Aachen Cathedral

Monday, 7 October 2019 - 11:00 am (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: Architecture, General, UNESCO World Heritage

© CEphoto - Uwe Aranas/cc-by-sa-3.0

© CEphoto – Uwe Aranas/cc-by-sa-3.0

Aachen Cathedral is a Roman Catholic church in Aachen,Germany, and the see of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Aachen. One of the oldest cathedrals in Europe, it was constructed by order of the emperor Charlemagne, who was buried there in 814. From 936 to 1531, the Palatine Chapel saw the coronation of thirty-one German kings and twelve queens. The church has been the mother church of the Diocese of Aachen since 1802. In 1978, Aachen Cathedral was one of the first 12 items to be listed on the UNESCO list of world heritage sites.

Charlemagne began the construction of the Palatine Chapel around 796, along with the building of the rest of the palace structures. The construction is credited to Odo of Metz. The exact date of completion is unclear; however, a letter from Alcuin, in 798, states that it was nearing completion, and in 805, Leo III consecrated the finished chapel. A foundry was brought to Aachen near the end of the 8th century and was utilized to cast multiple bronze pieces, from doors and the railings, to the horse and bear statues. Charlemagne was buried in the chapel in 814. It suffered a large amount of damage in a Viking raid in 881, and was restored in 983.

After Frederick Barbarossa canonized Charlemagne, in 1165, the chapel became a draw for pilgrims. In order to sustain the enormous flow of pilgrims in the Gothic period a choir hall was built, in 1355, and a two-part Capella vitrea (glass chapel) which was consecrated on the 600th anniversary of Charlemagne’s death. A cupola, several other chapels and a steeple were also constructed at later dates. It was restored again in 1881, when the Baroque stucco was removed.

During World War II, Aachen, including its famed cathedral, was heavily damaged by Allied bombing attacks and artillery fire, but the cathedral’s basic structure survived. Many of the cathedral’s artistic objects had been removed to secure storage during the war, and some which could not be moved were protected within the church itself. However, the glazing of the 14th-century choir hall, the Neo-Gothic altar, a large part of the cloister, and the Holiness Chapel (Heiligtumskapelle) were irretrievably destroyed. Reconstruction and restoration took place intermittently over more than 30 years, and cost an estimated 40 million euros.

© CEphoto - Uwe Aranas/cc-by-sa-3.0 Shrine of Charlemagne © ACBahn View of the Octagon © Berthold Werne/cc-by-sa-3.0 © Christian Wehrle/cc-by-sa-3.0 Aachen_Cathedral_seen_from_the_west-Maxgreene-cc-by-sa-3.0 Barbarossa chandelier under the dome of the Octagon © Arnoldius/cc-by-sa-3.0
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Barbarossa chandelier under the dome of the Octagon © Arnoldius/cc-by-sa-3.0
Aachen Cathedral houses a collection of medieval art objects from the late Classical, Carolingian, Ottonian and Staufian periods which are exceptional in their artistic and religious meaning.

In the western gallery on the lower floor, opposite the choir, the Throne of Charlemagne is to be found, which has been the object of new investigations in the past decades. The original Carolingian throne came from the spolia of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The appearance of the throne and its location in the Palatine Chapel did not change with the passage of centuries. Between 936 and 1531, thirty one German kings ascended to this throne after their anointment and coronation at the Marienaltar (Altar of Mary) – (Coronation of the Holy Roman Emperor).

The Marienschrein (Shrine of St. Mary) rests in the choir of the church and dates from 1220-1239. Adorned with the figures of Christ, Mary, Charlemagne, Pope Leo III and the Twelve Apostles, the shrine contains the four great Aachen relics: St. Mary’s cloak, Christ’s swaddling clothes, St. John the Baptist‘s beheading cloth and Christ’s loincloth. Following a custom begun in 1349, every seven years the relics are taken out of the shrine and put on display during the Great Aachen Pilgrimage. This pilgrimage most recently took place during June 2014.

From the vault of the dome, which is made up of eight curved faces, a wheel chandelier hangs on a long chain, about four metres above the ground, with a diameter of over four metres, which is known as the Barbarossa Chandelier (1165/1170). This artwork was a donation of Emperor Frederick Barbarossa and his wife Beatrice. The forty-eight candles of the chandelier are lit for solemnities of the Church.

Between 1002 and 1014, Henry II had a pulpit erected as an ambon in the east passage, which is among the most magnificent artistic treasures of the Ottonian Renaissance. Its inscription on the upper and lower edges clearly identifies its donor as Henry II, referring to him as REX PIVS HEINRICVS. The pulpit is made of an oak base and is decorated all over with filigree and precious stones, with many precious artefacts from antiquity, such as four repoussé copper reliefs with depictions of the Evangelists, as well as six ivory panels of the 6th century. The wooden staircase dates to 1782. The Ambon was thoroughly restored in 1816/1817 and again between 1926 and 1937. To this day, the pulpit is still in liturgical use for solemnities of the Church.

A golden altarpiece, the Pala d’Oro which today forms the Antependium of the high altar was probably created around 1020 in Fulda. It consists of seventeen individual gold panels with reliefs in repoussé. In the centre, Christ is enthroned as Redeemer in a Mandorla, flanked by Mary and the Archangel Michael. Four round medallions with images of the Evangelists’ symbols show the connection to the other twelve relief panels with depictions from the life of Jesus Christ. They begin with the entry into Jerusalem and end with the encounter of the women with the risen Christ in front of the open grave on Easter morning. The depictions are read from left to right, like a book. Stylistically, the Pala d’Oro is not uniform. The first five reliefs probably come from a goldsmith taught in the Rheinland and is distinguished by a strikingly joyful narration. It probably derives from a donation of Emperor Otto III. The other panels, together with the central group of Christ, Mary, and Michael, draws from Byzantine and late Carolingian predecessors and was likely first added under Otto’s successor, Henry II, who also donated the Ambo of Henry II. Presumably, in the late 15th century, the golden altarpiece formed a massive altar system together with the twelve reliefs of apostles in the Cathedral treasury, along with altarpieces with scenes from the life of Mary, which would have been dismantled in 1794 as the French Revolutionary troops approached Aachen.

The Aachen Cathedral Treasury includes highly important objects including the Cross of Lothair, Bust of Charlemagne and the Persephone sarcophagus. The Cathedral Treasury in Aachen is regarded as one of the most important ecclesiastical treasuries in northern Europe. Pilgrims are able to see some of the relics every seven years when they are displayed.

Read more on Aachen Cathedral, aachen-tourismus.de – Aachen Cathedral, unesco.org – Aachen Cathedral and Wikipedia Aachen Cathedral (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State). Photos by Wikimedia Commons. If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.




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