Johann Burchard Historical ProfileThis is a featured page


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JOHANN BURCHARD Historical Profile
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JOHANN BURCHARD STATS
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Name: Johann Burchard
Born: 1450
Home town: Haslach, Near Strasbourg, Germany
Died: 16 May 1506
Position: Papal Master of Ceremonies
Personality type: Straightlaced, punctilious, hardworking, a typical civil servant.
Famous for: Writing his diary.
Strength(s): Industriousness, honesty, intelligence and attention to detail, excellent work ethic; he was papal MC for over twenty years/
Weakness(es): Dull, humourless, risked offending royals and their retainers while insisting on correct precedence and proper ceremonial seating order.
Quirks: recorded infamous, scandalous orgies as drily as if he were describing an Evening Prayer Mass (see The Ballet of the Chestnuts).


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JOHANN BURCHARD BIO
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Johann Burchard was born in the village of Haslach, near Strasbourg, then part of Germany, in around 1450. He was ordained as a priest in 1476 and served as secretary to the local Bishop before moving to Rome in 1481.

In 1483, Burchard became the Master of Ceremonies to Pope Sixtus IV and was therefore responsible for organising events such as papal visits, receptions and funerals, and for advising the Pope on precedence and tradition. He continued in this office for the next four Popes until his death in 1506.


Throughout this period, Burchard kept a diary of events which details his day-to-day activities and also includes some of political events of the time, He seems to have written this as a private record and perhaps also to help his successor in office, and not for publication.

Burchard's diary, known as the Liber Notarum is regarded as one of the most detailed and accurate accounts of the papacy of Pope Alexander VI. His style is very factual and he rarely reveals his personal opinions. Even when he writes of notorious events such as the 'Ballet of the Chestnuts', his account is impersonal and deadpan. Interestingly, he makes no mention of poisonings by any member of the Borgia family, although he gives an account of the murder by strangulation of Lucrezia's second husband, Alfonso of Aragon
the Duke of Biscelie. This may be an indication that the Borgias' reputation for poisoning was invented or exaggerated, particularly as Burchard was responsible for preparing bodies for funerals, or he may have been too careful to record any suspicions that he might have had.

Burchard held many benefices in his native Germany and became Bishop of Orte in 1503. He died on 16 May 1506. Aside from the Diary, which is published in English under the title 'At the Court of the Borgia', he wrote books on papal ceremony (the Liber Pontificales), episcopal ceremonies (the Caeremoniale Episcatorum), and the Mass (Ordo Servandus Per Sacerdotum in celebratione Missae), which now forms part of the Roman Missal. His house in the Via del Sudario, Rome, built in 1491, still survives.



page logo CONTEMPORARY VOICES
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page logo JOHANN BURCHARD QUOTES
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  • The face was very dark, the colour of a dirty rag or a mulberry, and was covered all over with bruise-colored marks. The nose was swollen; the tongue had bent over in the mouth, completely double, and was pushing out the lips which were, themselves, swollen. The mouth was open and so ghastly that people who saw it said they had never seen anything like it before." Writing in his diary of the dead body of Pope Alexander VI.
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page logo JOHANN BURCHARD TRIVIA
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  • Burchard was present at the laying of the foundation stone of the new St Peter's Basilica on 18 April 1506.
  • Secured the appointment of Master of Ceremonies for 450 ducats.


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