One gets the feeling of racing back to the pre-historic era when seeing a cathedral-like the one in Aachen. The building represents a great vision or even mission. It is in a world of its own and speaks of the hope that through heaven great things can be achieved.
City of water
Aachen is one of the smaller cities in Germany with a population of about 250,000. It is hassle-free and has a few old Baroque factories used for cultural purposes. It is surrounded by two big roads Called ‘Garben’ which represents the former shape of the two city walls.
Aachen is special as the original town developed from the palatinate of Charlemagne. He was king of the Franks and the first ruler of the Middle-ages to be given the West Roman Title of Emperor. The palatinate of Aachen became Charlemagne’s favourite abode.
Today, Aachen’s Technical University and a couple of other universities have over 50,000 students, who on summer evenings crowd the marketplace. Their laughter fills the air with bustle, freshness and carefree liveliness. Aachen is very proud of them. They are the future.
Many fountains remind us that both water and Charlemagne are closely associated with each other. The fountains run in different directions of the valley and still flow today. When the Romans lived there, two large public baths were constructed.
One for the soldiers of the garrison and military baths for the mercenary folk. The Romans bathed during the 2nd and 4th century here. That was when the place was called ‘Aquis Grani’, which when translated means waters of Grannus—a God of the Celtic native population.
The name Aachen is derived from Aquis (Latin for water) and until today the city is entitled to call itself Bad, which means spa with a chapel, which the French call Axis la Chapelle.
Where ever the Romans appeared, they built streets and had the option to run away just in case. Aachen lay off the strategically significant routes. Yet, the military bath and some alleys in right-angled order were linked to two bigger roads. One such road led to Cologne via Julich, an important bridgehead of the river Rur, up to Liege. The rest of the road is one of the oldest in Aachen. The other road led to Heerlen and Galmeigebiet—known as the modern Stolberg.
How it began
Emperor Frederick Barbarossa admired his predecessor Charlemagne greatly. He respected what he had done for Aachen, especially as the cathedral stood tall. Maybe he had some envy of the former times. Charlemagne unified the empire. These were times of dynamic processes, full of movement, enthusiasm, conflict and also co-operation. Meanwhile, the life and regime of the empire had grown complicated. The emperor lacked an all-encompassing power.
A row of new celebrities emerged, like Princes, Bishops and recently flourished towns and primarily, the Pope in Rome. Emperor Frederick was encouraged to refer to the state of the former times. It was his idea, and he was prepared to make all efforts for this purpose. For that reason, a universally accepted idol or ideal was needed. Thus, the memory of Charlemagne came just in time for his plans.
England had been far off and France had belonged to the emperor. During Frederick Barhossa’s reign, England had been very powerful for a long time and France was independent. The strongest two countries had found their independence and their profiles had been personified according to the thinking of the era. Historical research mentions that people that had made Saint Dionysius of Paris their National Patron Saint. A bishop and martyr of the 3rd century canonized in 1144 in England had found a weak but sanctified king. It was Edward the Confessor who was canonized in 1161. It almost appeared as a political necessity for Frederick to appoint such a sanctified role model. In 1165 Charlemagne was canonized amid constant clashes with the Pope.
The inscription on the canonization of Fredrick of Barbarossa says, together with his wife Beatrix, they gifted the Barbarossa chandelier to Charlemagne’s chapel. It bore an image of Jerusalem descending from heaven to earth, as described in the New Testament. The Revelation of John describes the city as having twelve gates. In 1355 the cathedral chapter of Aachen decided to begin building a new extension. On January 28, 1414, on the 600th anniversary of Charlemagne’s death, the choir was inaugurated. It had taken sixty years to complete one of the riskiest architectural enterprises of the era.
In one of the plates closer to the altar, Jesus is depicted washing the feet of a disciple’s feet. What is striking is the group of apostles. Not one, but the whole community are watching Christ with raised hands as He stands in front of the bowl. Thereafter, according to the Gospel of St. John 13: 1-11 Jesus demonstrates His readiness to serve others. He gets up from the meal, wraps a towel around His waist and begins to wash the feet of the disciples.