Burchards Dekret Digital

Academy project: “Burchards Dekret Digital” (Burchard’s Digital Decree): a work platform to give access to texts and study the history of reception of early and high medieval legal cultures

The research project “Burchards Dekret digital”, under the direction of Prof. Dr. Ingrid Baumgärtner (University of Kassel), Prof. Dr. Klaus Herbers (Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg) and Prof. Dr. Ludger Körntgen (Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz) is part of the Academies Programme, with which the Union of German Academies supports long-term research projects such as central editions, dictionaries, and text corpora as stores of knowledge. The project, under the umbrella of the Academy of Sciences and Literature in Mainz, has a planned funding period of eighteen years (2020-2037).

The project centres on one of the most influential collections of medieval canon law, the Decree of Bishop Burchard of Worms (1000–1025). The aims of the research project are firstly to carry out a multiperspectival analysis of the work’s transmission, reception, and significance for legal and cultural history, secondly to produce a critical edition, in print and online, and thirdly  to create a digital work platform with an international focus.

The starting point for the project is the observation that canon law had a lasting influence on developments in Western and Central Europe right into the twentieth century, and made a fundamental contribution to the emergence of common European legal foundations. The origins and conduits of these influences are diverse and extend far back into the past. It is often claimed that Europe’s development into a (in many respects) unified space, following reconfigurations of canon law and Roman law, did not begin until the twelfth century. But in fact considerable importance must be accorded to the efforts to collect, systematize and develop canon law that were undertaken in the often underestimated period between the Carolingian reforms and the scholarly beginnings of canon law studies and  scholasticism in the twelfth century.

By far the most important collection of this period, the Decretum Burchardi was regarded in the eleventh and twelfth centuries as the definitive book of canon law, and could be quoted with the simple reference “ex Burch(ardo)”. This was instantly comprehensible not only to scholars of canon law but also to diocesan administrators. This practical legal importance was one of the reasons why Burchard’s compilation was able to maintain its status as a standard work in relation to later compilations. Even the Decretum Gratiani of 1140, the foundation for all subsequent developments in canon law and scholarly canon law studies, had extracts from Burchard’s work added to it or inserted as commentary.

In close collaboration with partners from all over the world, the project places the Decretum Burchardi at the centre of fundamental, multiperspectival research. It will give access to surviving manuscripts all over Europe; it will produce the first ever critical edition; and it will sift through the rich traces of the work’s reception, particularly in Germany, Italy, France and Spain. The project is methodologically innovative both in the provision of digital access and in the focus on reception history, which gives an impression of the powerful dynamics of European legal cultures. A digital work platform is being constructed to manage these diverse tasks. This will not only make it possible to publish a comprehensive digital edition, but will in future make available materials such as manuscripts, catalogues and source editions. It will also promote scholarly dialogue on an international level, and bring together the many researchers currently working on the sources and reception of medieval canon law, in order to do justice to the wide dissemination and epoch-spanning impact of the Decretum Burchardi.