You are here

Biblical Archaeology Review 46:2, Spring 2020

Epistles: A Thousand Words: Decorated Doors of Bishop Bernward

Biblical Archaeology Review

Centuries ahead of their time, the Bernward Doors, two monumental bronze doors of the Hildesheim Cathedral in Germany, depict eight scenes from the Book of Genesis and eight from the Gospels. Saint Bernward, the 13th bishop of Hildesheim, was both an artist and scholar. He initially commissioned the more than 15-foot-tall doors in 1015 for the Abbey Church of St. Michael in Hildesheim, Germany, but they have since moved to the Cathedral of Hildesheim. Similar metal doors—with figural scenes from the Bible in panels—would later grace the exteriors of churches throughout Europe.

The Old Testament scenes appear on the bishop’s left door and progress chronologically from top to bottom, beginning with the creation of humankind and ending with the murder of Abel. The New Testament scenes on the right door, however, move from bottom to top, starting with the Annunciation to Mary and ending with the Ascension of Jesus. Illustrating the story of salvation through the Christian typological reading of the Hebrew Scriptures (Jesus being the new, redeeming Adam; see Romans 5:12-21), each episode from Genesis is meant to parallel the episode from the Gospels to its right. For example, in the sixth panel, Eve holds her firstborn son, Cain, while Mary holds her firstborn son, Jesus.