Aachen Cathedral (NRW - Germany)

Very close to Belgian border in Germany is Aachen and Thalys from Brussels to Aachen was just 1hr travel. If booked early enough, Thalys tickets begin as low as €19! So, that's how decided to head in that direction! All I knew was Aachen's Cathedral is Germany's first UNESCO World Heritage site, and nothing more... The cathedral & the city turned out to be box full of surprises.



First off, as soon as you enter it, its a golden gorgeousness! Since I visited here, just a couple months after seeing spectacular Byzantine mosaics of Greece, my eyes were filled with so much of awe! However these mosaics in Aachen, belong to a much later period of 19th C CE! 

Second, its unusual & old! This has been in existence since 2nd C CE (I'll tell more about it soon)! It might have been a different building in that time, but it has been a functional church since 789-840 CE! It was only the central octagonal structure at that point of time. This part of the church, very much reminded me of Pisa Baptistery, which was also octagonal and had Norman arches in 2 storey all around! 

The stunning, super strong bronze grilles in the upper storey, between the columns as well as the majestic bronze doors belong to the original church of 8th C CE. Each grill is a single piece and each door is a single piece without any joints!!!! Its such a marvel, that's its unbelievable that it was cast here, in front of the church, in 8th C (archaeological findings provide evidences)! 

Getting back to the 2nd C structure. See those 2 pillars between each column? Well, that belongs to 2nd C CE! Quite amusingly, these are just for decorative purposes! That fact was discovered by chance during French Revolution, when the valuables from the church were removed to be stored in Louvre, these pillars were removed and guess what, nothing happened to the integrity of the building! Also, those grills? They tried to remove that too, but fortunately, it was well built into the structure of the building and way too heavy for them to dismantle and move! Luckily, today we see the building intact, thanks to these 2 unusual aspects!!!


The church was further expanded in 1169 CE under Fredrick Barbosa. It was he who started the process of canonizing Emperor Charlemagne. The church was filled with frescoes at this period and today, only a small patch of it still survives, just because its covered by the organ (yes, its not visible to public)!! The main color combination at this point of time was red & blue.

Later in 14th C CE, it was further expanded much, in a gorgeous Gothic style of the times, inspired by Saint Chapelle, Paris. The life-sized sculptures of Mother Mary, 12 apostles and Charlemagne, made of limestone, belong to this era as well. The frescoes in the apse belong to this time. The unusual, monumental, octagonal chandelier too belongs to this time.
Third, it has this shrine, which is filled with amazing extremely holy things for Christians! When I say shrine, in Christianity, its more like a box (unlike Eastern religions where its a part of the building!). It has 4 precious items - Mother Mary's birthing dress, Baby Christ's swaddling clothes, St. John the Baptist's beheading cloth and Christ's loincloth when he was crucified. These are opened once in 7 years and its a huge event and a pilgrimage for Catholics all over the world. The last one was in 2015 and the next would be in 2021! 
Well, actually there are 2 shrines. One which contains the relic (69 bones) of Charlemagne and another which has these 4 items. The shrine of Charlemagne is a piece of art by itself. It has 8 kings on either sides, who donated for the building of this church! The other shrine is more religious and at the centre is Mother Mary, who also guards the lock of the shrine!
Fourth, ofcourse, the Charlemagne Throne! Who is Charlemagne? He's Charles the Great or Charles I who was a Holy Roman Emperor who reigned from 800 CE to 814 CE. After the fall of classical Roman Empire, it was Charlemagne who brought whole of Europe under his wings. So he's called the Father of Europe. After him, the emperors of France and Germany called themselves the his successor. He was buried in the Cathedral and later the tomb was re-opened and placed in the casket/shrine that we see today.

There is a throne here which is said to be Charlemagne's throne. It's made of marble from Jerusalem, acquired after the crusade wars. Its basic, simple and plain, but with some engravings from its original place, before it was made into a throne. Its said that, every king's coronation happened sitting on this. Its believed to be used since Charlemagne's time, but its a matter of dispute among historians!!! Its more likely to be a representative item than a functional one!!!
The legend in this Cathedral is that the people ran out of money while building this church. Devil offered money at the condition that it would get the first soul that enters the church. Aacheners tricked the devil, by sending in a wolf! This pissed off the devil and it slammed the door causing it to crack and in the process, lost one its finger to the lion on the door. Yes, one of the lion's on the door has that 'finger' inside the mouth, while the other doesn't! 
The follow up for this story is atop the Lousberg! There is a sculpture of a woman with a bag and a seated exhausted devil! After losing the thumb, devil was so pissed off that he wanted to cover Aachen with sand. So he lugged 2 huge sacks of sand and came towards Aachen. On the way, he got tired and rested at a place. A smart woman then came by and looking at him, understood the predicament, and tricked the devil, saying Aachen market is too far away and that she was returning from there. The already tired devil decided to leave his bags of sand there itself, causing the Lousberg hill to be formed!

