Aix-la-Chapelle

Our cathedral in Aachen (or Aix-la-Chapelle as the French and English would have it) shares its major traits with other gothic cathedrals.

The exterior is all verticality, from the pointed arches of windows, doorways, and other architectural features, to the high thrust of the steeple rising from its smaller fellow points.

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The exterior as a whole, especially from a distance, brings the eye across the social plain and points all the world’s grandeur upwards, from the hierarchies of the medieval social structure to the vanishing point atop the steeple, teasing the eye still further home into the heavens.

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The interior houses, among other things, the richly-colored stained glass walls that fill the apse and frame the altar.

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Arguably, the stained glass in all gothic cathedrals serves at least two symbolic functions in addition to the narrative function of transmitting sacred history to an illiterate congregation: (1) they create an illusion of the world’s most massive structures being held up by pure light, just as the entire material world is held up by the Word of God and the light of Christ’s sacrifice; and (2) they signify the light passing through the walls of Mary’s womb in the Christian mythos’s moment of greatest mystery.octagon

But what keeps me coming back is the detail – the little unique spots and patches of aesthetic beauty in this massive canon of gothic symbolism — from the octagon that remains from Charlemagne’s 8th century original structure

 

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to the exterior features of the facade that seem unique, at least to my amateur eye

 

 

 

to the quirky details of the interior

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I don’t even know what to call these spots and patches. They point back to the gothic canon, the symbolic template that the Dom here in Aachen shares with the larger gothic traditions, but they are also little aesthetic chips in their own right, separable from the mother building and marvelous for their random beauty. In this sense, you can see them through the lens of Jung’s synchronicity. As opposed to the causal aspect of apprehension (in this case, the gothic structure that determines the details), synchronicity focuses on the chance aspect of what is before the eye, the random beauty that emerges best when the object is stripped from the external causal nexus and viewed in its own right. It’s a little bit like moving from traditional art to abstract art, where the idiosyncratic arrangement forces you to find, or create, a new register of intelligibility.

It’s not always worth it – this sort of move from traditional to abstract – this move away from the causal frame of reference into something more like vertigo. But to me, it’s always worth it when it comes to gothic cathedrals. Unlike modern and contemporary artists, who cover the whole range from profound to puerile, gothic cathedrals never disappoint. It doesn’t take a shred of true religious belief to feel, as one approaches and enters these architectural wonders, that no artist or movement of artists of any period has created such powerful, holistic, and all-encompassing moods as those who built these magnificent structures 1000 years ago.

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22 thoughts on “Aix-la-Chapelle

  1. Beautiful, and I want to say that represent a great representation of the sacredness and the profane of the Christian belief. I don’t believe that someone will find God in any temple but I see that the sacredness of the christ and his mother was beautifully represented in this Cathedral. The sacredness of any God can’t be found in any temple. It can be found inside and the outside in all what exist. I think that any believer will find peace under the light that comes from the stained glass some profane observation will make all the believers quench their thirsts for forgiveness, love and peace, to be forget to all their faults.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, hard not to be moved by the light coming through the stained glass. Christians will be moved in a Christian way, non-religious people may be overwhelmed by the sheer aesthetic beauty, and spiritual seekers of other stamp may find their own kind of peace and beauty therein.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for evoking great memories in a framework of an excellent article. I have to confess that you gravatar also evokes warm memories – of my childhood. I grew up with the statue of Laocoon and his sons a few blocks away from my house.
    I am thoroughly enjoying your blog, even though I disagree with attempts to apply Bakunin ideas in today’s reality. If your metaphor is The Age of Aquarius, mine is Bat’ka Makhno’s “Anarchy is the Mother of Order.” Victims of his order would not step into your Aquarian age willingly!

    Like

  3. Wow. I always love looking at your photos and the way you write. The way you write and simply describe things just sounds so nice to me. Thank you for sharing the photos:) I have been to a few cathedrals here in Texas and I would love to see more. Hopefully.

    Liked by 1 person

      • That’s true. I suppose in some way I like the minimalist and art deco look. I also like Some of Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs, but like everything else, architecture also evolves. But it really can not compare.

        Liked by 1 person

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