Hildesheim Cathedral Treasure Part Of Unesco World Heritage Site

The Hildesheim Cathedral Treasure has been amassed over centuries. It has been part of the Hildesheim UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985.

Shrine of St. Epiphanius | Hildesheim Cathedral Treasure

The golden burial case's commonly used name – the Shrine of St. Epiphanius – is misleading since the shrine was not created to only house the relics of the holy bishop, but rather it also contains the relics of other Hildesheim Cathedral patrons.

Large Golden Madonna | Hildesheim Cathedral Treasure

The design vocabulary of the `Large Golden Madonna´ reveals that it dates back to the time of Bishop Bernward, probably as part of the traditional refurbishment which Bernward bestowed upon his Cathedral Church.

Head Reliquary of St. Oswald | Hildesheim Cathedral Treasure

Featuring an octagonal central building design, the Head Reliquary of St. Oswald has an inscription indicating that it contains the head of St. Oswald.

The Foundation Reliquary

The Foundation Reliquary is the heart of the Hildesheim Cathedral Treasure. It has been associated with the legend of the formation of the dioceses for centuries now.

Cuneiform Reliquary | Hildesheim Cathedral Treasure

The so-called `Cuneiform Reliquary´ probably dates back to the second half of the 10th century. Among the relics are those of the Blessed Virgin, Saints Cosmas and Damian, the Martyrs Cantius and Pancratius as well as the Holy Bishop Ansbertus.

Great Disc Cross | Hildesheim Cathedral Treasure

The Hildesheim Cathedral Treasure boasts a total of three disc crosses which were created in the first half of the 12th century. Differences in design reveal that they weren't made simultaneously and therefore were also not created to be complementary pieces from the very beginning. This picture shows the Great Disc Cross.

Godehard Shrine | Hildesheim Cathedral Treasure

The Godehard Shrine designed to look like a glorious palace was created in 1140 and is one of the oldest preserved reliquary shrines of the Middle Ages

Reliquary of the Magi | Hildesheim Cathedral Treasure

The Reliquary of the Magi contains three fingers of the Magi. The relics were given to the Cathedral Chapter by the Archbishop of Cologne, Rainald von Dassel, who died in 1167 in Rome.

Reliquary of the Cathedral Patrons | Hildesheim Cathedral Treasure

The Reliquary of the Cathedral Patrons originates from a donation made by Canon Lippold von Steinberg.

It all began with a miracle 1,200 years ago to which the diocese of Hildesheim also owes its foundation: according to legend, a relic miracle in 815 led Emperor Ludwig the Pious to erect a lady chapel at the site of today's Domhof (Cathedral Yard). By order of Bishop Altfrid, it was here that the first cathedral construction began in 1872.

A separate treasury was established in the so-called Altfrid Cathedral to house precious altar vessels, vestments as well as liturgical books. The existence of this chamber is reported in the Annals of Hildesheim in connection to a fire that took place in 1013. Although the fire was quickly extinguished, a number of valuable items required for religious services and a large number of manuscripts were lost.

The contemporary dedication picture in the Gospel manuscript was donated by Bishop Bernward for the Altar of Our Lady in the St. Michael's Church.

It's possible that Bishop Bernward who reigned at the time ordered the fire in order to `lavishly refurbish´ his Cathedral in `marvellous beauty´, as told by his biographer, the Cathedral Canon Thangmar. Thangmar reports of precious Gospel books `emblazoned with gold and gems´, of censers of `significant value and weight´ as well as of various ornate goblets made of onyx, crystal and pure gold. Even Bernward himself boasted of his rich donations, mentioning golden crowns, chalices, candelabras, covers and ornaments. From Bernward's opulent donations to the Cathedral, only the Large Golden Madonna and the famous bronze door have survived, serving as a testament of Romanesque art even today.


The Altfrid Cathedral was severely damaged in a fire on 23 March 1046. To all appearances, significant parts of the church treasure, above all the relics, could be saved. The damage to the Cathedral was so severe that Bishop Azelin wanted to give up one of the new westward extensions in order to benefit himself, yet this endeavour failed. Azelin's successor Hezilo had the Cathedral restored to its former dimensions. During the consecration, Hezilo had part of the Cathedral Treasure located inside the new high altar brought down. It remained here until the repeated destruction of the Cathedral on 22 March 1945 and was first removed upon clearing the rubble, without anyone having known about its age. Fortunately, two large crates filled with relics could be salvaged back then.

In the 12th century, the relics of the oldest cathedral patrons which were hidden in the crypt were transferred to a new golden shrine that was placed behind the high altar as a retable. During holidays, further reliquaries were added here. As a result, a protective fence, whose doors could be closed if required, was placed in the cathedral room in the Middle Ages. For the safekeeping of portable relics among other items, there were two treasuries which were used as such up until the 19th century. One was located on the south side of the choir, whereas the other, much smaller treasury was situated on the north side. Relics, and in particular pieces of the church treasure which were only taken out and placed on the high altar during special occasions for worship, were kept in these treasuries. These items included, for example, the Head Reliquary of St. Oswald as well as the Large Golden Madonna.

