I have seen many cathedrals in my life but the Aachen Cathedral (Aachener Dom) is the closest to my heart.
The monument, which is the oldest Cathedral built in Northern Europe, is a magical place, where all ancient German emperors were crowned. It is considered an architectural masterpiece of an overwhelming beauty, with gorgeous stained glass windows, remarkable marble walls and mosaic tiles decorating the floors, ceiling and choir.
There are eight reasons why this Cathedral is one of my favourite places. I prefer to limit the reasons to eight, to somehow link the figure “eight” to an important symbol of the Aachen Cathedral, a symbol embedded in the Carolingian Octagon, which is described further in this article.
- A breath-taking combination of three architectural styles
The monument as such combines two major architectural styles, notably the Carolingian and the Gothic styles with visible traces of the Ottonian style.
The Carolingian style’s main feature is an entrance block facing the west, which is called Westwork (Westwerk in German). The Westwork as such consists of two towers holding a number of entrance halls and rooms organised on two storeys.
While visiting the Dom, I noticed some architectural Byzantine elements from my home country. They appear to come from the Carolingian style, which developed during the Carolingian Empire and which is based on the Christian Roman Empire architecture.
The Gothic style elements are visible in the Dom choir’s structure while the Ottonian style elements were mainly employed in the area of Charlemagne’s Imperial throne.
- The Palatine Chapel or the Carolingian Octagon
The Palatine Chapel is actually a tall octagonal room on two floors whose strong pillars hold a high gallery covered by a cupola. The Chapel’s walls, pillars and ceiling are decorated with mosaic tiles, which are of a particular and rare beauty.
- Unique geometry and symbols
Over the past centuries the experts performed many measurements of the Dom to explain its dimensions and identify the symbols behind them. The experts concluded that the reference making sense in the case of the Dom is the Carolingian feet.
Charlemagne introduced uniform weights and measures throughout his Empire and one Carolingian foot is about one third of a metre.
The Palatine Chapel’s octagon shape symbolises the promise of never-ending life. Another symbol is ten and represents the perfection in medieval architecture. Both top circle shape – surrounding the Dom cupola – and the Dom height measure hundred Carolingian feet, which is a multiple of ten.
- The Gothic choir
Aachen Dom’s choir is a genuine piece of Gothic architecture and it is remarkable with its size and design. The windows’ surface is a huge area of about 1,000 square meters and got the nickname of the Glashaus (Glass house).
The choir accommodates the Apostles and the Karlsschrein (Charlemagne’s Sanctuary), which houses Charlemagne’s bones from their resting place in the Palatine Chapel.
The glass area is a generous gateway, which filters the daylight pleasantly.
- The side chapels
There are seven chapels belonging to the Aachen Dom. Five of them are placed around the Carolingian Octagon while the remaining two chapels are located in the cloister and the other one in the Dom yard.
The five chapels are: St. Matthew Chapel, St. Anne Chapel, the Chapel of Hungary, the Chapel of St. Nicholas and St. Michael and the Chapel of St. Charles & Hubert. The other two chapels are: All Saints and All Souls Chapel and the Baptismal Chapel.
- Barbarossa chandelier
This famous chandelier bears the name of Emperor Barbarossa who donated it to the Dom. The chandelier consists of eight (again the symbol of eight) arcs placed on a wheel suspended with a chain.
- Marienschrein, one the most important 13th century piece of gold artwork
The Marienschrein (Mary’s Sanctuary) houses four famous objects: Jesus’s nappy and loin cloth, Mary’s dress and John the Baptist’s decapitation cloth. The Marienschrein is stored in a protected glass box in the Dom’s choir.
The Sanctuary depicts scenes with the twelve apostles, Christ, Mary and Charlemagne. About thousand gemstones decorate the sanctuary.
- Henry’s Ambon
Henry’s Ambon is actually a pulpit, which is a raised stand, reserved for preachers and other church authorities. The Ambon was made between 1002 and 1014, following the request of Henry II, a Roman Emperor.
It is said that the Ambon is an emblematic pieces of artwork from the Ottonian period. The Ambon features scenes, made in gold and richly decorated with sparkling gemstones.
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