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The archbishops from Magdeburg Cathedral

Between 2006 and 2010 archaeological excavations were carried out in Magdeburg Cathedral as part of a cooperation between the State Office for Heritage Management and Archaeology Saxony-Anhalt and the then Saxony-Anhalt Cathedrals and Castles Foundation (now the Kulturstiftung Sachsen-Anhalt [Saxony-Anhalt Cultural Foundation]), the Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg, and the state capital Magdeburg. These investigations not only yielded important new insights into the architectural history of this outstanding cultural monument, but also the rediscovery of the burial of Queen Edith, the first wife of Emperor Otto the Great, an entirely surprising and particularly spectacular find, which is presented separately elsewhere. In addition, the burials of Archbishops Wichmann von Seeburg (1116 to 1192) and Otto of Hesse (1301 to 1361) were discovered near the rood screen, which are also of extraordinarily high scientific interest and allow fascinating observations.


Particularly outstanding are the exceptionally well preserved and at the same time very fragile textile finds in both burials. Wichmann wore, among other things, a gold brocade mitre and shoes decorated with gold. And in the case of Otto of Hesse’s burial, too, the textile grave furnishings are almost completely preserved. Due to the quality and preservation of the grave goods in the two important burials, they were secured and recovered under the strictest conservation conditions. The work was carried out in a climate-controlled and sealed-off room in which both burials could be lifted as blocks.


After X-ray examinations in the computer tomograph - in this context many thanks go to the Otto von Guericke University Magdeburg, Clinic for Radiology and Nuclear Medicine, Dr Oliver Großer - the burials were placed in two climatic boxes filled with nitrogen to prevent possible mould infestation and brought to Halle to the restoration workshop of the State Museum of Prehistory. Here they were and are examined, uncovered, restored, and conserved by a conservation team.


First the block excavation of Wichmann was examined and processed. Prior to this, cleaning and partial securing of the heavily soiled and damaged material had to be carried out. For the examination of the interred, analyses of the textiles (fibre determination, weaving technique, patterning, state of preservation et cetera) and the grave goods such as chalice, paten, and crosier were necessary.

Individual finds were removed in the course of processing, for example the fire-gilt chalice and the paten. But also the magnificent mitre and the shoes set with precious stones and freshwater pearls were carefully uncovered. The finds were examined and conserved piece by piece and with great precision, so that since November 2018 they can be presented to the public in the new Dommuseum Ottonianum in Magdeburg with the most comprehensive research results available.

Also the less pompous, but no less interesting burial of Archbishop Otto of Hesse is being scientifically examined and conserved since the beginning of 2016. Thus it has been possible to reconstruct the shape of his liturgical outer garments made of precious silk and semi-silk fabrics and, in part, even their fabric patterns. The liturgical clothing of the head, hands, and feet, too, is so well preserved that it could be classified more closely on the basis of comparative examples. A ball of fabric lying near the head, which initially posed a puzzle, could be identified as a face veil made of silk and gold threads when examined under the microscope after it had been carefully removed from the skull and gently unfolded. Parts of the pattern could be reconstructed on the smoothed fabric. Recognisable are, for example, a serrated diagonal frame and a simplified, repeating fleur-de-lis.


Find of the month

An article from our category ›Find of the Month‹ on the topic ›Archbishops from Magdeburg Cathedral‹ can be found here:

»Gesichtsschleier und Kinnbinde aus dem Grab des Magdeburger Erzbischofs Otto von Hessen«

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