatine of Saxony. Having lost his parents at an early age, he came under the care of his uncle Volkmar, Bishop of Utrecht, who entrusted his education to Thangmar, the pious and learned director of the cathedral school at Heidelberg. Under this master, Bernward made rapid progress in Christian piety as well as in the sciences and in the liberal and even mechanical arts. He became very proficient in mathematics, painting, architecture, and particularly in the manufacture of ecclesiastical vessels and ornaments of silver and gold. He completed his studies at Mainz, where he was ordained priest by Archbishop Willigis, Chancellor of the Empire (975-1011). He declined a valuable preferment in the diocese of his uncle, Bishop Volkmar, and chose to remain with his grandfather, Athelbero, to comfort him in his old age. Upon the death of the latter, in 987, he became chaplain at the imperial court, and was shortly afterwards appointed by the Empress-Regent Theophano, tutor to her son Otto III, then six years of age. The youthful emperor is known to have been a learned and religious prince, for which he was indebted in no small degree to his instructor.
Bernward remained at the imperial court until 993, when he was elected Bishop
of Hildesheim. His long episcopate of nearly thirty years was prolific of great
results for the Diocese of Hildesheim. Thangmar, his former tutor, who
subsequently became his biographer, describes in eloquent terms, how the saint,
after performing his episcopal functions in the cathedral, was wont to visit the
various workshops connected with the cathedral school, and with his own hands
manufactured gold and silver vessels for the enrichment of the altars. Under his
direction arose numerous churches and other edifices, including even
fortifications for the defence of his episcopal city against the invasions of
the pagan Normans. As evidences of his skill in the practice of the mechanical
arts there are still preserved in Hildesheim a cross of rich and exquisite
workmanship, known as the
Bernward Cross, the famous Bernward column, with
winding reliefs representing scenes from the life of Christ, two bronze doors of
the Cathedral of Hildesheim, showing Scriptural scenes, and two candlesticks
symbolic of Christ, the light of the world. A monument of his zeal and skill is
St. Michael's abbey-church at Hildesheim - now Protestant - one of the most
magnificent basilicas in Germany. His knowledge and practice of the arts were
wholly employed in the service of the Church. A man of extraordinary piety, he
was much given to prayer and the practice of mortification. Shortly before his
death in 1022 he had himself invested with the Benedictine habit. He was
canonized by Pope Celestine III in 1193. His feast occurs on 20 November.
Stimmen aus Maria Laach (1885), XXVIII; GFR RER, Papst Gregor VII, V, XXXIII, LIV; KUHN, Allgemeine Kunst-Geschichte, XIII.
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