Bronze doors, Saint Michael’s, Hildesheim (Germany)

Bronze doors, 1015, commissioned by Bishop Bernward for Saint Michael’s, Hildesheim (Germany)

Interior of St. Michael’s Hildesheim


Additional resources:

St Mary’s Cathedral and St Michael’s Church at Hildesheim from UNESCO

St. Michael’s church at Sacred Destinations

Medieval Treasures from Hildesheim (exhibition catalog from The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Woman 1: [0:04] We’re looking at the Bishop Bernward doors that date from about 1015. We know that Bishop Bernward went on a pilgrimage to Rome and then returned back to Hildesheim and wanted to recreate some of the monumental art that he saw.

[0:20] Specifically, when he was in Rome, he saw the monumental wooden doors at Santa Sabina that have scenes from the Old and New Testament carved into them, and he felt like he needed his own doors.

Woman 2: [0:30] We read these starting in the upper left-hand corner, in which you have the creation of Eve from the side of Adam, and then below that is the presentation of Eve to Adam. Then the temptation. Below that is then the accusation of Adam and Eve, and then below that the expulsion.

[0:48] The panel below that, interrupted by the door handles, we see Adam working the land on the left, Eve nursing on the right. A fun fact about Eve nursing is that this is one of maybe only 20 images of Eve nursing. Below that, we have Cain and Abel and their sacrifices or presentations to the Lord. Below that, in the final panel, is the murder of Abel by Cain.

Woman 1: [1:14] Instead of going back to the top, on the right it starts at the bottom, where we have the Annunciation with Mary and the angel. Then the Nativity, that’s the birth of Jesus. Then the scene that’s interrupted by the door handle here is the Adoration of the Magi. We have three magi on the right, approaching Mary and Jesus on the left.

[1:32] Above that, we have the Presentation in the Temple. Above that, we’ve got Christ being presented to either Herod or Pilate, before his crucifixion. Above that, we’ve got the crucifixion of Christ. Above that, we have the Marys at the tomb, which was the standard scene showing the Resurrection in the early Middle Ages.

[1:50] Then at the very top, we have what’s called the “Noli Me Tangere.” Mary Magdalene sees Jesus in the garden, and He says, “Don’t touch me.” We have our scenes from early Genesis, and then scenes from the gospels.

[2:03] Now, one of the really interesting things that happens here is that we have all these scenes lined up next to each other. There are some visual and also some thematic patterns that happen left to right. The one that I think is a really good example, in the third panel from the top, we’ve got the temptation, Adam and Eve are about to eat the fruit. On the right, the crucifixion.

[2:24] If we look at the tree that holds the fruit in the Adam and Eve scene, it’s very much a cruciform-shaped tree, just as we have Christ on the cross in the center of the other image. Then we have Adam and Eve on either side, just as we have the tormentors on either side.

[2:40] On the far edges of the Adam and Eve scene, we’ve got trees. Then we have Mary and John in the crucifixion scene. There is a similarity of composition.

[2:49] What I think that does is bring out the thematic connection of “In Adam all men die, and in Christ all men are made alive,” which is a really important idea for Christianity, and especially for Christianity in the Middle Ages.

Woman 2: [3:02] Absolutely. This is a very long, old tradition in Christianity to compare Christ as the new Adam and then Mary, the new Eve. You have traditions that the cross was made from the wood of the tree in the garden.

Woman 1: [3:15] This an Ottonian work of art. Ottonians were hangers-on to the Carolingian Renaissance. They saw themselves as being inheritors of the Carolingian Empire. In my mind, they’re not so much looking back so diligently to the classical models, but there is definitely the flavor of some of that Carolingian Renaissance here.

[3:37] These are cast in solid bronze. It’s very much thought that the lost wax method was used here. Bishop Bernward had his artists recreate or rediscover the lost wax method so that these doors could be cast in two single pieces as opposed to being hammered from the inside with the repoussé.

Woman 2: [3:58] That is very much in keeping with that Carolingian and the inherited idea of looking back to classical and ancient models and reclaiming them and reviving them.

Woman 1: [4:07] Right. We have the ancient method used here in the Ottonian period.

[4:11] [music]

Cite this page as: Dr. Nancy Ross and Dr. Jennifer Awes Freeman, "Bronze doors, Saint Michael’s, Hildesheim (Germany)," in Smarthistory, December 11, 2015, accessed May 18, 2024,