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Burchard of Worms

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Subject: Decretum, LGBT history in Germany, Alpert of Metz, 950s births, 1025 deaths
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Burchard of Worms

Statue of Burchard at Wormser Dom (Cathedral of St. Peter).

Burchard of Worms (c. 950/65 – August 20, 1025) was the Roman Catholic bishop of Worms in the Holy Roman Empire, and author of a canon law collection of twenty books, known as Decretum Burchardi, also Decretum, or Collectarium canonum. 'Decretum' in English means decree, decision, principle, statute, and doctrine.[1]


  • Life 1
  • Works 2
  • References 3
  • External links 4


Burchard was born into a wealthy family in the Rhenish Hesse region of the German Empire bordering Lotharingia. As a young boy Burchard was sent to the town of Koblenz, where he was entered into the monastic school of either St Florin or St. Kastor to be raised a canon. He was later ordained as a deacon by Archbishop Willigis of Mainz, and was eventually elevated to primate of Mainz. He had two siblings; an older brother, Franco, who was the Bishop of Worms from 989 to 999, and a sister, Mathilda, who became the Abbess of an unknown monastery close to Worms at some point around 1010–1015. Upon the death of Burchard's brother Franco in 999, Emperor Otto III appointed Burchard as the bishop of Worms in the year 1000, an elevation confirmed by Willigis at Kirchberg within days. In the Vita Burchardi by Ebbo/Ebberhard of Worms (c. 1025), we are told that, initially Otto had sought to elevate one of his two chaplains, Herpo of Halberstadt and Rako of Bremen to the episcopate, going so far as to give each of them ‘the pastoral staff as they lay in bed gravely ill’. But both of them died before they could be anointed. Otto had also offered Worms to the renowned pastor simply known as Erpho. But within three days of becoming bishop, Erpho was dead from unknown causes and was quickly replaced by a man called Razo, who killed himself at Chur in Switzerland within a short period of time. The same account also indicates that Worms was in disrepair, and regularly attacked by both wolves and robbers.[2]

Burchard oversaw the rebuilding of the walls of Worms, the creation of many monasteries and churches, and took part in the destruction of the fortifications of Otto I, Duke of Carinthia. Duke Otto was believed to be housing criminals, and was an enemy of Burchard's. According to Burchard's biographer, "many limbs were hacked off and many murders occurred on both sides" of the conflict. Burchard adopted a child from the enemy household, who would grow up to become Emperor Conrad II (c. 990–1034). After gaining the aid of King Henry II of Bavaria and engaging in negotiations, Duke Otto's castle was dismantled and rebuilt to become a monastery in honour of St. Paul. In 1016, Burchard rebuilt the town's Cathedral of St. Peter. Burchard also spent time educating students in the cathedral's school.

Burchard died in 1025, leaving to his sister a hair shirt and an iron chain as a memento mori.


Burchard is best known as the compiler of a twenty-book collection of canon law which was made with the help of his contemporaries Bishop Walter of Speyer (963–1027), Alpert of Metz (d. 1024) and at least three other prominent regional ecclesiastics. Begun in c. 1012, the materials took him roughly nine years to compile. Burchard wrote it while living in a small structure on top of a hill in the forest outside Worms, after his defeat of Duke Otto, whilst raising his orphaned grandson, Conrad. The collection, which he called the Collectarium canonum or Decretum, became a highly influential and popular source of canonical material. It came to be referred to as the Brocardus (Latin for 'Burchard'), from which the legal term 'brocard' originates. The Decretum cites from a variety of Biblical, patristic and early medieval sources, including the Old Testament, Augustine of Hippo, Gregory the Great, Isidore of Seville, Hrabanus Maurus and Julian of Toledo.

Burchard probably completed his Decretum by 1023. An important surviving manuscript is Codex 119 of the Dombibliothek (Cathedral Library) in Cologne (Dom Hs. 119), dated to c. 1020, and thus completed still during Burchard's lifetime. The text was first printed in 1548, probably on the basis of this manuscript. Codex 119 is missing Burchard's prologue, book 1, and parts of books 2, 19 and 20. Apart from these passages, the manuscript is the most authoritative source of the text.

