Aachen Cathedral in Germany, description and photo

Aachen Cathedral – the main place of Charlemagne

This is a completely unique cathedral, built between 794 and 810, from a historical point of view it has no equal. The Byzantine cathedrals were taken as an example.

Aachen Cathedral - Charlemagne's main site

Almost all German kings were crowned in the Aachen church. The cathedral served as the main palace church of Charlemagne.

Aachen Cathedral - Charlemagne's main site

The cathedral is a Carolingian octagon of 800, with a dome that at the time of its construction was the highest north of the Alps. Not only that, it has a unique shape to date – not round, but octagonal. Aachen Cathedral acquired its present form through more than twelve hundred years of history.

Aachen Cathedral - Charlemagne's main site

The Gothic choir and the chapels on the north and south sides were built in the 14th and 15th centuries. The “Hungarian” chapel and porch were added in the 18th century. The dome roof was renewed in the second half of the 17th century, and the tower was completed in 1884.

Aachen Cathedral - Charlemagne's main site

Charlemagne (Charlemagne) in 814 found his final resting place in the church, which was the most important sacred place of his empire. His bones rest in Charlemagne’s altar in the choir apse.

Aachen Cathedral - Charlemagne's main site

Between 936 (Otto the First) and 1531 (Ferdinand the First), 30 kings and 12 queens were crowned and enthroned by Charlemagne at Hochmünster.

Aachen Cathedral - Charlemagne's main site

During the Middle Ages, the “Royal Church of St. Mary of Aachen” became the most important pilgrimage site in the Christian world, along with Jerusalem, Rome and Santiago di Compostela, thanks to the four Aachen shrines. These are Mary’s undergarment, Jesus’ swaddling cloth, the veil on which John the Baptist was beheaded, and Jesus’ loincloth. The last time they were supposed to be displayed was in 2021, but I don’t know – due to the pandemic – if that was happening. The next time would be in 2028.

Aachen Cathedral - Charlemagne's main site

On October 24, 1520, on the occasion of the coronation of Charles the Fifth, Aachen was visited by Albrecht Dürer, about which he left an entry in his diary: “There I saw all the wonderful shrines, in the treasury of Aachen Cathedral. No one has seen anything more precious than this treasury.”

Aachen Cathedral - Charlemagne's main site

The cathedral, indeed, holds priceless treasures. There are treasures from late antiquity, the Carolingian, Ottoman, Staufenian and Gothic periods, some of which are some of the greatest works of art of their era.

Aachen Cathedral - Charlemagne's main site

Some exhibits go back to royal donors, while others demonstrate the European significance of St. Mary’s Church, today’s Aachen Cathedral, as a pilgrimage church and the burial place of Charlemagne.

Aachen Cathedral - Charlemagne's main site

In 1995, the Aachen Cathedral Treasury was completely renovated. It now displays over 100 works of art in various rooms over 600 square meters, grouped into five thematic areas:

Aachen Cathedral - Charlemagne's main site

1) the cathedral as the Church of Charlemagne;

Aachen Cathedral - Charlemagne's main site

2) the liturgy in Aachen Cathedral;

Aachen Cathedral - Charlemagne's main site

3) the Coronation Church;

Aachen Cathedral - Charlemagne's main site

4) the relics and pilgrimage to Aachen;

Aachen Cathedral - Charlemagne's main site

5) the cathedral as the Marienkirche.

Aachen Cathedral - Charlemagne's main site

In 1802 Aachen became the seat of the Bishop and remained so until 1825. In 1930 the Aachen diocese was restored.

Aachen Cathedral - Charlemagne's main site

Finishes (mosaics, marble panelling, and flooring) were added between 1880 and 1913. The stained glass windows of the choir room, destroyed during the World War II, were replaced with modern ones in 1951.

Aachen Cathedral - Charlemagne's main site

Entrance through the main portal of the Carolingian era, a door of bronze (800). The door is related to the legend of the construction of the Cathedral, and is called the “Wolf’s Door”.

