In Aachen Cathedral lies the body of Pater Europae. And who might he be, this Father of Europe, you ask?
When I was an exchange student in the USA, someone once mentioned Charlemagne, a famous emperor of Europe. ‘What?’ I thought at the time. A European emperor I had never heard of? Well, turns out I had, just hadn’t heard him referred to by his French title, Charles le Magne, which, as I learned, is also his name in English. To me, he was Karl den store, Carl (or Charles) the Great.
Charles, as you probably remember from high school history lessons, managed in the late 700s to unite Europe (or Western Europe, at least) for the first time since the Roman Empire, and is known as the founder of the Roman Empire V 2.0, better known as the Holy Roman Empire.
The emperor is thought to have been born here in Aachen, but no one really knows. It could have been Liège, just across the border in present-day Belgium. Details like birth date and location weren’t always taken down in writing a millennium ago. On the other hand, there seems to be little doubt about the details of his death: 28 January 814 in Aachen. He was interred here at Aachen Cathedral on the same day. A few hundred years after his death, Charles was beatified, so this has been a pilgrimage site for centuries.
The emperor lives on in Aachen, through the annual (since 1949) Karlspreis der Stadt Aachen, an international prize awarded to people who promotes European unity. Among the recipients is our friend Winston.
Aachen Cathedral was one of the very first sites added to the World Heritage list back in 1978. And even though is isn’t one of the largest cathedrals in Europe, or even in Germany, it is very impressive and well worth a look. Charles’ gilded sarcophagus is the main attraction, of course.
On the 1200th anniversary of his death – on 28 January this year – scientists concluded, after 26 years’ research, that the bones and fragments inside the sarcophagus of a tall, thin, older man were most likely those of Charles himself.
At 1.84 metres (six feet), he was unusually tall for his time. The team also estimated his weight at around 78 kilograms, giving him a slim body mass index of around 23.
Have you visited Aachen Cathedral?
Aachen Cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Here are more UNESCO World Heritage sites we have visited around the world.