The twenty books of the work are divided as follows:

1. De primatu ecclesiae ("on the primate of the Church")
2. De sacris ordinibus ("on the holy orders")
3. De aeclesiis ("on the congregations")
4. De baptismo ("on baptism")
5. De eucharistia ("on the eucharist")
6. De homicidiis ("on homicides")
7. De consanguinitate ("on consanguinity")
8. De viris et feminis Deo dicatis ("on men and women dedicated to God")
9. De virginibus et viduis non velatis ("on virgins and widows who are not veiled")
10. De incantatoribus et auguribus ("on enchanters and augurs"; see also Canon Episcopi)
11. De excommunicandis ("on those to be excommunicated")
12. De periurio ("on perjury")
13. De ieiunio ("on fasting")
14. De crapula et ebrietate ("on over-eating and inebriety")
15. De laicis ("on laymen")
16. De accusatoribus ("on accusers")
17. De fornicatione ("on fornication")
18. De visitatione infirmorum ("on the visitation of the infirm")
19. De paenitentia ("on penitence" = "Corrector Burchardi"[3])
20. De speculationum liber ("book of speculations")

Book 19 is the so-called "Corrector Burchardi", a penitential or confessor's guide, probably a work of the 10th century which is added by Burchard as a sort of appendix to his work. Book 20, entitled speculationum liber, discusses answers to technical theological questions, especially on topics such as eschatology, hamartiology, soteriology, demonology, angelology, anthropology and cosmology.

As a source of canon law, Burchard's Decretum was initially supplanted by Ivo of ChartresPanormia (c. 1094–1095), which utilised and built upon large sections of the Decretum, and slightly later by Gratian’s Concordia discordantium canonum or Decretum Gratiani (1139–1140), a much larger collection that further attempted to reconcile contradictory canon law.

Burchard spent the years 1023 to 1025 promulgating Leges et Statuta familiae S. Petri Wormatiensis, also known as Lex familiae wormatiensis ecclesiae, an assortment of customary laws composed for the members of the familiae of Worms (the various free and un-free workers of the Worms episcopal estate). In a similar, though considerably more condensed fashion to the Decretum, the Lex sought to delineate in thirty one chapters a variety of secular problems commonly experienced by the people of Worms in the final years of Burchard’s episcopate. It touches upon issues which range from marriage, to abduction, murder, theft and perjury.


  1. ^ From Latin to English
  2. ^ "The Life of Burchard of Worms, 1025". Retrieved October 16, 2005. 
  3. ^ Henry Charles Lea, Materials Toward a History of Witchcraft, p. 182
  • Austin, G., ‘Jurisprudence in the Service of Pastoral Care: The “Decretum” of Burchard of Worms’, in Speculum, Vol. 79, No. 4 (Oct., 2004), pp. 929–959.
  • Austin, G., ‘Review: Autour de Burchard de Worms: L'église allemande et les interdits de parenté (IXème-XIIème siècle) by Corbet, P.,’, in Speculum, Vol. 80, No. 3 (July, 2005), pp. 859–861.
  • Austin, G., Shaping Church Law Around the Year 1000: The Decretum of Burchard of Worms. Ashgate, 2009.
  • Harmann, H., ‘Burchards Dekret: Stand der Forschung und offene Fragen’, in Bischof Burchard von Worms, 1000–1025, (ed.). Hartmann, W., (Quellen und Abhandlungen zur mittelrheinischen Kirchengeschichte, 100), (Mainz 2000), pp. 161–166.
  • H. Hoffmann and R. Pokorny, Das Dekret des Bischofs Burchard von Worms. Textstufen – Frühe Verbreitung – Vorlagen, Munich 1991.

External links

  • Biography in the Catholic Encyclopedia
  • Translation of The Life of Burchard of Worms
  • Opera Omnia by Migne Patrologia Latina with analytical indexes
  • Biography in the
  • Burchard's Lex Familie Wormatiensis
  • Dom Hs. 119
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