According to the Hildesheim Chronicle Altfrid died "rich in days" in 874, from which a year of birth of around 800 is assumed. He owned land in the Harzvorland and in central Essen (Asnithi), which may have been inherited from his family, and it seems likely that he belonged to the Saxon nobility, but probably not to the later Imperial family of the Liudolfings, as they had no influence in Altfrid's foundation Essen Abbey (Stift Essen) until after his death, although the two families may nevertheless have been connected.
He was apparently a monk at Corvey Abbey before he was declared Bishop of Hildesheim in 851 in succession to Ebbo, who died on 20 March of that year. Since Ebbo had been installed and removed several times as Archbishop of Reims, Altfrid took the unusual step of repeating all consecrations and ordinations of his predecessor to avoid their invalidation.
In 864, Altfrid moved the relics of Saint Marsus from Auxerre to an unknown place in Saxony, most likely to Corvey Abbey. His sermon on the arrival of the relics survives. In addition, Altfrid laid the cornerstone of a new cathedral in Hildesheim in 852, a three-aisled cruciform church with a crossing and transept. It was completed in 872 and was consecrated on 1 November 872 in the presence of four bishops and the Abbot of Corvey.
Even before his consecration as bishop, Altfrid had been active in the foundation of several female religious communities. Between 845-847 he acquired the relics of Saints Cosmas and Damian in Rome. Altfrid also supported the Saxon Count Ricdag in the foundation of the nunnery at Lamspringe by procuring for it the relics of Saint Hadrian from Rome.
According to the Hildesheim Chronicle Altfrid also founded a Benedictine monastery on his own land in the Harzvorland, of which no further details of either location or duration are known. More important is Altfrid's other foundation, Essen Abbey (Stift Essen), on his own property in Essen (Asthnide) on the Hellweg. The first Abbess of Essen was his kinswoman Gerswith, often referred to as his sister, although there is no direct evidence of this. As in Hildesheim, Altfrid also built a church for the canonesses, the Stiftskirche, later known as the Essener Münster and from 1958 as Essen Cathedral. Altfrid was buried here after his death on 15 August 874, according to his wishes. A Gothic tomb stands over his grave in the east crypt, which is named after him.
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