• Henry Hopwood-Phillips

St. Pantaleon of Cologne: Theophanou’s Final Resting Place



Bruno of Cologne was appointed to the court of his older brother Otto the Great at the age of fifteen. Thirteen years later he was made Duke of Lorraine and Archbishop of Cologne (one of his first acts was to obtain the staff of St Peter from Adalbert of Metz and remove it to Cologne).


His biographer Ruotger makes it clear that he wanted to engross himself in the renovation of ecclesiae, monasteria, et cetera aedificia.[1] Hence his association with countless churches in Cologne from Sta Maria im Kapitol and St. Pantaleon to St Severin to St Andreas.[2] St Pantaleon must have been closest to his heart, however, as that’s where he requested to be laid to rest in 965, shortly followed by the Byzantine princess Theophanou – bride of Otto II – in 991.[3]

Bruno renovated rather than built St Pantaleon. The main structure (shaped as a Latin cross with a shallow eastern semicircular apse and no side aisles) had been erected in the mid-ninth century on a hill just beyond the city. Perhaps its most remarkable feature was an octagonal structure twenty metres to the west that opened into eight exedrae; it was most likely a baptistery. Its precedents can be seen all over Christendom from Ephesus to Brescia – though Milan (where the baptistery of Sta. Thecla was built 378-86 and three other sites took up a similar plan) looks like the most direct influence. Milan also had two cruciform churches that were twice the size of the original Pantaleon: the Basilica Apostolorum (S. Nazarius) and Basilica Virginum (S. Simpliciano). The latter was almost certainly a prototype, as was S. Simpliciano stylistically.



Bruno’s redesign involved the conversion of its lateral wings into apsed chapels and the insertion of gigantic arcades. No doubt he was influenced by his early schooling in Trier at St. Maximin Abbey where he must have been awed by the grandeur of the Roman past. This heritage confronted him at the Porta Nigra, the imperial Thermae and the Basilica of Constantine. Moreover, the city’s Double Cathedral – perceived as a donation from Helena, the mother of Constantine, and still called the aula palatina – had been rebuilt around its Roman core after the Norman attack of 882. Bruno’s redesign must have therefore been part of a major effort to pull this Romanitas away from Trier and install it at Cologne.

This was, after all, an Age when the Germanics could happily admit that they wanted to appropriate rather than reject the Roman ideology of universal rule and its aesthetic. Charlemagne’s large audience hall has a terminus post of 798, while Leo III’s triclinium was completed in 799 (indeed the former was probably a loose copy of the latter). Both attempts embodied a Christian Renovatio Romanorum Imperii that was to be presided over not by the Eastern Romans ensconced in the New Rome but the Germanics in the Nova Roma of the North. Cologne wanted to play the same game. Hence the raising of a western transept at its cathedral that aped St Peter’s at Rome.

Despite all the talk of Roman dynasties, architecture and power, however, Theophanou was ultimately not the right princess. Otto had requested a porphyrogenita.[4] In other words, Anna, daughter of Romanos II and sister of Basil II. Indeed, much of the reason Theophanou’s memory has fallen into abeyance (even among Byzantinists few care where she is buried) seems to be locked into the fact Otto III was succeeded by a Liudolfing, Henry II; a man not descended from the Ottos. Her purpose i.e. to participate in a legitimization program (that utilised Byzantine images, symbols and rituals in an effort to put a more charismatic sheen of divine grace than the Frankish court had typically enjoyed) which targeted his brother Henry, Duke of Bavaria, had been in vain.[5]



This eclipse has been so total that historians are still unsure as to her parentage. All that can be surmised is that she was a niece-by-marriage of the new emperor John I – hardly the pure-bred filly the Germanics had desired. Indeed, this seems to have dented Germanic pride hence her treatment by successive chronicles which were either deliberately vague about her origins (Lamberti Annales) or passed the maiden off as the daughter of the emperor (Annales Weissemburgenses).