St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland

Aachen Cathedral - Charlemagne's main site

Near the entrance is the Pine cone, circa 1000 in bronze. It crowned the fountain in the atrium (cathedral courtyard) depicting the Garden of Eden.

Aachen Cathedral - Charlemagne's main site

Next to the cone is a 2nd century Roman She-wolf. Researchers attribute the figure to part of a Hellenistic hunting scene.

Aachen Cathedral - Charlemagne's main site

Madonna in Radiance, carving by Jan van Stevenswerth (1524). The double-sided Madonna with Child is surrounded by a wreath of rays and clouds.

Aachen Cathedral - Charlemagne's main site

The glass mosaic of the niche probably consists of small mosaic stones of medieval dome mosaic.

Aachen Cathedral - Charlemagne's main site

The central octagonal part of Charlemagne’s Carolingian cathedral, circa 800. It was the first post-antique domed structure north of the Alps. The upper part is decorated with ancient columns and Carolingian bronze lattices.

Aachen Cathedral - Charlemagne's main site

The so called “Chandelier of Barbarossa” or “Crown of Lights” dates back to 1165 and symbolizes the “Heavenly Jerusalem”. It was a gift of Emperor Frederick the First Barbarossa and his wife Beatrix.

Aachen Cathedral - Charlemagne's main site

The main altar of the Cathedral is decorated with a gold altarpiece from 1020, with the story of the Passion of Jesus. In the middle, between Mary and the Archangel Michael, is Jesus as Ruler of the World, surrounded by the four symbols of the Evangelists.

Aachen Cathedral - Charlemagne's main site

The pulpit is Emperor Henry the Second’s Golden Ambon (circa 1014), decorated with ancient decoration, ivory carvings, chess pieces and reliefs of the Evangelists. The ambo was moved from the chancel to the pulpit in 1414, after the choir room was completed.

Aachen Cathedral - Charlemagne's main site

The main shrines of the cathedral are the reliquaries with valuable relics displayed in the chancel.

Aachen Cathedral - Charlemagne's main site

The Mary shrine (1220-1239), contains four “Great Aachen shrines”. They are taken out of the shrine and displayed to the faithful every seven years. The shrine is decorated with the figures of Mary, Jesus, Charlemagne, Pope Leo the Third and the 12 apostles.

Aachen Cathedral - Charlemagne's main site

The lectern with an eagle is for the choir singers. 15th century, copper.

Aachen Cathedral - Charlemagne's main site

Memorial plaque to Emperor Otto the Third, who was buried in the Cathedral in 1002. The tomb was moved to this place in 1414 – after the construction of the choir hall.

Aachen Cathedral - Charlemagne's main site

The masterpiece of Maasland’s jewelry is the tomb of Charlemagne (1182/1212). Since 1215, the remains of Charlemagne, who died in 814, have rested in this shrine. The bones of the emperor, canonized in 1165, surround his 16 successors. Charlemagne himself sits on the pediment under the blessing of Jesus, surrounded by Pope Leo the Third and Archbishop Turpin of Rheims.

Aachen Cathedral - Charlemagne's main site

Charlemagne’s throne, a simple marble chair. For almost 600 years, between 936 and 1531, kings sat here after the coronation, at the high altar.

Aachen Cathedral - Charlemagne's main site

(Photo from the Internet).

Entrance is free.

Aachen Cathedral - Charlemagne's main site

You can order a guided tour of the cathedral, in German or English.

Aachen Cathedral - Charlemagne's main site

Opening hours:

Monday 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Tuesday through Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm. (January to March) and to 6 p.m. (from April to December).

Aachen Cathedral - Charlemagne's main site

Aachen Cathedral - Charlemagne's main site

Aachen has many places worth visiting, but even one cathedral would be worth the price of admission!

