The Investiture Controversy: The Archbishops of Mainz, their charges and powers in the mirror of a single Coin from Erfurt – and how Frederick Barbarossa received Abbey Heidenheim by Pope Eugen III


The Conflict of Investitures was not only a matter of clerical authority, but also of money. The Pope demanded the rich benefice of Heidenheim of Bishop Heinrich of Cologne. How he managed to receive it, you will get to know in this podcast.



Come along with us on our journey through the world of money. Today we are stopping in Erfurt. We are in the year 1150.


E-R-P-E-S-F-O-R-DI – the inscription on the coin’s left reads Erpesfordi, “Erfurt”. So the coin was made in Erfurt, today’s capital of the German State Thuringia. We even know the minting authority. From the letters N-R-I-C-H we can reconstruct “Heinrich”, Henry. And that Henry is precisely the man depicted on our coin.


Look down. There he stands, his hands lifted in prayer. With pride he wears the bishop’s mitre with its two peaks and the pendilia - ribbons that fall down from the mitre. You can just about see the hint of a cope, a richly decorated, large cape which is the traditional gown for great ceremonial processions. And if you look closely enough you can even make out the pectoral cross, another traditional bishop’s insignia.


But to whom is our Henry addressing his prayers? That question, too, can be answered by the coin. Above him, there is a second bishop, wearing even more impressive insignia which tell of his episcopal power. He, too, wears a mitre with pendilia, cope and pectoral cross but on top of that he carries in his right the crozier, and – what is even more – in his left he holds the cross-sceptre, sign of the secular power he executes in his diocese. And this brings us right into the middle of what historians call the Investiture Controversy.


Originated in the French monastery Cluny the idea spread that the clergy should be independent of secular powers. A nice idea indeed, if it weren’t for the fact that past sovereigns had bestowed immense power on the clergy in the past. They had given that power to the clergy so that in return they would help rule their realms.


Take the Archbishop of Mainz. Around the turn of the millennium, he controlled a vast area, stretching even further east than Erfurt, where our coin was minted, to include the dioceses Prague and Olmütz.


Besides, the Archbishop of Mainz presided over the election of the German Emperor. And he was archcancellor of the Holy Roman Empire which meant that all archbishops of Mainz were in charge of the Empire’s memory, its archive of official documents. That, in turn, implied immense power and required that the German Emperor could trust the man holding this position by all means.


Henry was such a man. Appointed by Conrad III of Germany. Approved by Pope Innocent II. But popes were never long in office during those times. And Pope Eugen III was not a fan of Henry’s political agenda.


The main conflict concerned the Abbey Heidenheim. Heidenheim was an immensely rich benefice which had been run by Benedictines until the monastery was turned into a community of secular clergymen in 790. The Pope would have very much liked to see Benedictine monks move in there again, who would support his plans for reform and spend the abbey’s revenues to his advantage. Archbishop Henry, on the other hand, was not willing to surrender such an important source of income for his diocese without a fight. We have to consider our bracteate with that background in mind.


You see, the impressive bishop Henry is praying to no one less than the Holy Martin of Tours, who had also been the first bishop of Mainz, at least if one is to believe the - probably forged – documents.


Holy Martin was the ideal model of each and every priest and bishop. He had contradicted and stood up to emperors and popes. He embodied the independence of all bishops - which is exactly what Henry was asking for his diocese.


It was a pity that he supported the wrong man after the death of Conrad III. Archbishop Henry was an enemy of the ambitious Frederick I, also known as Frederick Barbarossa. So it didn’t come as a surprise that Barbarossa tried to replace Henry after his victory. Despite of strong protests from Bernard of Clairvaux and Hildegard of Bingen, Barbarossa succeeded. Thanks to Eugen III, who had supported him, and who, as a sign of gratitude, was given his Benedictine abbey in Heidenheim.


Thank you for listening. And you can find more podcasts about coins and money on the Sunflower Foundation Web page.

Signet Sunflower Foundation