We were very saddened to learn of the death of Professor Rudolf Hiestand, a scholar of immense importance to our field of study. Please find here a brief appreciation of his life and career from his friend and former student, Professor Jochen Burgtorf. A longer reflection on Professor Hiestand will appear in a forthcoming issue of Crusades.
Remembering Rudolf Hiestand (1933-2023)
“When you study the Crusades for years, you begin to view your own work ... as a pilgrimage over oftentimes hard and arid ground. Yet the desire remains to, one day, see the final destination and to, hopefully, reach it, too.” With these words, Rudolf Hiestand prefaced his 1985 volume on papal documents for the churches in the Holy Land, and they aptly illustrate his dedication to “peregrinatio” as an academic rite of passage, a research topic, and a life philosophy.
Rudolf Hiestand was born in Zurich on August 30, 1933, the son of two secondary-school teachers, both with doctorate degrees in philosophy from the University of Zurich. Following in their footsteps, he enrolled at the same “alma mater” to study History, Romance Languages, and Classical Philology, with the intent to become a secondary-school teacher as well. Following a semester in Paris, he did indeed teach school in Switzerland for three years and, in 1958, submitted his doctoral dissertation, supervised by Marcel Beck, on Byzantium and the kingdom of Italy in the tenth century (published 1964). His academic “peregrinationes” subsequently took him to the “Istituto italiano per gli studi storici” in Naples (1958-1960) and the German Historical Institute in Rome (1960-1962). After some time at the University of Zurich (1962-1966) and the Max Planck Institute in Göttingen (1967-1968), he joined Hans Eberhard Mayer at the Christian-Albrecht University of Kiel, where, in 1972, he presented his habilitation thesis, a three-volume study on the papal legates of the Crusades and in the Crusader states. From 1976 until 1998, he was Professor and Chair of Medieval History at Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf, yet his scholarly productivity continued after his retirement and well into the third decade of our current century.
Not counting his archival explorations all over Europe, encompassing—in his own words—the space between Malta, Lisbon, Aberystwyth, Vilnius, and Budapest, and his travels throughout the “Orient,” Rudolf Hiestand lived thirty years in Switzerland, five years in Italy and the Near East, and over fifty years in Germany. Anyone who visited him in Düsseldorf, whether at home or on campus, quickly learned that it was important to him to have “a room with a view” (also the title of one of his articles), which he considered an antidote to any and all forms of narrow-mindedness. His multilingual publication record is extensive, and for scholars of the Crusades and the Latin East, his three volumes of “Vorarbeiten” (i.e., preliminary works) on the papal documents for Templars, Hospitallers, and churches in the Holy Land, in addition to scores of articles on a multitude of related subjects, will remain indispensable. To facilitate the eventual and, if need be, posthumous completion of his remaining projects, including the “Oriens Pontificius Latinus” and the edition of documents from the “Inventaire de Manosque,” he set the wheels in motion years ago.
Teaching was perhaps Rudolf Hiestand’s greatest passion. In addition to brilliant lectures and fascinating seminars, he provided hands-on coaching in paleography and diplomatics, he encouraged his students to set out on their own “peregrinationes,” and he cherished the oftentimes daily “confabulationes” over lunch and coffee with his academic family. He took his motto from one of the great scholars of the Carolingian Renaissance: “Profectus discipulorum mihi merces apud Deum.”—“The students’ success shall be my reward before God.” Rudolf Hiestand died on March 31, 2023, in Düsseldorf. He will be missed dearly.