When I think of Aachen, the first thing that always comes to my mind is the phrase „old capital city“. Еven before I’ve read something about it. Apparently, the collective unconscious has played its part in that case.
The interesting history here began a bit later than in Trier, namely, when Pepin the Short, king of the Franks and father of Charlemagne, built a castle residence that Charlemagne inherited along with the empire. That occurred in the 8th century. 600 years after 936AD, the town was a coronation place for the German kings and in 1166, Aachen was declared the seat of the Holy Roman Empire. That happened after the canonization of Charlemagne in 1165.
I am listing all these significant data only to show you why Aachen is an old capital city and what a glorious past it has had.
Yet along with that, no matter how bright the sun was shining during my visits in town, it remains dark and gloomy to me and I can’t remove this concept from my mind by any means. Maybe this is a result of the influence of the collective unconscious too…
Aside from my personal feelings and its glorious history, Aachen was known during the time of the hippie movement as a hippie-town and you can still see some interesting characters walking down the streets.
My attention here is always attracted to the beautiful cathedral that is some sort of medley of parts with different architectural styles built over many centuries starting from the Early Middle Ages. The start was set by Charlemagne, who built in the 90’s of the 8th century a Palatine chapel and a palace, where nowadays the town hall stands. After his canonization in 1165, the chapel, today a cathedral, was granted the statute of a Head Church of the Holy Roman Empire.
At the end of the 8th century, Charlemagne took up the construction of a church, never seen before to the north of the Alps. It was also the first dome building here, according to this division of Europe.
To the left, you can see part of the dome.
Next to it is the Neo-Gothic bell tower from 1884, and to the right, Saint Anna Chapel from the middle of the 15th century – an impressive combination of styles and ages.
The west portal with the massive bronze gate with two lion heads is kept from the time of Charlemagne.
In the entrance hall are kept these bronze statues of a she-wolf (or a she-bear) and a pine-cone (the latter carries a varied symbolism, but primarily taken from the cult of Isis, Dionysus, and Cybele. Its most occult meaning is a symbolization of the pineal gland, the third eye, or the place where the soul lives). Of course, the Christianity has appropriated that pagan symbol, and it uses it widely as a symbol of a spiritual enlightenment – in the form of ornamentations in the „God’s Temples“. It stands most often on the pulpit below, and the biggest pine cone in the world is the famous Pigna in the Cortile della Pigna, or the Belvedere Courtyard in the Vatican Palace. Either way, the pine cone, and the she-wolf, in that case, are linked to Ancient Rome. These two very old figures, probably primary gargoyles of a fountain from Carolingian times, are brought up from Italy along with the ancient pillars in the interior and other building materials. The ambition of Charlemagne to restore the Roman Empire in all its glory and to build in Aachen a New Rome is symbolically represented in the materials and the way of construction of this remarkable for its time temple, which is actually a copy of the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna – the former capital of the Western Roman Empire. And whereas Trier was one of the western residence cities of the Roman Emperor, Aachen was the first emperor’s residence that arose after the sunset of the Roman Empire.
Between 796 and 805 was built the central octagonal dome in a Byzantine style.
The restored in 1880 Byzantine mosaic represents Jesus as a ruler of the world, surrounded by the symbols of the four evangelists.
This initial building with its strong geometric shape and measurements is a representation of the Heavenly City of Jerusalem.
The Barbarossa Chandelier, or the chandelier that was donated by Frederick Barbarossa in 1170, made of gilt copper, 4.2 m. across, with a 27-metre-long chain and 48 candles, symbolizes the city walls of the Heavenly City too.
The chandelier, seen from the upper floor.
I have to make a note that here, like in the palace chapel in Vianden Castle, the lower floor was intended for the common people, whereas Charlemagne and the nobles were watching the masses from above.
The dome, seen under the chandelier.
The pursuit of Jerusalem is clearly seen in this ceiling mosaic representing the city in the middle, surrounded by the interesting figures (in an Ancient Roman manner, and here we’ve mixed a little mythology with…Christianity or Judaism?) of the four rivers that branched from the one watering Eden. I am applying the text from the Bible where these rivers are described:
“[2:10] A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. [2:11] The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. [2:12] (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there.) [2:13] The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush. [2:14] The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Ashur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.
[2:15] The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it., Genesis, Chapter 2.
The mosaic and the marble cladding are laid as late as the beginning of the 20th century, and the mosaic decoration represents a number of biblical, historical, and political motives and symbols.
This is a very interesting image. To me, it seems like an overt Gothic-Alchemic-Templar symbol, although, as I said, the mosaic is very contemporary.
These alabaster lamps are from 1900 and still functioning.
Now we are going upstairs to follow the construction chronology, even though I rushed forward with the mosaic on the lower floor.
Here stands the Throne of Charlemagne, dated AD 790, on which between 936 and 1531, 30 German kings are crowned. Charlemagne himself is primarily crowned in AD 768 in Noyon as King of the Franks, and in AD 800 in Rome as an Emperor, that is to say, he didn’t obtain his title on this throne, but it is assumed that he was sitting on it during the celebrations of the masses.