During the baroque period, the diocese's identity was often interpreted as being embodied in the medieval treasures of the Cathedral Treasury. The Cathedral Treasure itself became an admired antiquity, as impressively documented in a series of copperplate engravings bearing the inscription `Gloriosa Antiquitas Hildesina´. Apparently, the Cathedral Chapter also strategically placed its treasures in the visiting itinerary of eminent personalities, as such as documented in a royal visit in 1820.

The Hildesheim Cathedral and the 1900s.

In the mid-19th century, the increasing number of visitors coming to the Cathedral led the Cathedral's state building authority, which had been in charge since secularisation, to also expand the treasury located on the south side of the choir as part of a major restoration campaign in the Episcopal Church. This project was most likely funded through a scientific paper on the Hildesheim Cathedral Treasure which was first published in print in 1840 and was authored by Johann Michael Kratz, historian and scholar of Hildesheim.

During a gathering of the German Association of History and Antiquities in 1856, the Hildesheim art treasures were first shown as antiquities of the Fatherland in an exhibition which was made possible in the Cathedral by the order of the Hildesheim Bishop Eduard Jakob Wedekin, who was interested in art history. A sample of representative pieces was already depicted in detailed steel engravings by the year following thereafter.

Portable Alter | Hildesheim Cathedral Treasure

The portable alter, which is supported by four feet resembling talons of birds of prey, dates back to the 12th century. The reliefs on the long and short sides were made of walrus tusk.

Bishop Bernward presumably bequeathed this crosier to the Abbot of Fulda as a gift for his ordination.

Bishop Bernward presumably bequeathed this crosier to the Abbot of Fulda as a gift for his ordination. The knop shows four small figures meant to personify the rivers of Paradise.

Lion Pricket Candleholder | Hildesheim Cathedral Treasure

The Lion Pricket Candleholder was probably made sometime during the second half of the 13th century in a Hildesheim workshop.

So-called St. Bernward Chalice | Hildesheim Cathedral Treasure

The so-called St. Bernward Chalice is traditionally associated with Bishop Bernward, but is actually a donation made to the Cathedral by Bishop Gerhard (1365-1398).

Enamel Plates | Hildesheim Cathedral Treasure

Two of the six enamel plates show scenes from the life of Christ. The enamel plates were originally attached to a wooden panel which was found in the crypt behind the organ during renovation work in 1898. The wooden panel, which was quite possibly an altarpiece, no longer exists today.

This bowl from the mid-15th century was used during Eucharist donations, as it was used as the wafer plate. | Hildesheim Cathedral Treasure

This bowl from the mid-15th century was used during Eucharist donations, as it was used as the wafer plate. Although the bowl is unusually large for this purpose, the inscription on the rim explicitly indicates what it should be used for.

Saint Godehard's Crosier | Hildesheim Cathedral Treasure

Saint Godehard's Crosier features three metal bands. The crosier ends with the head of an animal holding a cross-shaped flower in its mouth.

As awareness of its prestigiousness spread, which the Hildesheim Cathedral Treasure could claim as its own, both from a historical and artistic point of view, the more urgent it became to find a proper way of presentation. The medieval treasury had long since proven to be too small, and with the dissolution of the Monastery of St. Michael, important parts of the church's treasure were added to the Cathedral Treasury. Even the Cathedral Chapter played a significant part in the treasury becoming too small over time, for example, through targeted holdings acquired from private collections in the course of secularisation and the transfer of individual cathedral furnishings deemed worthy of being displayed in a museum. As a result, the treasures housed in the Cathedral Choir were moved to a newly developed treasury situated above the Sacristy in 1884. From the `regalia´ taken from the Episcopal Church, a separate museum collection was created – exactly the collection of precious treasures to which the Cathedral Treasure should only refer in the future.

In the Second World War, the timely relocation of the Hildesheim Cathedral Treasure saved it from destruction, when the Cathedral's Sacristy was reduced to a pile of rubble on 22 March 1945 during a bomb raid. Starting in 1960, the Cathedral Treasure was once again put on display in its own treasury above the Sacristy. As proof of its rich history, the Cathedral Treasure was made the focus of the central exhibition of the 79th German Catholic Day held in Hanover in 1962. Since 1978 and the time of the museum's re-establishment,  it has formed the heart of the Diocesan Museum, in the meantime becoming one with the Hildesheim Cathedral Museum thanks to its inventory of items.

To date, this one-of-a-kind collection of ecclesiastical art has remained significant to the formation of an identity. All made possible through the Cathedral Chapter's goal of repositioning it closer to Episcopal Church and carrying it out as part of the Cathedral's restoration. More than ever before, the Cathedral and Cathedral Museum can be experienced altogether, giving you full and direct access to information about a high medieval church – just one of the main reasons why UNESCO incorporated the Hildesheim Cathedral and its Cathedral Treasure into its list of world heritage sites in 1985.