Tracing the eighth-century diocese of Freising: A digital approach

Katharina Winckler

September 1, 2018 | Katharina Winckler | HI Research Blog |

Early Medieval Bavaria is a peculiar case in the studies of sixth- to ninth-century Europe: the region disappears almost completely from our written sources at the beginning of this period, but re-emerges from the middle of the eighth century onwards with a sudden (and astonishingly large) amount of written evidence, especially charters.
These charters mostly tell us about property donated to the Church. They mostly do not survive in their original form, but in a copy that was made shortly after their creation: the so-called Traditions. The monks edited the original documents, making shorter (as in the case of the eponymous Breves Notitiae of Salzburg) or longer (as in the traditions of Freising) copies of the texts.
The given property mostly consists of manors, fields, vineyards and similar sites ensuring the prosperity of the bishopric, monastery or church.  Not only were commodities granted, but also churches. Here, the charters exceed the line of what modern readers would expect of a document about economic transactions: they tell us not only about the economic but also about the spiritual power of a bishop.  
In some charters we have a line that tells us about the bishop consecrating the donated church. This explicit statement of the dedication of a church does, at a first sight, seem like a floral ornament of the charter, where the given church is embedded into the spiritual realm of the bishopric to which the church is given. And indeed, the consecration by the bishop was an important aspect of the public ritual of a donation, when someone decided to erect a church and give it to a bishopric with the sole exchange of salvation of their soul.
Something interesting appears, if we take a closer look at the dedicated churches in the above-mentioned traditions of Freising (This compilation was composed in the first half of the 9th century and contains numerous copies of 8th century charters), specifically from before the year 788, when Charlemagne deposed duke Tassilo of Bavaria. Consecration by the bishop was only mentioned in some of the donation charters where a church was given.
So why was this ritual only stated in the case of some churches? The reason might be that the consecration was more than just a ritual for the soul, it also had quite worldly consequences: the bishop could henceforward exact tithes and also install the priest. Most importantly, in a time when territories – also episcopal – were evolving, the act of consecration meant also an act of affiliation, a public demonstration of belonging to a bishop’s seat. Additionally the consecration of a church – and especially making reference to it in a charter – served as a sort of boundary mark against other bishoprics.
In order to visualise this, I used the Database and GIS (Geographic Information System) that were specifically created for the project Digitizing Patterns of Power at the IMAFO. By geo-referencing the churches – i.e. locating and marking them on a map – we can see the early medieval diocese of Freising forming.
When all churches which were explicitly consecrated by a bishop of Freising before 788 are located in this GIS, a surprisingly clear picture emerges (see the image): it shows a ring of churches around the bishop’s seat in Freising. This ring seems to define the core-area of a territory that would eventually become the diocese of Freising.

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