To Stay: 
Hotels at most price points (budget to semi-luxury) are available in the city.
Click to read my review of Hampton by Hilton, Aachen where we stayed.

To Get There:
On Google Maps: Aachen Cathedral
Nearest Railway Station: Aachen HBF (1km away from Cathedral)

Entry tickets & timings:

Daily 7:00AM to 6:00/7:00PM in winters/summers respectively.
Free entry. However most of the sites, including throne, shrines etc cannot be seen through this entry.
Guided tours - €4. 
Guided tours in German are available every hour from 11:00AM Mon-Fri & from 1:00PM in weekends.
English Guided tours are at 2:00PM everyday.

My complete Aachen & Cologne travelogue: Aachen Cathedral, Route Charlemagne, Cologne Cathedral, Brühl Augustusburg Palace

P.S: I was invited by NRW & Aachen Tourism to experience the city for review purposes, however the opinions are my own and this post does not to advertise the product/service.

Bhushavali

An ardent traveler by passion. I am a wanderlust.. Read more about me here.

17 comments:

  1. That was fascinating especially the legends. Thanks for sharing it.

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  2. Wow, what a spectacular cathedral! The stained glass windows and spires absolutely stun me with their beauty. I would love to see the shrine when it is opened in 2022. Thank you for including the free entry as well the opening and closing times.

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  3. This is definitely worth the trip. I am a fan of ancient arts and it would be fascinating to see this up close. Thank you for sharing a bit of history and information about the Aachen Cathedral. Will make sure to visit if we're given a chance to travel to Germany.

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  4. Every bit of history across the world seems to have a good, bad, ugly, beautiful angle. The devil probably wasn't all that devilish to get tricked twice. What an interesting way to show the co-existence of good and bad. Would love to visit one day.

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  5. I am not a religious person, but I have always visited several cathedrals in different tours. I am intrigued by the architecture of cathedral. I am getting the same feeling here while checking out the UNESCO-listed Aachen Cathedral. It is surely a must-visit place for me.

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  6. Interesting to learn that Aachen cathedral was Germany's first UNESCO world heritage site and yet it's perhaps not as well known as many others! But seeing your photos and learning its age and history, I can see why it's listed. Really appreciate your thorough guide to exploring the cathedral fully.

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  7. Aachen's Cathedral is gorgeousness personified. It is so beautiful, but even more fascinating is the history and how it goes back to the 2nd century. It is indeed a treasure and a place that piques our interest. The many 'gems', that tell stories from the depths of history like the throne of Charlemagne are so intriguing.

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  8. Thanks for introducing me to this spectacular Cathedral, its history and its legend. Those beautifully painted windows reminded me immediately of the iconic ones at Saint Chapelle. Truly stunning to read about the innovative design of the grills and the door that were built without joints in the 8th C. I would love to visit this church to see the shrine as well as the throne on which Charlemagne was coronated. With such priceless relics, it’s no wonder this church is such a huge draw for pilgrims worldwide. Thanks for sharing.

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  9. What a great step back in time! Aachen's Cathedral is extremely beautiful and equally intriguing. Dating back to the 2nd C CE, the cathedral is dipped in rich history. I’m completely fascinated with the stories associated with it - huge pillars just for decorative purpose, Charlemagne's throne made of marble from Jerusalem, borrowing money from the devil and devil’s finger in one of the lion’s mouth, the origin of Lousberg hill from the bag of sands – everything compels you to visit this place in person.

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  10. Hm, I wasn't aware of the story or beauty of this site, so it was nice to read this article and find out more about it!

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  11. Love gothic architecture churches with stained glass windows ! What's impressive to me is how old it is ! I visited a few old churches but don't think I have been to any that dates back to 700+ AD !!

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  12. I've heard about the Aachen cathedral as one of the main tourist sights in town even though I never visited Aachen. What I didn't know tho, was that this was the first UNESCO site in Germany. I also love that you included some of the legends about the cathedral!

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  13. One thing I always appreciate about Europe is how well the buildings are maintained! I never would have imagined that a church that dates back to 2nd CE would still be standing!

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  14. Really Fantastic thanks for sharing this I have never visited there but after read your post i will try to be there thanks

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  15. The pictures of this cathedral are beautiful. I always struggle with taking pictures of anything religious in an effort to be respectful of everyone. The story of offering a soul intrigued me so much I've started down a rabbit hole watching Youtube for more info. Great article

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  16. I have seen many cathedrals in Germany but not this one yet. They are all full of history just like this one. The architecture is also amazing. German spend lots of money to maintain them in good shape.

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  17. I can’t believe Aachen Cathedral is just an hour from Brussels. I was in the Brussels a few weeks ago and wished I saw your blog post sooner. I love learning the background history of the Cathedral and how it was painted red in the past. Great post!

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