We’d eaten a simple dinner in the room at the Arte Hotel the night we arrived in Aachen: steaming bowls of stew, cheeses, dark breads, and red wine. Early the next morning, we drove into the main section of the city. We had two points of interest to cover: the famous “Imperial” Cathedral, and its Treasury. While waiting for the Treasury to open, we studied a Roman ruins display in the nearby plaza.
The Treasury is about 6,000 square feet in size and contains over 100 works of art. Among other items, we viewed the jewel-encrusted Ottonian Cross of Lothair and the Arm Reliquary, commissioned by King Louis XI of France in 1481; it displays the ulna and radius bones of Charlemagne’s right arm. (Don’t get me started on anatomy again.) We also saw his olifant–from the word “elephant”–a hunting horn from an ivory tusk, and his hunting knife, the latter dating from the 8th century.
Most impressive was the Bust of Charlemagne, containing the king’s skull.
Soon it was time for our cathedral tour, for which Thurston, a PhD candidate in Political Science, was our thorough and congenial guide.
Construction for Marienkirche, “Mary’s Church”, was begun by Charlemagne in 786. Known not only as King of the Franks, but as the Father of Europe due to his massive impact on its unification, his goal was to honor the mother of Jesus by dedicating the church to her. Octagonal, in the Byzantine tradition, its height of more than thirty-one meters was a record at its time and would be for centuries to come.
Not only the burial place of Charlemagne, the Cathedral houses relics he collected as well, which are revered by Roman Catholics: (parts of) Mary’s cloak; Jesus’s swaddling clothes; Christ’s loin cloth worn on the Cross; and the cloth on which lay the head of John the Baptist after his beheading by Herod.
When medieval pilgrims flocked to view these relics, crowds became so huge that a new choir hall was created. Construction began in 1355 and concluded in 1414, when the Gothic-style chapel, reminiscent of French king Louis IX’s St. Chapelle in Paris, was consecrated on the 600th anniversary of Charlemagne’s death. This is where Charlemagne’s coffin is on display. Upstairs, we found his non-elaborate throne, used in the coronation of thirty-one kings of Germany over six hundred years.
It was time to leave Aachen, but we carried away the memory of King Charlemagne and his contributions as we traveled north to spend the night in Gütersloh.