Photo A Aachen is the city in which Emperor Charles V was coronated in 1519 in the cathedral built by Charlemagne (Karl der Grosse) in the 9th century. Charlemagne began as king of the Franks (roughly modern-day France) in 754 and gradually extended his rule to Italy, much of the Germanic lands, and Spain. Aachen, located in western Germany on the border with The Netherlands and France, was his capital city.  Photo A is medieval city gate in Aachen. In 800 Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne emperor in Rome, implying a renewal of the Roman Empire.


Facts and Photos

Between 790 and 800 Charlemagne, the first ruler of this medieval Holy Roman Empire, began work on the Cathedral of Our Dear Lady (Mary). It was the first octagon-shaped structure built north of the Alps and was inspired by the church at Ravenna. The church was consecrated on Epiphany 805 by Pope Leo III.

Photo BThe original 9th century building was added to numerous times (photo A). The Baroque front and tower were added in the late 18th century (on the right side of the photo), enclosing an existing open atrium. In the center of the photo is the original octagon structure, and to the left is the Gothic choir hall; construction on it was started in the middle of the 14th century, when the original building could no longer hold the multitude of pilgrims who came to the view the famous relics. The choir hall was consecrated in 1414. For more about the relics, go to A Virtual Art Collection.

Photo CThe 12-foot high bronze doors, now on the west entrance, date from the time of Charlemagne. Each door was cast in one piece. Photo B is a close-up view of the door handle.

Photo DThe imperial throne (photo C) may date from the time of Charlemagne, but it was not located in the gallery of the octagon of the church until 939, for the coronation of Otto I. Thirty emperors of the Holy Roman Empire from 939 until 1531 were consecrated and crowned at the altar of this church and then ascended the spiral stairs to the gallery and sat on this throne for all to see. Charles V, grandson of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, emperor from 1519 until 1556, like those before him, swore the following oath:

"We through God's favor and kindness, the Roman king . . . of Our Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Aachen, promise and swear on this holy Gospel of God faith to this Church, and that we shall defend its rights, goods, and people against injustices and infringements." Charles V took his oath of faithfulness to the church seriously, and confessed it at Worms in 1521. Bainton records the speech made by Charles V, written by himself, after Luther had refused to recant before the emperor, princes, and electors:

"I am descended from a long line of Christian emperors of this noble German nation, and of the Catholic kings of Spain, the archdukes of Austria, and the dukes of Burgundy. They were all faithful to the death to the Church of Rome, and they defended the Catholic faith and the honor of God. I have resolved to follow in their steps. A single friar who goes counter to all Christianity for a thousand years must be wrong. Therefore I am resolved to stake my lands, my friends, my body, my blood, my life, and my soul. Not only I, but you of this noble German nation, would be forever disgraced if by our negligence not only heresy but the very suspicion of heresy were to survive. After having heard yesterday the obstinate defense of Luther, I regret that I have so long delayed in proceeding against him and his false teaching. I will have no more to do with him. . . . I will proceed against him as a notorious heretic, and ask you to declare yourselves as you promised me" (186).

Charles V spend the rest of his life as emperor fighting the spread of the Lutheran faith through his domain. After the Peace of Augsburg in 1555, which permitted the local ruler to determine the religion of his territory, Charles V abdicated in 1556 and entered a monastery for his final years.