Aachen Cathedral - Charlemagne's main site

A series of “North Rhine-Westphalia.”

  1. Birthday was not like a holiday. part 1 – Düsseldorf
  2. Monschau is good even in the incessant rain! The second day of the birthday trip.
  3. In the places of Charlemagne – to the westernmost city of Germany – Aachen. The second day trip
  4. Daytrip – sunny Cologne – without the cathedral and churches. Third day
  5. Church-Cathedral Cologne.
  6. Bonn – the former capital of Germany, where we walk with Beethoven on the birthday trip
  7. Aachen Cathedral – the main place of Charlemagne
  8. Amazing City Hall – place of coronation of emperors of the Great Roman Empire of the German Nation
  9. Cologne’s scandalous cologne – Farina’s rival, 4711
  10. The authentic water of Cologne.
Saint Trinity Cathedral in Tbilisi

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Aachen Cathedral – a museum of history on the border of three countries

Located in the city of the same name on the border of Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands Aachen Cathedral is a majestic historical monument attracting numerous tourists. Under its arches the rulers of the Holy Roman Empire were crowned and the German rulers ascended the throne. The walls of the temple complex bear the imprint of thousands of years of history. The building was destroyed, rebuilt and restored several times, but despite this, Aachen Cathedral today retains its original interior.

About Aachen

Aachen is a city that attracts tourists with historical evidence of Charlemagne’s life and the shrine of the Cathedral. From 936 to 1531 the Roman-German kings were crowned at the main altar of Aachen Cathedral. Historians claim that 30 kings and 12 queens were crowned.

The excursion is worth following the route of the European Charlemagne Project (“Charlemagne’s Way”), which leads to significant sites in the center of Aachen, representing the history of the themes of “Authority”, “Balneology”, and “Science”.

History of the Cathedral

The idea to build a cathedral belongs to Charlemagne. Receiving the crown of emperor after the fall of Byzantium and its capital Constantinople, he planned to create a new empire. And the majestic cathedral was to be the manifesto of his policy in stone. Charles wanted the cathedral to combine elements of the architecture of the Eastern and Western Roman empires, stylistic forms of Byzantine and ancient culture. Its foundations were laid in 795, when Europe was just entering the Early Middle Ages.

The construction of the central part of the cathedral lasted for eight years. It was a Carolingian octagon, borrowed from Byzantine architectural traditions. After Charlemagne’s death it was converted into a tomb-chapel for the emperor. Later there were numerous additions to the cathedral, made in the Gothic style.

Over time, Aachen ceased to be the intellectual center of the empire, yet the interest of pilgrims to the cathedral only increased.

Since the XIV century, the city welcomes all wishing to look at the cathedral, which is unofficially called the imperial: in the six hundred years in Aachen Cathedral was crowned 35 German kings and 14 queens.

It was the first German site to be added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Description of the cathedral

Aachen or Imperial Cathedral (Aachener Dom, Aachener Münster, Kaiserdom) of the diocese of the Roman Catholic Church, located at the junction of the borders of three states – Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium, is a unique architectural complex, which combines different styles of construction of Christian churches. It was founded by King Charles I the Great of the Franks in 796 and is the oldest medieval church in Europe. In 1978, Aachen Cathedral was one of the first World Heritage sites of UNESCO.

Rouen Cathedral in Rouen, France

The oldest and most valuable part of the cathedral is the Palatine Chapel which was built on the orders of Charlemagne who at the end of the 8th century wanted to create an influential spiritual center and make it his residence.

He chose Aachen as the place of construction and commissioned the architect Odon of Metz to carry out the project. The master designed a building similar to the Italian church of San Vitale, with a harmonious consonance between Late Antique and Early Byzantine motifs.

The chapel is a monumental two-tiered octahedral structure with a dome and reaches a height of 31 meters. The upper part of the building is supported by eight columns, and in the arches of the upper level eight decorative double columns are installed. The piers, the arches, the marble floor and the gold mosaics decorating the interior were supplied by order of the king from Ravenna and Rome. The interior is surrounded by a 16-sided gallery with a bronze railing.

