The Holy Roman Emperor Henry II and his wife Cunigunde are particularly venerated in Merseburg. It was through their efforts that the Bishopric of Merseburg, which had been dissolved 23 years earlier, was re-established in 1004 and was extensively endowed by donations. The imperial couple were venerated with altars, endowments and Masses until well into the Reformation period.
Henry II had become Duke of Bavaria in 995 following the death of his father. Through his grandfather, he belonged to the Saxon imperial house. After the death of Otto III, the great men of the empire elected him king. Henry II’s coronation took place in Paderborn. His reign was marked by a dramatic turn towards spiritual matters, which is reflected not only in the re-establishment of the Bishopric of Merseburg, but above all in the foundation of the Bishopric of Bamberg in 1007. He also supported the ecclesiastical reforms emanating from the monastery of Cluny. In 1014, together with his wife Cunigunde, he was crowned emperor by the pope in Rome. Merseburg can lay claim to being the place most often visited by Henry II. However, he chose to be buried in Bamberg Cathedral, which he founded.
In the eyes of contemporaries and the subsequent Merseburg cathedral clergy, Henry II and his wife Cunigunde made lasting contributions to the cathedral through their endowments and donations. The chronicle of Bishop Thietmar of Merseburg, a contemporary of Henry II, includes an impressive memorial to the king. It is one of the most important sources regarding the life of Henry II. The emperor died in 1024. The canonisation of Henry II, whose marriage to Cunigunde had remained childless, took place in 1146. Cunigunde was canonised by the pope in 1200.
Due to their canonisation, it was especially important that Merseburg possessed vestments from their endowment. These were henceforth regarded as relics and exemplified the splendour of the ruling couple. A chasuble (liturgical vestment) attributed to the canonised empress Cunigunde was still considered to work miracles in the 19th century. Visitors to the cathedral had this chasuble put on them in case of ailments. Even today, numerous representations in Merseburg Cathedral remind us of the veneration of the holy imperial couple in the Middle Ages, for example the ‘Heinrichsaltar’ (Henry Altar) by Lucas Cranach the Elder.