Maybe it seems a bit simple for a ruler of such a rank – an emperor. But there is „a trick“ here. The four marble plates, along with the bronze clamps, and the six steps (in a Solomon manner) originate from The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. And in that respect, these are some unimaginably valuable and sacred relics. But here I have to say that at that time – during the Middle Ages and before – the Christian religion has always been rather a goal and an instrument for gaining more and more power. Jesus is considered the ruler of the world, and the possession of his relics was, so to speak, an authorization from his part for certain personalities to rule on Earth on his behalf. For that reason, there was also a constant fight between the clergy and the nobility regarding the question ‘who will possess more power and more territories on Earth’. So, at times they joined hands for political reasons (as an example – the alliance of the Merovingian King Clovis I with the Pope, which led the Franks to the conversion to Christianity), at times they fought by all possible means.
Then I think it needs no further defining what the Christian religion exactly is, or more precisely, what purposes does it serve in our day – over the last 2000 years.
The throne is placed so that it faces the figure of Jesus standing on the dome. This is another hint of the Emperor’s majesty.
Virgin Mary is the patron of the cathedral. We’ll see this on the lower floor, in the choir.
Mosaic from the upper floor.
The high altar in the choir with Pala d’Oro – the golden antependium from AD 1002.
This is the Gothic choir, erected between 1355 and 1414, and furnished with ones of the highest Gothic windows in Europe with a height of 25,5 m.
The double sculpture of Mary is work of art by a Maastricht master, crafted in 1524.
The choir from outside.
Two shrines stand here in the choir. This is the shrine with the relics of Charlemagne. Charlemagne was canonized in 1165, at the time of Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. Commissioned by him, the shrine was completed in 1215, at the time of his grandson, Frederick II.
The provocative way of the ordered depiction of Charlemagne on the shrine shows clearly the state of the relation pope-emperor at that time. The figure of Charlemagne, sitting in the middle of the front side of the shrine, is much bigger in comparison with those of the standing next to him Pope Leo III and Archbishop Tilpin, or Turpin, of Reims. Besides, only in the medallion over his head stands Jesus, blessing him as a representative of the secular power, but not blessing the representatives of the spiritual power.
I’ve been in the Cologne Cathedral as well, but I’ve never experienced so far such a majesty + solemnity that one can feel here. But probably everyone would feel like this in front of the relics of Charlemagne.
And the high Gothic windows aren’t yet with their original glasses, but they manage to give a medieval dramatic nature of the choir, together with the frescoes and the man-high figures of the Twelve Apostles, Virgin Mary, and Charlemagne himself.
On the other side of the shrine stands Virgin Mary between the Archangels Michael and Gabriel.
Part of the frescoes. To the left is the mythical Saint Christopher (whom I’ve already mentioned in the publication about the church in Münstermaifeld) from 1622.
The back side of the double sculpture of Virgin Mary.
In the other shrine, the so-called Marienschrein, or Shrine of St. Mary, are kept four Christian relics – St. Mary’s cloak, Christ’s swaddling clothes, St. John the Baptist’s beheading cloth, and Christ’s loincloth. As early as the time of Charlemagne, Aachen was a pilgrimage destination, but in the 14th and 15th centuries, the pilgrimage to the city competed in its importance with the Way to Santiago or that to Rome. In 1349 were laid the foundations of the tradition of worshiping the four relics every seven years (the last was in 2014), even though their authenticity isn’t completely proved.
The last treasure in the cathedral, that I am showing, is one very mysterious „thing“. It’s about the golden pulpit, called Ambo, or Ambon of Henry II, and built by Emperor Henry II. It was made between 1002 and 1014.
It is decorated with numerous gems. Yet this is not the most impressive thing about it, but the Greek-Egyptian reliefs of ivory from the 6th century on it, depicting Isis (Mary), Dionysus (Jesus) with Maenads, Nereids riding on sea monsters, and so on. Thus, the Aachen Cathedral outdoes the Trier one in the heathen images.
Details from the outside of the cathedral.
In the previous publication, I wrote that I will show how the devil stands outside. And here he is.
Part of the Chapel of St. Charles and Hubert from 1474.
This mythical looking king is actually the great Stephen I, the First King of Hungary (1000-1038) and founder of the Hungarian Kingdom who in 1083, just as Charlemagne, was canonized, so – Saint Stephen. The statue is placed in 1993 in the courtyard of the Cathedral, near the Chapel of Hungary by Hungarian pilgrims.
In the courtyard, there are also these 1000-year-old roses from the Hildesheim Cathedral. An interesting legend is related to them that leads to the beginning of the 9th century and tells the story of the construction of the cathedral where the major part was played by the son of Charlemagne – Louis the Pious. These roses are considered the oldest living ones in the world.
I want to conclude with a photograph of part of the Town Hall façade, built in 1349 on the foundations of the former Palace of Charlemagne.
To be continued…