The spiral staircases are built into the walls of the chapel and lead to the second level where, during mass, the king and his courtiers sat on the throne.

The central octahedral nucleus of the chapel is adjoined by the Western Hall – a rectangular basilica with several side churches. Its elongated vaulted forms were made according to the canons of Roman architecture, which gave rise to the Romanesque style.

The Palatine Chapel was completed in 806. On its completion Pope Leo III consecrated it in the name of the Blessed Virgin. Charles I gathered important Christian relics in his residence: the swaddling cloth of the Infant Jesus, Christ’s loincloth, the veil of the Virgin Mary and the cloth on which John the Baptist’s head rested after his execution. The great relics are kept in the cathedral’s treasury.

Charles I the Great died in 814 and the temple he built became his eternal resting place. He was buried in the center of the chapel, as the stone, on which his name is inscribed, now lies. The tomb of the king was uncovered several times. The first time it was opened in 1000 by Emperor Otto III, and he witnessed that the body of Charles I was very well preserved: the monarch was sitting in an armchair with a crown on his head and holding a scepter.

At the canonization of the king of the Franks in 1165, Friedrich I von Hohenstaufen had a richly decorated box made for the remains and a 4.2-meter-long hoop with candles hangs in the center of the hall. In 1215. Frederick II moved the body into a precious coffin, which stood on the altar until the eighteenth century. Today, Charlemagne rests inside a gilded ark installed in the reliquary. The king’s throne, decorated with gold, can be seen on the upper tier of the sacred monumental octagon.

The Gothic choir of the chapel was added in the middle of the 14th century. In 1367 for donations by the king of Hungary the Hungarian aisle was built, which after reconstruction in the XVIII century acquired features of classicism. In the XV century to accommodate the pilgrims several chapels and the Gothic hall, now known as the “Glass House” were built. In 1884 a tower was added to the cathedral.

Since its founding and for six hundred years, German kings were crowned in Aachen Cathedral. In the 14th century, the Charles and Hubert Rectory was built where the future emperors spent the night before the ceremony.

Saint-Denis Abbey in Paris, description and photo

During its more than ten centuries of history, the Aachen Cathedral was repeatedly reconstructed and rebuilt, but its central part – the Palatine, or Imperial, Chapel – has retained its original appearance as well as its original profound spiritual significance. The central octahedron symbolizes harmony and perfection, while the doubled number of facets in the circular gallery foreshadows the heavenly realm.

Tomb of Emperor Charlemagne

The three-tiered chapel built next to the emperor’s palace was called the Octagon. It was 31 meters high and its dome was about 32 meters in diameter. It is the one that has remained in its original form, while the other buildings and choirs have undergone changes – they were dismantled and rebuilt in the Gothic style. It was possible to enter through the majestic bronze gate with gilding, each wing weighing about two tons and was cast as a single whole at one time.

In the center of the chapel lies a stone inscribed Carolo Magno (Charlemagne). The emperor Charles was buried here on the day of his death, January 18, 814. His tomb had been opened several times.

According to the chronicle of the monastery of Novalese, compiled in 1048, the first time Charles’ crypt was opened by Emperor Otto the Third in the year 1000. When the ruler entered the underground crypt, he was amazed – the body of Carolo Magno had hardly decayed and was perfectly preserved: the emperor was sitting on the throne wearing a gold crown with a scepter in his hands. After that, the entrance to the underground chamber was walled up again.

The second time the emperor’s tomb was uncovered in 1165 by Frederick the First Barbarossa during the canonization of Charlemagne. Frederick ordered that the remains of the king of the Franks be placed in a jeweled marble box. They were kept in it less than a hundred years – in 1215 Frederick the Second ordered craftsmen to make a precious coffin of artistic work. In it the emperor’s remains rested on the choir altar until the 18th century.

