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Burchard of Worms

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Name  Burchard Worms
Role  Author
Died  August 20, 1025

Burchard of Worms

Burchard of Worms (c. 950/65 – August 20, 1025) was the bishop of the Imperial City of Worms, in the Holy Roman Empire. He was the author of a canon law collection of twenty books known as the Decretum, Decretum Burchardi, or Decretorum libri viginti.


Early life

Burchard was born at some point in the mid-tenth century (c. 950-965), to a well-connected, wealthy family in the Rhenish Hesse region of the German Empire bordering Lotharingia. He had two siblings; an older brother, Franco, who was the Bishop of Worms c. 998-999, and a sister, Mathilda, who became the Abbess of an unknown monastery close to Worms at some point around c. 1010-1015. It is evident from the Vita Burchardi (by Ebbo/Eberhard of Worms (c. 1025)), that Burchard’s parents, during his early life, not only possessed ‘many properties and servants’, but had enough local influence to position directly two of their sons on a course to becoming confidants of the inner Imperial circle and Bishops of Worms. Burchard’s family seems to have been of sufficient substance to exert a reasonable measure of political influence within the diocese of Worms. As a young boy he was sent to the town of Koblenz where he entered the monastic school of either St. Florin or St. Kastor to be raised as a canon. Under the tutelage of Archbishop Willigis of Mainz, Burchard was dutifully instructed in the tenets of ‘noble behaviour’ whilst swiftly being groomed ‘through each step of the clerical grade’, until he became the provost of a ‘very poor place’; the old collegiate church of St. Victor in Mainz. There, Burchard transformed its fortunes by founding an ‘outstanding monastery along with a cloister of canons’ which Willigis financially supported and eventually consecrated around the year c. 994-995. He was later ordained as a deacon by Archbishop Willigis and eventually elevated to the rank of primate of Mainz.


Upon the death of Burchard's brother Franco in 999, Emperor Otto III appointed Burchard Bishop of Worms in the year 1000, an elevation confirmed within days by Willigis at Kirchberg in Saxony. In the Vita Burchardi, it is described by Ebbo/Eberhard that the emperor had initially intended to elevate one of his two chaplains, Herpo of Halberstadt or Rako of Bremen to the episcopate, going so far as to give them "the pastoral staff as they lay in bed gravely ill." However, each of them died before they could be anointed. Otto had also offered Worms to a renowned pastor known as Erpho. Within three days of becoming bishop, Erpho died from unknown causes and was quickly replaced by a man called Razo, who killed himself at Chur in Switzerland shortly thereafter. The same account also indicates that Worms was in disrepair, and had been regularly attacked by both wolves and robbers. It was in urgent need of an administrator.

After he was appointed Burchard oversaw the rebuilding of the walls of Worms, the creation of many monasteries and churches, and the destruction of the fortifications of Otto I, Duke of Carinthia. Duke Otto was believed to house criminals, and he was an enemy of Burchard. 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 grew up to become Emperor Conrad II (c. 990–1034). After gaining the aid of Henry II of the Duchy 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 Worms Cathedral of St. Peter. He also spent time educating students in the cathedral's school.

Burchard died in 1025 AD, leaving 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 put together 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 c. 1012, he worked through this material for roughly nine years before the project was completed while living in a small structure atop a hill in the forest outside Worms, after his defeat of Duke Otto, whilst raising the latter's orphaned grandson, Conrad. The collection, which he called the Decretum, or Decretorum libri viginti 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 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 during Burchard's lifetime. The text was first printed in 1548, probably on the basis of this manuscript. Codex 119 lacks 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," or "Corrector Burchardi") 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 Burchard added to his Decretum as a sort of appendix. 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, the Decretum was initially supplanted by Ivo of Chartres’ Panormia (c. 1094–95), which utilized and built upon large sections of the Decretum, and, slightly later, by Gratian’s Concordia discordantium canonum or Decretum Gratiani (1139–40), a much larger collection that attempted to further 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 (various free and non-free workers of the Worms' episcopal estate). In a similar fashion, though considerably more condensed than the Decretum, the Lex sought to delineate in 31 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.


  • (Pt-Br) Bragança Júnior, Álvaro & Birro, Renan M. (2016). O Corrector sive Medicus (ou Corrector Burchardi, ou Da poenitentia, c.1000-1025) por Burcardo de Worms (c.965-1025): apresentação e tradução latim-português dos capítulos 1-4, além das "instruções" de penitência 001 a 095, Revista Signum 17 (1), pp.266-309.
  • (Fr) Gagnon, François (2010). Le Corrector sive Medicus de Burchard de Worms (1000-1025): présentation, traduction et commentaire ethno-historique. Dissertação. Montréal: Université de Montréal, 2010.
  • (En) Shiners, John (2009). Burchard of Worms’s Corrector and Doctor (c. 1008-12) In: Shiners, John (ed.). Medieval Popular Religion, 1000-1500: A reader. 2. ed. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, pp.459-470.
  • (It) Picasso, Giorgio; Piana, Giannino; Motta, Giuseppe (1998). A pane e acqua: peccati e penitenze nel Medioevo - Il «Penitenziale» di Bucardo di Worms. Novara: Europia.
  • (En) McNeill, John & Garner, Helena (1965). Medieval Handbooks of Penance. New York: Octagon Books, pp.321-345.
  • References

    Burchard of Worms Wikipedia

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