Magdeburg calls itself the “Otto City”. During a visit to the Ottonianum Cathedral Museum in Magdeburg, you can search for traces of one of the two “Ottos” who had so much influence on the development of the city.
Who was Otto I the Great?
Otto I lived from 912 to 973. He was Duke of Saxony, King of the East Frankish Empire, King of Italy and Roman-German Emperor. Otto’s life fills entire books and still occupies researchers. Much is known, much is assumed and certainly much is still unknown.
Contrary to all previous practices, Otto’s father Henry already determined before his death in 929/930 that Otto should be the sole successor to the throne. In the course of the preparations for the coronation, he was looking for a bride for Otto. The choice fell on Edgith (also known as Editha), a half-sister of the English King Æthelstan at the court of Henry I. After the marriage, Otto gave his wife the town of Magdeburg as a morning gift.
Otto I’s reign
After the death of Henry I in July 936, Otto ascended the throne within a short time. Just one year later he founded a monastery in Magdeburg. In the founding charter, he stipulated that the monks should pray for the salvation of his father, his wife and children, himself and all those to whom he owed prayer assistance.
Otto had to prove his claim to power again and again. He did not make it easy for himself either, and when allocating posts and lands, he apparently passed over personalities who would have been “next in line” and preferred to fill them with people of his choice. One or two times he could only solve the problem by military means.
On 29.1.946 Edgith died and Otto buried her in a tomb in Magdeburg. At this time he began to arrange his own succession and declared his son Liudolf to be his later successor.
The widower Otto strove for more power politically and in 951 he married Adelheid, the widow of the Italian king. She was thus able to pass on the title of Italian king to him.
Otto decided to establish an archbishopric in Magdeburg in 955. The church where his first wife was buried was replaced by a new building decorated with gold and marble. However, to found a bishopric he needed permission from Rome, which was denied him.
The death of Liudolf and an illness of Otto in 958 led to a serious crisis in the country. During this time, Berengar II tried to expand his power and take possession of Upper Italy and Rome. In doing so, he came into conflict with Pope John XII, who asked Otto for help in 960.
Otto reached Rome on January 962 and was crowned Emperor there. A little later, the Pope decreed the elevation of the Moritz Monastery in Magdeburg to a first bishopric. Only one day later, Otto issued the Ottonianum. With this he recognised the papal property rights and claims. In addition, he granted the Pope territories that had previously belonged to the Kingdom of Italy. The Ottonianum regulated the election of the Pope, which in future was to be the responsibility of the clergy and the “people of Rome”. However, the pope could only be consecrated after taking an oath of allegiance to the emperor.
After some back and forth, the Pope did not seem to like the Ottonianum after all, Otto nevertheless ordered everything according to his will and returned to the northern part of his empire in 965.
He resumed plans to found the archbishopric of Magdeburg. The new archbishopric of Magdeburg served above all to spread the Christian faith and was the intended burial place for Otto from the very beginning.
In 973 Otto fell seriously ill and died after a bout of fever on 7.5.973. He was buried in Magdeburg Cathedral at the side of his wife Edgith, who had died in 946.
Magdeburg and Otto
Magdeburg played an important role in Otto I’s life. Traditions say that he had been to the city 23 times during his life, more often than to any other place. For the citizens of Magdeburg, Otto was (and still is) considered the founder of the archbishopric and the founder of the city.
Coins were minted with the inscription OTTO IM(P) AVGV + (Otto imperator augustus) and the “Otto bowls” were produced in the Magdeburg foundries. In the centre of these bowls is a medallion with the depiction of a crowned man and the inscription OTTO.
The Magdeburg Horseman was created around 1240. The sculpture depicts an almost life-size High Medieval ruler on horseback and is the most important monument to the afterlife of Otto the Great in Magdeburg.
In 1622, coins were again minted showing Emperor Otto sitting on a horse.
In 1906, the Emperor Frederick Museum with the Magdeburg Hall was inaugurated in Magdeburg (today the Magdeburg Cultural History Museum). There, a 120 m² mural showed scenes that associated Otto with Magdeburg: “Otto I and Editha are fortifying Magdeburg”, “Otto I enters Magdeburg as victor over the Slavs and Wends” and “Otto I and Adelheid take leave of Editha’s grave”.
In recent years, three exhibitions have been held in Magdeburg that brought the topic of “Otto” back into focus. Excavations were carried out in and around the cathedral and the bones of Edgith, Otto’s first wife, were found.
In 2018, Otto received his own museum in the city, the Dommuseum Ottonianum Magdeburg.
Cathedral Museum Ottonianum Magdeburg
The Dommuseum Ottonianum Magdeburg is located in the immediate vicinity of Magdeburg Cathedral. In an imposing building from 1921/23 with a modern entrance area, a museum was opened in November 2018 that focuses exclusively on Emperor Otto I, his wife Queen Edgitha and the Archbishopric of Magdeburg.
Anyone visiting the exhibition should take a good look at the building beforehand. The neoclassical building was originally erected for the Reichsbank. Later, the State Bank of the GDR and then a branch of the Deutsche Bundesbank moved into the building. If you visit the toilets in the museum, you will pass a “reminder” of this time – a large safe door.
What can you see at the Dommuseum Ottonianum Magdeburg?
In the course of the cathedral excavations from 2001-2010 and the finds there, it was decided to present the results of the excavation permanently. And since there was no cathedral museum until then, the Ottonianum Magdeburg Cathedral Museum was founded.
The exhibition is located on one floor of the building. The 650 m² are divided into three large thematic areas: Emperor Otto the Great and Queen Edgitha, the Archbishopric of Magdeburg and the excavations.
The theme “Building Madgeburg Cathedral” is shown in the exhibition in a well-animated video.
We followed the tour and were thus able to familiarise ourselves more and more with the topics. An exciting path through history with many varied multimedia stations. I particularly liked the little animated films that showed Otto’s life in a very clear and easy-to-understand way. Once again, I realised that I would have liked to have been able to experience history in this way at school – told in a simple and clearly visualised way and not in a cumbersome text in a history book.
I found the information about the lead coffin and the findings of Queen Edgitha there impressive. With the help of a few pieces of fabric and many examinations, during which, for example, different remains of small animals were discovered, it was found out, for example, how often the corpse had been reburied.
A small but nice game for in between: Find the mistake in the picture!
Found it? The head on the far right is not really appropriate for the time in which the plaster carving in Magdeburg Cathedral was created. With the help of a camera and some technology, you can project your image into it and have the result sent to you by e-mail. You remain visible in the museum until the next visitor takes your picture.
We used the audio guide for our tour. You can use it individually for individual stations and get additional information about the exhibits. I really liked the material we heard. It was easy to understand and well explained. I even found that some of the exhibits were much easier to understand.
My personal conclusion to the impressive tour took place in a small “listening corner”. Here you can listen to a fictional story in which three gargoyles at Magdeburg Cathedral are talking to each other. The topic of the conversation is the consecration of the cathedral in 1363. It is very funny that these three gargoyles are hanging on the wall and you can look at them during the conversation.
Tuesday – Sunday: 10-17 h
if a public holiday falls on Monday, the museum is open from 10 am – 5 pm
closed: 24.12. und 31.12.
The visit to the Ottonianum Cathedral Museum in Magdeburg took place as part of a research trip to Magdeburg.