After that the body was exhumed several more times (for research purposes), but eventually was returned to the sarcophagus, which is now in the treasury of the cathedral. In 2010, scientists confirmed that the remains did indeed belong to Charles.

The symbols of imperial power found in the coffin were transported to Vienna in 1798 and the marble chair, on which, according to legend, the emperor sat, was decorated with gold. For several centuries it served as the throne of sitting emperors, and now stands under the dome of the octagonal hall.

Relics of the Aachen temple

Aachen’s Imperial Cathedral is famous for many relics. Some were taken to Paris in 1794 when the French occupied the city and later returned to Aachen.

Every seven years, the faithful can see the Virgin Mary’s undergarment of yellowish-white cloth, the fabric in which the infant Christ was swaddled, as well as Christ’s belt, which was worn during the crucifixion.

Also preserved in the temple is the veil in which John the Baptist’s head was wrapped. It is no longer possible to determine the historical accuracy of the relics these days, but all these objects are of great value to pilgrims.

Our Lady of Lincoln's Cathedral in England

The treasury of the Imperial Cathedral in Germany also contains a silver bust of Charlemagne (it was made using part of the emperor’s skull), the Carolingian Gospel, dated to the IX century, a cross with the seal of Lothair the Second and other valuables.

The church at Aachen is also famous for its legends. It is said that in the time of Charlemagne, who spent a lot of money on military campaigns, he ran out of money to build the Octagon. Only the devil agreed to help the people of Aachen, and on one condition – for the soul of the first priest to enter the temple. But when the building was finished, the cunning Aacheners let the wolf into the building. The devil knew they had cheated him and became furious and slammed the door shut, causing it to burst open.

Every tourist can see this very crack with his own eyes, as well as the mark of the finger, which the devil allegedly pinched. Inside the building there is a statue of a black she-wolf – it even has a hole through which, according to legend, Satan took the soul of the animal.

Aachen Cathedral. Germany. Part 1: Video

How to get to Aachen

Aachen (Aachen) is located in the federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia. On the map you will find this region in the northwestern part of Germany, near the border with Belgium and the Netherlands. The easiest way to get to Aachen is by train – trains such as the Thalys, which connect all the capitals and major cities of Europe.

For example, the train Paris – Cologne, stops in Aachen every three hours. From Brussels the train reaches the city in an hour, from Cologne – in 36 minutes, from Paris – in 2 hours 45 minutes.

From some German cities there are trains Deutsche Bahn. Tourists visiting Essen, Deisburg and Dusseldorf can use them. By the way, the nearest airport to Aachen is in Dusseldorf.

From the main train station in Aachen you can walk to the cathedral in 15-20 minutes.

Aachen Cathedral is open daily. From April to October it works from seven in the morning to seven in the evening, at other times until six.

Entrance is free and photography is allowed. Any tourist can order a guided tour in German or English – it costs 4 euros for adults and 3 euros for children. More information can be found on the official website of the cathedral.

Tips for tourists

  • The Cathedral is worth a tour not only outside but also inside. And it is better to do it as part of a Russian-speaking tour, which lasts 1.5 hours.
  • Bring cash and take pictures inside for a fee.
  • In the building there are concerts of sacred music, the schedule of which is known in advance. A good way to see a famous landmark from a different angle.

To conclude

Aachen Cathedral, given its age and stunning architecture, is certainly one of the outstanding cultural monuments, preserving the memory of several generations of German rulers. Today anyone can plunge into the atmosphere of the grandeur of the past. Inside Aachen Cathedral, you will see the legendary reliquary reliquary, stained glass windows, galleries of mosaics, numerous sculptures – everything that rightly allows you to call the temple to the treasures of the Church of Europe. It also includes the Berlin Cathedral, the Imperial Cathedral in Frankfurt, and the Cathedral of Ulm.

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