The North German episcopal city of Hildesheim, famed for Bishop Bernward’s donations at the turn of the first millennium, experienced a flowering of luxury metalwork production between the second quarter of the 12th century and the middle of the 13th century, evidenced by the relic shrines of St Godehard and Epiphanius as well as other ambitious commissions.

Taking the bronze baptismal font of Hildesheim Cathedral of c. 1226 as a starting point, the following paper surveys Hildesheim’s far-reaching and complex artistic contacts. The advantage in starting this way is that the font offers important insights into local production, Hildesheim’s position in relation to other regional centres, and the city’s access to well-connected European distribution markets.

The second part of the article considers the early stages of this flowering. These are framed in relation to Helmarshausen, an influential Benedictine abbey in the upper Weser valley, well-known for its goldsmith Roger. Roger has been identified in the past with Theophilus, the supposed author of the famous treatise Schedula diversarum artium. More recent research, however, suggests that the Schedula was compiled by a monk of St Michael at Hildesheim. This brings Hildesheim as an intellectual milieu into focus, one which was characterized by far-reaching contacts that extended to Paris and the Mediterranean region. Thus, a multifaceted panorama of a 12th- and 13th-century cultural centre emerges. Building on this, the article advocates a stronger emphasis on the broader cultural and intellectual conditions at each site in order to better understand the artistic contexts themselves.