2015

Hammaburg and Ansgar

Hamburg Archaeological Museum

In order to advance the missionary work of the neighboring regions in the north and to make them tributary, Emperor Louis the Pious, son of Charlemagne, sent the loyal and experienced missionary Ansgar to Hammaburg in 834. Ansgar built a wooden church in Hammaburg, which was sheltered by the castle. However, the "Apostle of the North", as he was called, achieved no lasting success.

WHO WAS ANSGAR
We are unusually well informed about Ansgar (801-865); his pupil Rimbert wrote the story of his life in the Vita Ansgari. Ansgar received his education as a priest in the northern France town Corbie, from where he was sent to the newly established Abbey of Corvey in 823. His first missionary journey in 826 led Ansgar to Denmark. In 829 he traveled to Sweden. Louis the Pious sent him to the future missionary stronghold Hammaburg in 834, where he remained until the Vikings destroyed it in 845. He escaped to Bremen where he became the local bishop. He died there in 865.
ESESFELTH CASTLE - CHARLEMAGNE'S BASE IN THE NORTH
After the Saxon resistance was broken in 804, Charlemagne delegated the administration of the Nordalbingian areas of Saxony to his allied Slavic neighbors, the Obotrites. But when the Danish Vikings strengthened under King Godfred, Charlemagne tasked the Frankish Earl Egbert with securing the border. In 810 Egbert built Esesfelth Castle on the western outskirts of the present-day town Itzehoe as the first Frankish fortification north of the Elbe. The fort was built in an extremely favorable strategic position. It had a direct connection to the Elbe and the Ox Road (Hærvejen), which was as a military and trade route from Hamburg to Jutland. Military consolidation was soon followed by Christian consolidation as well. Esesfelth became the most important base of the Nordic mission under Ebbo, the influential archbishop of Rheims.
ANSGAR'S ARRIVAL - HAMMABURG ENTERED THE LIGHT OF HISTORY
After its expansion in 817/22 the Hammaburg became one of the most important border fortifications in the north of the Frankish Empire. In order to advance the missionary work of the neighboring regions in the north and to make them tributary, Emperor Louis the Pious, son of Charlemagne, sent the loyal and experienced missionary Ansgar to Hammaburg in 834. He came from the Imperial Abbey of Corvey in present-day Eastern Westphalia, one of the most important strongholds of the Carolingian missionary and church policy in Saxony. Ansgar built a wooden church in Hammaburg, which was sheltered by the castle. As an economic basis for his imperial and papal missionary mandate, Louis gave the monastery Torhout in Flanders to Ansgar. Through the certificate, which documented this on May 15th in 834, the Hammaburg entered the light of history for the first time.
ANSGAR'S MISSION
Ansgar's mission to proclaim Christianity beyond the northern borders led him to Denmark and Sweden several times after 826. In Birka, Hedeby and Ribe, the main trading places of the North, he succeeded to build churches and to baptize pagans, which was tolerated by the rulers. However, the "Apostle of the North", as he was called, achieved no lasting success. All three parishes lasted only a short time during Ansgar's lifetime. Only with the baptism of King Harald Bluetooth in 965 (100 years after Ansgar's death) did Christianity finally break through in Denmark.
THE SEARCH FOR ANSGAR'S CHURCH
Researchers have always presumed that Ansgar's church must have been located within the Hammaburg fortification. When four particularly thick, squared timber posts that were exactly in line with the later Gothic cathedral had been discovered during the first excavations in 1949, they were immediately interpreted as coming from Hamburg's ancient church. It is now clear, however, that the remains of the posts are significantly younger and belong to a wooden church, which was probably built by Archbishop Unwan in the 1020s. This so called "Unwan Cathedral" today is the oldest documented church building in the cathedral square. It was first built on the abandoned castle grounds after the demolition of Hammaburg III. So far, Ansgar's church cannot be found. There is evidence to suggest that its remains lie under the St. Peter's Church just north of the former Hammaburg.
ANSGAR LEAVES HAMMABURG
Ansgar had a narrow escape when the Vikings attacked Hammaburg in 845, or at least his pupil Rimbert tells it that way in the Vita Angari. Ansgar eventually fled to Bremen, where Bishop Leuderich coincidently died in the same year. Louis the German, king of East Francia, which included the city of Bremen, then appointed Ansgar as the new bishop of Bremen. Originally, the diocese subordinated to the Archbishop of Cologne, but since the division of the kingdom in 843, Cologne (now part of Middle Francia) was ruled by Lothair I. Ansgar remained in Bremen until his death in 865. There are no documents that prove any activities of Ansgar in Hammaburg during this time. We also don't know if he rebuilt his destroyed church or if he ever stopped in Hammaburg during his journeys to Scandinavia.
FIN
The Cathedral Square is historically one of the most important places in Hamburg. Archaeological excavations discovered numerous traces of its eventful history. Here lies the nucleus of the Hanseatic city and one assumes the location of the Hammaburg, a fortress that gave its name to the city in the 9th century AD. Under the protection of the Hammaburg, archbishop Ansgar built the first wooden church. This was a strategic missionary base for the northern crusades to convert the people’s beliefs in Denmark, Sweden and the Slavs in the area of the Baltic Sea.
Archäologisches Museum Hamburg Stadtmuseum Harburg|Helms-Museum
Credits: Story

DIRECTOR & STATE ARCHAEOLOGIST
Rainer-Maria Weiss

AUTHORS
Jochen Brandt, Elke Först, Yvonne Krause, Lisa Hansen, Michael Merkel, Ingo Petri, Rainer-Maria Weiss

REDAKTION
Michael Merkel

FINAL PROOFREADING
Kathrin Mertens

TRANSLATION
Marlene Hofmann

FINAL PROOFREADING
Jeffrey Lucas

PHOTOS
Archäologisches Museum Hamburg Stadtmuseum Harburg|Helms-Museum,Thorsten Weise, Matthias Friedel (Luftbildfotografie)

CURATOR OF THE EXHIBTION
Ingo Petri

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions (listed below) who have supplied the content.
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