He was born at Niederhaslach, now Bas-Rhin, Alsace, France. Of humble origins, he was educated by the collegial chapter of St. Florent in Niederhaslach and eventually became secretary to the vicar general of the Bishop of Strasbourg. Suspected of theft, he left his position with the vicar and went to Rome about 1467. Burchard was ordained a priest in 1476.
He became a Protonotary Apostolic in February 1481, and was appointed Master of Ceremonies to Pope Sixtus IV in 1483, having bought the office for 450 ducats. He held it until his death on 16 May 1506, successively acting as Ceremoniere to Innocent VIII (1484–1492), Alexander VI (1492–1503), Pius III (1503) and during the early years of Julius II.
In Rome, Burchard joined the Confraternity of Santa Maria dell'Anima and quickly rose to become its provost. It was while he held this office that the decision was taken to rebuild the church of Santa Maria dell'Anima for the Jubilee of 1500. The church was built in the style of a Hallenkirche that was typical for Northern Europe. Andrea Sansovino was retained as architect by the confraternity. The facade was completed by Giuliano da Sangallo.
Burchard accumulated an impressive array of ecclesiastical benefices in Alsace, including that of the provost of Moutier-Grandval (1475) and Dean of Basel (1501). Among the significant events organised by Burchard as Ceremoniere were: the visit of Don Federigo de Aragon to Rome (December 1493 to January 1494); the coronation of Alfonso II of Naples (May 1494); the reception of Charles VIII of France in Rome (November 1494 to February 1495); the Papal Embassy to the Emperor Maximilian in Milan (July–November 1496); the Proclamation of the Jubilee (Christmas 1499); the visit of Alexander VI to Piombino (January–March 1502); and obsequies of Pope Alexander VI (August 1503). Burchard was also present at the laying of the foundation stone of the new Basilica of St. Peter on 18 April 1506.
He was promoted Bishop of Orte in 1503 by Pope Pius III. The early death of the Pope meant that Burchard could not be consecrated until his nomination had been confirmed by the new Pope, Julius II. K. Eubel's Hierarchia Catholica, Vol. III, p. 211 describes Burchard as having been a cleric of the Papal Chapel, an Abbreviator of Papal Letters and Dean of the Cathedral of Basel at the time of his promotion to the See of Orte.
Burchard's importance derives from his Liber Notarum, a form of official record of the more significant papal ceremonies with which he was involved. The first critical edition of this work was published by E. Celani in 1906 as Johannis Burckardi Liber Notarum ab anno MCCCCLXXXIII usque ad annum MDVI. Celani's edition collated various earlier printed editions of the work, and a collection of uncertain notations, with Burchard's original manuscript, thereby establishing an important critical edition of this account of the papal court at the end of the fifteenth century.
As Ceremoniere, he was responsible for the publication of a revised edition of the Liber Pontificalis in 1485 and for the publication of a new edition of the Caeremoniale Episcoporum in 1488. Perhaps Burchard's most enduring publication was the Ordo Servandus per Sacerdotem in celebratione Missae, published under orders from Pope Alexander VI. This book went through numerous editions before its substance eventually made its way into the Normae Generales of the Roman Missal.
His diary records an alleged orgy known as the Banquet of Chestnuts purportedly held by Cesare Borgia in the Papal Palace on 30 October 1501. However, Picotti believes the diary should be regarded with some caution regarding entries concerning the Borgias, as Burchard makes clear his dislike of them. Alexander Lee notes that, "The so-called “Banquet of the Chestnuts” ...is, for example, attested only in Burchard’s memoirs, and is not only intrinsically implausible, but was also dismissed as such by many contemporaries.[who?]
The Liber Notarum is still maintained by the papal Ceremoniere.
Though he only described musical details when in the context of innovations or mishaps, his account is an important source for details of papal choir singing. Among other details, he noted the use of polyphony in settings of the Passion, a practice apparently introduced from Spain, and the performance of the now-lost motet Gaude Roma vetus, written in honor of Pope Alexander VI to a text by Johannes Tinctoris.
Burchard's residence, built in 1491, survives and can be seen at Via del Sudario 44, in Rome. Burchard was also known as "Argentinus" from the Latin name for Strasbourg, and the tower on his palace gave the name "Torre Argentina" to the district, still retained in the Largo di Torre Argentina and other names.
In popular culture
- Richard Sherr. "Burkhard, Johannes". In Macy, Laura. Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. (subscription required)
- Setton, Kenneth M. The Papacy and the Levant, 1204-1571, American Philosophical Society, 1978, ISBN 9780871691279
- Burchard, John. The Diary of John Burchad, (Arnold Harris Matthew, trans.), Vol. 1, London, Francis Griffiths, 1910
- "How awful was Catholic life under those immoral Renaissance Popes!". Rorate Caeli. Retrieved 31 March 2014. Quote: "At the beginning of the sixteenth century, John Burckard (+ 1506), a famous papal master of ceremonies, drew up -- using the Ordines of the Papal Court and the Vatican MSS. of Sacramentaries and Missals -- and published in 1502, by order of Alexander VI, an Ordo Missae. It is from this that some of the general rubrics of our present Missal are drawn, and the Ritus servandus of our Missal embodies the greater part of Burckard's Ordo."
- Lee, Alexander. "Were he Borgias Really So Bad?", History Today, 1 October 2013
- Tobias Daniels, Der päpstliche Zeremonienmeister Johannes Burckard, Jakob Wimpfeling und das Pasquill im deutschen Humanismus, in 'Deutsches Archiv für die Erforschung des Mittelalters' 69,1 (2013), pp. 127-140.
- E. Celani, Rerum Italiarum Scriptores, Vol. XXXII, parte 1a, I, Città di Castello 1907-1913.
- L. Thuasne, Oeuvres, Paris 1883-1885.
- D. Gnoli, La Torre Argentina in Nuova Archeologia, 43 (1908, III), pp. 596–605.
- J. Lesellier, Les méfaits du cérémonier Jean Burckard in Mélange d'Archeologie et d'Histoire, 44 (1927), pp. 11–34.
- L. Oliger, Der päpstliche Zeremonienmeister Johannes Burckard von Straßburg, in Archiv für elsäβiche Kirchengeschichte, 9 (1934), pp. 199–232.