Aachen Cathedral, frequently referred to as the “Imperial Cathedral” (in German: Kaiserdom), is a Roman Catholic church in Aachen, Germany. The church is the oldest cathedral in northern Europe and was known as the “Royal Church of St. Mary at Aachen” during the Middle Ages. For 600 years, from 936 to 1531, the Aachen chapel was the church of coronation for 30 German kings and 12 queens. The church is the episcopal seat of the Diocese of Aachen.
Charles the Great (Charlemagne) began the construction of the Palatine Chapel around 792, along with the building of the rest of the palace structures. It was consecrated in 805 by Pope Leo III in honour of the Virgin Mary. It was extensively renovated in the 10th century and restored in 1881. The core of the cathedral is the Carolingian Palatine Chapel, which is notably small in comparison to the later additions.
In order to sustain the enormous flow of pilgrims in the Gothic period a choir hall was built: a two-part Capella vitrea (glass chapel) which was consecrated on the 600th anniversary of Charlemagne’s death. A cupola, several other chapels and a steeple were also constructed at later dates. In 1978, it was one of the first 12 items to make the entry into the UNESCO list of World heritage sites, as the first German and one of the first three European historical
The Aachen cathedral treasury displays sacral masterpieces of the late Classical, Carolingian, Ottonian and Staufian period – among them there are some unique exhibits like the Cross of Lothair, the Bust of Charlemagne and the Persephone sarcophagus. The Cathedral Treasury in Aachen is regarded as one of the most important ecclesiastical treasuries in northern Europe.
When he died in 814, Charlemagne’s remains were placed in a vault in the cathedral. In 1000, Otto III had Charlemagne’s vault opened. Otto of Lomello, one of the courtiers who accompanied him, recorded the event, which is reported in the Chronicle of Novalesia, written about 1026.
The Shrine of St Mary rests in the choir of the church and dates from 1220-1239. Adorned with the figures of Christ, Mary, Charlemagne, Pope Leo III and the Twelve Apostles, the shrine contains the four great Aachen relics: St. Mary’s cloak, Christ’s swaddling clothes, St. John the Baptist’s beheading cloth and Christ’s loincloth. Following a custom begun in 1349, every seven years the relics are taken out of the shrine and put on display during the Great Aachen Pilgrimage. This pilgrimage most recently took place during June 2007.
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