Only the prejudices in which the empress waded remain clear. Liudprand of Cremona’s Legatio used caricature to belittle the Romans he called “Greeks.” Otloh of St Emmeram used similar tactics in his Liber Visionum. Notker Balbulus cast the Eastern Romans as cunning Greeks in the Gesta Karoli Magni Imperatoris.[7] Hounded by these stereotypes Theophanou still developed close relationships with these barbarians, even going so far as to lay Otto II’s corpse to rest in a porphyry-slabbed sarcophagus and place Otto III under the tutelage of Gerbert of Aurillac. The latter made sure the young lad saw himself as a true heir to Constantine, a fact no doubt related to the fact he chose Sylvester (II) as his name i.e. the pope who had baptized Constantine the Great according to the Donation (by which the emperor had supposedly ceded authority over the West to the pope).


In other spheres of life too, she introduced the veneration of St Nicholas and St Pantaleon, and also strengthened the cult of the Virgin Mary (as Maria Theotokos). Indeed, she brought the remains of St Alban from Italy to St Pantaleon (part of whose relics were returned to the English cathedral in 2002).



Despite her virtues, however, one source insisted on referring to Theophanou as “illa imperatrix Graeca.”[8] While another disparaged her as an “unpleasant, talkative woman.”[9] Peter Damian tried to smear the Greek anti-pope Philagathos by claiming he’d blatantly had an affair with the empress on the basis of little more than their shared ethnicity.[10] Finally, Germanic nuns fantasised about her begging for forgiveness before the Lord for having introduced Roman styles of dress to their godforsaken land.[11]


Even towards the end of her life – when she had, at last, managed to acquire a true porphyrogenita for her son named Zoe – fortune dealt her a bad hand and Otto III died when his Roman fiancé arrived on western shores. Mercifully, she was honoured more in death than life when she was placed in the Westwerk of St. Pantaleon’s north chapel.


[1] I. Ott, ed., “Ruotgeri Vita Brunonis,” MGH Scriptores, n. 5. X (1951).

[2] The eastern saints predated the arrival of Theophanou and her devotion to St Pantaleon the Nicomedian. The patron saints of Quedlinburg (936) for instance were Dionysius and Servatius.

[3] “Translatio s. Albani Martyris,” MGH, XV, 2, 688. Theophanou died around the age of thirty having arrived in Italy (from Constantinople) in 972 aged twelve. Thietmar praised her rule as regent stating that the held the kingdom for her son “in a manly fashion” (Theitmar Merseburgensis Episcopi, Chronicon, ed. R. Holtzmann, MGH Scriptores, IV.10).

[4] While marriage later became a strong diplomatic tool, in the tenth century they were still fairly novel, the main contracts being in 927 when the Bulgars secured Maria, Romanos I’s granddaughter, and 989 when Vladimir received Anna, Basil II’s sister, in return for an alliance. The final agreement was the result of three separate embassies.

[5] If the Carolingians had aped the Eastern Roman emperors by portraying themselves as heir to the Old Testament kings, so the Ottonians ended up portraying themselves as imitators of Christ: christomimetai. Indeed, this high-handedness created numerous problems. Otto’s refusal to enter into any type of bond with his magnates that might be interpreted as an amicitia led to serious unrest, mostly because it clearly rejected the older notion that the king was primus inter pares.

[6] K. Leyster, “The Tenth Century in Byzantine-Western Relationship,” Medieval Germany and Its Neighbours 900-1250 (1982), 119.

[7] N. Balbulus, GKMI, in MGH SS, Nova Series XII (1959) II.6.

[8] Odilo of Cluny, Epitaphium Adalheidae, PLD (1995) vol. 142, 973.

[9] K. Ciggaar, “Theophanu Reconsidered,” Empress Theophano: Byzantium and the West at the Turn of the First Millennium, ed. A. Davids (1995) 53.

[10] Ibid. 56.

[11] Otloh of St. Emmeram, “Ex Othloni Libro Visionem,” Visio Decima Septima, MGH SS 11, 385.

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