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Burchard of Basle

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Burchard of Basle (also of HASENBURG or ASUEL, from his ancestral castle in Western Berne, Switzerland), Bishop of Basle in the eleventh century and a warm partisan of Henry IV (1056-1106). He belonged to the family of the counts of Neuenburg, or Neuchatel, was b. towards the middle of the eleventh century, and d. April 12, 1107. Having entered the ecclesiastical state he was made Bishop of Basle (1072) by Henry IV; in recognition of this favor he was ever loyal to the king, and became one of his foremost advisers. In Henry’s first difficulties with the Saxons (1073-75) Burchard rendered him all possible assistance. When the conflict between the king and Pope Gregory VII (1073-85) broke out, Burchard was among the bishops who assembled at Worms (January, 1076), proclaimed the deposition of the pope, and wrote him an insulting letter. Together with Bishop Huzmann of Speyer he also went to Northern Italy for the purpose of inducing the Lombard bishops to take similar action with regard to the pope. In this he was successful; a synod was assembled at Piacenza, and the Lombard bishops renounced obedience to Gregory. For these rebellious acts Burchard was excommunicated and deposed by the pope in the Lenten synod of 1076; a similar sentence was inflicted on other bishops and on Burchard’s royal master. King Henry obtained absolution at Canossa in January, 1077; and Burchard, who accompanied him on the penitential pilgrimage, was reinstated in office.

During the civil war in 1077 and the following years, between Henry and his rival, Duke Rudolf of Suabia, raised to the throne by many princes, Burchard stood on the side of Henry, in whose interest he fought repeatedly, both against Rudolf and his supporter, Berthold of Zahringen. In 1078 Burchard and his friend suffered a crushing defeat, and he barely saved his life by precipitate flight. But the fortunes of war turned; Burchard and his partisans ravaged the country of Alemannia, or Suabia, the home of Rudolf and Berthold, and many cruelties were committed. Churches, sanctuaries, and perhaps monasteries as well were destroyed by the reckless and savage soldiery. But it all helped the cause of Henry and weakened that of his rival, who was finally vanquished and killed in 1080. Burchard was rewarded for his services with grants of land from Henry. It is not certain that he was present in the synod held at Brixen (Tyrol) in June, 1080, where the partisans of Henry again deposed Gregory VII and elected in his stead Wibert, Archbishop of Ravenna. He was with Henry, however, when the schismatic king took possession of Rome, March 21, 1084, and it may be taken for granted that he assisted at the installation of the antipope Clement III (1084-1100) and at the imperial coronation of Henry, which events occurred on the 24th and 31st of March respectively. Shortly afterwards Burchard returned to Germany with his royal master.

Two synods were held there during the year 1085, in which Burchard, though not present, was directly concerned. The first, in the latter part of April, was held at Quedlinburg by the partisans of Gregory VII; it condemned all adversaries of the pope, including Bishop Burchard. Henry’s faction held its synod at Mainz in the early part of May; Pope Gregory and all the bishops loyal to him were deposed. For the next twenty years Burchard was less active in the cause of Henry, but he remained to the end loyal to his king. When Henry was hard pressed in Italy by his son Conrad, in rebellion since 1093, and other enemies, Burchard was one of the very few bishops of Germany, who brought him any comfort. In 1095 he appeared at the king’s court at Padua, and after Henry’s return to Germany he paid several other visits to the royal court. How much Henry counted on the loyalty of Burchard was made evident in a letter which the monarch wrote to the princes of the empire from Liege in the early part of the year 1106, shortly before his death. Henry besought the princes to accord him sufficient time to consult with the princes and bishops about the matters relating to his abdication or reconciliation with his rebellious son Henry V (1106-25), and among the bishops faithful to him he mentioned the name of Burchard of Basle.

Burchard, however, did not always remain an uncompromising adversary of the popes. After the death of Gregory VII, particularly after the election of Urban II (1088-99), his sentiments underwent a change. He sought a reconciliation with the Holy See; and in order to prove his interest in purely ecclesiastical and spiritual matters he became instrumental in the erection of several monasteries or other religious institutions. Among those founded by him may be mentioned the monastery of St. Alban in Basle, the chapterhouse of Grandis Vallis to the south of Basle, and the monastery of St. John, erected partly by his brother and partly by himself at Erlach in the neighborhood of his ancestral castle. In spite of his attachment to Henry IV he died fully reconciled with the pope.


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