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Otto the Great’s Church

Featured Image: Cloister church, Helfta convent (Wikipedia | Rabanus Flavus | CC 0).

On the road from Hannover to Berlin, you will pass through Sachsen-Anhalt. This state has famous towns such as Magdeburg and Halle. It is known for Martin Luther’s birthplace, and the cloister Helfta from the thirteenth century. Helfta is important in the tenth century, too. And our guide with more information is Thietmar of Merseburg, the prince-bishop of Merseburg (c. 975-1018).

In Search of Otto’s Church

Otto the Great (Wikipedia | Andreas Praefcke | CC BY-SA 4.0)

His Chronicon Thietmari describes the lives of the German Holy Roman Emperors. He starts with Otto the Great and refers to a royal pfalz near Helfta where Otto stayed. Twice, he mentions Otto building a church nearby. Moreover, he states that Otto attended the consecration of this church that was built in honour of Saint Radegundis. Until now, the historical records were the main leads in the search for the pfalz and the church. And archaeologists focused on Helfideburg in Helfta.

Nearby, on the hills on the edge of Helfta, is a cornfield between ‘Grosse Klaus’ and ‘Kleine Klaus’. A recent geophysical survey of this field showed possible structures in the ground, and excavations have now uncovered a church. Was this Otto’s church, mentioned by Thietmar? Its dimensions suggest it stood tall and very visible from Helfta. Further discoveries include graves, and artefacts. There is a church bell, an enamel brooch from the ninth century, and a crucifix from Limoges from the thirteenth century.

Read the original press release on the website of Landesamt Sachsen-Anhalt [German language], on LiveScience and The History Blog.

There is an interesting book in German on the Helfta palatine: Michael Belitz, Stephan Freund, Pierre Fütterer, et al. Eine vergessene Pfalz. Helfta und der Süden Sachsen-Anhalts im Früh- und Hochmittelalter, hg. von Michael Belitz, Stephan Freund, Pierre Fütterer und Alena Reeb (Regensburg: Schnell & Steiner 2020).

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