Aachen cathedral Organ sounds and a sea of candles
Christmas, 983 AD. A child kneels in Aachen cathedral (Aachener Dom). Does he smell the incense, hear the organ sounds and register the sea of candles?
- the main edifice was commissioned by Charlemagne
- the octagon was completed in 800 AD
- over 30 German kings were crowned here
- The cathedral treasury houses the biggest collection of ecclesiastical treasures north of the Alps
Or, at the tender age of three, is Otto III overawed by his coronation as king of Germany and ruler of the Holy Roman Empire? Of one thing, however, he probably has no inkling: that like his role model, Charlemagne (Karl der Große), he too will one day be buried in that very edifice.
Christmas in the cathedral. For many Aacheners this still means candles, incense and the sounds of the organ. Time to consider the greater things of life in stillness, time to celebrate, time to feel safe and loved. This house of worship contains many mysteries: a Nine Men’s Morris game etched into the royal throne, an optical illusion candelabra hanging from the ceiling and an octagonal central space signifying the resurrection of Jesus on the eighth day of the old week (and the first day of the new one).
Important centre of pilgrimage in the middle-ages
Since the days of Charlemagne, pilgrims have been coming to Aachen from the whole world over. Together with Jerusalem, Rome and Santiago de Compostela, Aachen was one of the major centres of pilgrimage in the late middle-ages. Even today, the cathedral opens up its relics every seven years during pilgrimage time: Christ’s loincloth and “swaddling clothes”, Mary’s dress and John the Baptist’s decapitation cloth.
Only in 1937, the Nazis tried every means possible to stop the pilgrimage, insisting on political “Gleichschaltung” (state-imposed behaviour control) instead of freedom of belief. But Aachen staged a sensation, with people streaming into the city from all directions – over 800,000 of them – before standing motionless, in silent prayer, in silent protest. Holy pilgrimage has outlived Hitler and his henchmen.
The next pilgrimage is scheduled for 2014. There are guided tours of the cathedral every day. Aachen cathedral has a lot of stories to tell and, if you stop to listen, they can be heard to this day.
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