Aachen Cathedral, Germany 2017

     On August 9th, 2017; I explored the Aachen Cathedral on the German and Belgium Border. 

Aachen Cathedral, Germany

     Aachen (Palatine) Cathedral was the very first site to be granted UNESCO World Heritage status in Germany, and with good reason: built in around 790 to 800, the cathedral is of world importance in terms of the history of art and architecture, and is one of the great examples of church architecture. The final resting place of Charlemagne, it was also where German emperors were crowned for 600 years.

Inside the Palatine Chapel, 2017

Pictured above, [lower right] is the Adlerpult (Eagle’s stand”, 15th century), a brass music stand for the choristers. [Lower center], The Memorial slab for Emperor Otto III (1834), who was buried in the Carolingian church in 1002. The sarcophagus was moved to this place in 1414 after construction of the gothic choir was finished. [Upper center], is the Radiant Madonna (strahlenkranzmadonna), a carving by Jan van Stevensweert (1524). The two-sided Madonna with child is surrounded by rays of light and by clouds. [Lower center], the Shrine of Charlemagne (1182/1215), a masterpiece of gold work of the Maas region. Ever since 1215, this shrine has held the mortal remains of Charlemagne (814 A.D.), who was canonised in 1165 A.D..

     Charlemagne’s ambition was to create a new Rome when he made Aachen the center of his empire in around 800. The imperial palace’s chapel – the oldest part of the cathedral today – was to be the religious center.

General Plan for the Aachen Cathedral, (image taken from a interpretive pamphlet or guide given at the site).

The mighty octagonal domed building is now thought to have been built in a mere ten years or so. A unifying architectural masterpiece, it brought together forms from the eastern and western parts of the Holy Roman Empire. Charlemagne was buried in the Palatine chapel following his death in 814. His sarcophagus can be found in the Gothic chancel, near to the still-intact imperial throne.

Window in the main Aachen Cathedral Chapel or the Shrine of Charlemagne (1182/1215)

     Not many years ago, the German photographer Hermann Weisweiler discovered by accident some remarkable features in the cathedral at Aachen, west of Boon. Waiting for favorable sunlight to photograph the interior of the Octagon Chapel he was startled to notice a ray of sunlight suddenly burst in through a window. Intrigued, he made a closer study of the way that sunshine illuminated the interior of this historic chapel, pictured above, construction of which started in 786 AD on the orders of the great Frankish emperor Charlemagne. It was to be the sacred heart of his capital city.

The Cathedral’s main alter is adorned with a golden altar piece, depicting Christ’s Passion. In the middle between Mary and the archangel Michael you see Christ as the Ruler of the World, surrounded by four symbols of the evangelists.

     The photographer found that on Summer Solstice sunlight entering through the eastern octagon window would light up the crowned head of the emperor as he sat up his throne, (shown below). At the equinoxes, sunbeams falling at other angles also bathed the throne in light, suggesting that the architects had employed sophisticated astronomical knowledge to stage-manage mystical lighting effects for their emperor. From this story, I had to visit “The Aachen Cathedral”.

Charlemagne’s Throne on the upper floor is a modest marble seat made from re-used ancient material. From 936-1531 A.D., kings were enthroned here, after having been anointed and crowned at the main alter.

Once finished, the chapel represents a fusion of Byzantine, Roman, and Germanic-Franconian styles, and has since been called a “masterpiece of Carolingian architecture”. With its columns of Greek and Italian marble, its bronze doors, and the largest mosaic of its dome, the Palatine Chapel has, from its inception, been perceived as an exceptional artistic creation.

Eastern Octagon Window of the Aachen Cathedral Chapel Dome

The upper story is decorated with classical pillars and Carolingian bronze railings.

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