Aachen cathedral The devil’s thumb in Aachen cathedral

The devil, as we know, is in the detail. And in Aachen cathedral (Aachener Dom). Millions of hands have touched him down the centuries: the devil’s thumb in one of the lions’ heads decorating the main portal on the way in.

Aachen cathedral

  • dedicated to Mary, mother of Jesus
  • the first German building to be declared a UNESCO world heritage site
  • the final resting place of Charlemagne
  • today: the diocesan cathedral of the Diocese of Aachen

The entrance to Aachen cathedral didn’t make history just as the first bronze casting north of the Alps but as a legend in its very construction. Unfortunately, when the Aacheners’ building fund ran dry the devil offered an injection of fresh capital. In return, though, he demanded the soul of the first mortal to enter the cathedral after its dedication. Of course, he hadn’t reckoned on good old Aachen cunning. Even in those days, Aacheners hadn’t been born yesterday! They caught a wolf and chased it into the cathedral before them. The devil grabbed it without looking and ripped its soul out. Noticing he’d been tricked, he slammed the cathedral door in a fit of pique with such force that his thumb was torn off – and this thumb, cathedral lore has it, can be felt to this very day in one of the two lions’ heads…

Aachen cathedral is an UNESCO world heritage site

Aachen’s most famous landmark and a world heritage site, whose main part was constructed between around 780 and 800 AD under Charlemagne (Karl der Große), is surrounded by a lot of legend, lore and anecdotes. It’s home to many incredible works of art: you’ll be amazed as you gaze upwards into the 100-foot-high dome, you’ll marvel at Barbarossa’s chandelier (1165-1170 AD) and the Charlemagne and Maria Shrines (13th century) and see the legendary throne of Charlemagne on which over 30 kings took their places during their coronations in Aachen cathedral. The cathedral’s gothic choir, with its 80-foot-high windows, is a masterpiece of its era (1414 AD). Other treasures, like the famous Charlemagne bust (c. 1349 AD), can be viewed next-door in the treasury which houses one of Europe’s greatest collections of ecclesiastical treasures.

Volumes have been written about Aachen cathedral, including essays, picture books and much more besides by specialists, scientists and photographers. But no words or pictures can do justice to the feeling you get, sitting quietly beneath that majestic dome. It simply has to be experienced…

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External links

Aachen CathedralInformation on history, artefacts and relics, opening hours, guided tours and cathedral music. (German only) European Foundation for Aachen Cathedral(German only) World heritage sitesThe German commission of this UN organisation explains its objectives, challenges and current projects.