|This article may be expanded with text translated from the corresponding article in the German Wikipedia. (January 2012)|
|Name as inscribed on the World Heritage List|
|Criteria||i, ii, iv, vi|
|UNESCO region||Europe and North America|
|Inscription||1978 (2nd Session)|
Aachen Cathedral, frequently referred to as the "Emperor's Cathedral" (in German: Kaiserdom), is a Roman Catholic church in Aachen, Germany. The church is the oldest cathedral in northern Europe and was known as the "Royal Church of St. Mary at Aachen" during the Middle Ages. For 595 years, from 936 to 1531, the Aachen chapel was the church of coronation for 30 German kings and 12 queens. The church is the episcopal seat of the Diocese of Aachen.
Charles the Great (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. It suffered a large amount of damage around 881, by the Northmen and was restored in 983. In the 14th and 15th centuries, Gothic additions were added, including the choir in 1355. It was restored again in 1881. The core of the cathedral is the Carolingian Palatine Chapel, which is notably small in comparison to the later additions.
In order to sustain the enormous flow of pilgrims in the Gothic period a choir hall was built: 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. In 1978, it was one of the first 12 items to make the entry into the UNESCO list of world heritage sites, as the first German and one of the first three European historical ensembles.
The cathedral uses two distinct architectural styles. First, the Palace Chapel of Charlemagne was modeled after San Vitale at Ravenna. It is considered to be Carolingian-Romanesque. Then there is the choir, which is Gothic architecture.
The Aachen cathedral treasury displays sacral masterpieces of the late Classical, Carolingian, Ottonian and Staufian period - among them there are some unique exhibits like the Cross of Lothair, the 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.
Final resting place of Charlemagne
When he died in 814, Charlemagne's remains were placed in a vault in the cathedral.
In 1000, Otto III had Charlemagne's vault opened. Otto of Lomello, one of the courtiers who accompanied him, recorded the event, which is reported in the Chronicle of Novalesia, written about 1026. The account reads:
"So we went in to Charles. He did not lie, as the dead otherwise do, but sat as if he were living. He was crowned with a golden crown and held in his gloved hands a sceptre; the fingernails had penetrated through the gloves and stuck out. Above him was a canopy of limestone and marble. Entering, we broke through this. Upon our entrance, a strong smell struck us. Kneeling, we gave Emperor Charles our homage, and put in order the damage that had been done. Emperor Charles had not lost any of his members to decay, except only the tip of his nose. Emperor Otto replaced this with gold, took a tooth from Charles’s mouth, walled up the entrance to the chamber, and withdrew again."
A large picture representing Otto and his nobles gazing on the dead Emperor was painted on the wall of the great room in the Town Hall.
In 1165, Emperor Frederick Barbarossa again opened the vault and placed the remains in a sculptured sarcophagus made of Parian marble, said to have been the one in which Augustus Caesar was buried.[by whom?] He also installed a bronze chandelier. The bones lay in this until 1215, when Frederick II had them put in a casket of gold and silver. A vellum codex found interred with him was removed.
Shrine of the Virgin Mary
The 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 2007.
Use in opera
Bronze pinecone in the cathedral narthex
Barbarossa Chandelier (1170)
Throne of Charlemagne
Reliquary bust of Charlemagne (treasury)
Cross of Lothair (~ 1000) (treasury)
- Bayer, Patricia, ed. (2000). "A". Encyclopedia Americana. I A-Anjou (First ed.). Danbury, CT: Grolier Incorporated. p. 1. ISBN 0-7172-0133-3.
- Kenneth J. Conant, Carolingian and Romanesque Architecture, 4th ed. (New Haven, 1994), p. 47).
- "Aachen". Encyclopedia Britannica. I: A-Ak - Bayes (15th ed.). Chicago, IL: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. 2010. pp. 1–2. ISBN 978-1-59339-837-8.
- Jay Jacobs, The Encyclopedia of World Art, 1st ed. (London, 1975), p. 9).
- Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores, VII, book III, 32.
Media related to Aachen Cathedral at Wikimedia Commons