Louis the Pious (814-840)
Second Issue - after 818-9
(for a larger version click here)
A Visitor's Guide to Carolingian
Germany and the Low Countries
Aachen, Corvey, Ingelheim, Lorsch, Maastricht, Michelstadt, Nijmegen, Paderbron
Home page (and contact info)
Carolingian coins Visitor's
Guide Home Page(DW)
Aachen, called Aix le Chapelle in French, was Charlemagne's capital and is close to the region where he was born. As this map shows, it is in the northern reaches of the Carolingian lands. Charlemagne had a palace here, the largest in his kingdom, and he spent considerable time here after 795. To the right of the map is a model of the palace complex, showing the original Carolingian church in the front right. It is octagonal in structure and has been substantially expanded over the centuries, but the original Carolingian structure is still intact.
The Dom today is considerably larger than in Charlemagne's time. There is a gothic chapel appended to the east and other chapels have been added around the central octagon. Likewise, a great steeple has been built on top of the original west entrance. The picture to the left shows the Dom from the ground level, with the original octagon under the round dome left center. The picture to the right is a model from an elevated view and more clearly shows the central original octagon church under the round dome.
The picture on the left is the main entrance to the church. It is the original west entrance surmounted by a later, gothic steeple. The interior is not large by cathedral standards but has a dramatic intimacy. The chandelier hanging in the center was a gift to the church by Barbarosa in the 12th century. The fact that the church and its treasury survived for so long is really remarkable.
On the upper level of the church it is possible to see Charlemagne's throne. This is a very simple stone seat, today on a raised platform. It does not look comfortable for long sessions.
The church also has a wonderful treasury, perhaps the best north of the Alps. The Proserpina sarcophagus is Roman and dates from the 2nd century. It was common at the time to reuse sarcophogi and this one is thought to be Charlemagne's original tomb. He was buried here on January 28, 814, the day he died. His bones were subsequently transferred to a smaller 12 C reliquary, pictured right.
Also in the treasury are a number of other reliquaries holding religious items and a number of jeweled crosses, including the Cross of Lothar, which dates from about 1000. A later, but stunning item from the treasury is the 14th century bust of Charlemagne.
Close to the church is the Rathaus, which has an attached Carolingian tower on its right.
Aachen is definitely worth a detour for anyone interested in Carolingian and medieval history. For the numismatist, one of the incidental pleasures is seeing all the KRLS monogram route markers throughout the historical center of the city. The coin image is from the cover of Jacques Boussard's The Civilization of Charlemagne.
Corvey: the Monestary Church of St Stephen and St Vitus
The Westwork of the abbey dates from 873-885 and was a sister house to the abbey in France. The abbey was established in 822 by Louis the Pious and granted minting rights in 834. A major goal in establishing the abbey was to spread Christianity to the Saxons, who were conquered by Charlemagne in the 8th century. Today the Westwork is a wonderful early element of a much larger abbey complex, one built on into the 18th century. This is one of the great pieces of surviving Carolingian architecture. The pictures above are the familiar front view (left) and a view from the cloister to the back of the Westwork. The schematics below show the Westworks attached to a later, essentially Baroque, church.
The interior of the Westwork, on the main floor, has surviving Carolingian era wall painitings. The paintings are faded and hard to understand but are accompanied by interprative drawings. The drawings are based on a number of traditions, including Greek classicism. One of the most unusual is Odysseus fighting Scylla. This is a very rare subject matter for a Carolingian drawing. This is pictured below, under the interior images.
A brochure from the abbey says: "To answer the question as to what these mythological images were doing in a monastic church, the only possibility is to turn to the texts of the old Doctors of the Church. Their contemporary readers had read Homer and knew Greek mythology, and they understood very well that the clever, brave and virtuous Odysseus who has withstood all temptations and had conquered evil in the form of Scylla symbolized the life of a good Christian. The sea, with its many unpredictable dangers was presented as an allegory of the sinful world with its temptations and threats, which it is necessary to resist." Another drawing shows a man riding a dolphin.
This next picture shows the interior of the attached church and the picture to the right shows sveral Carolingian capitals. The sign under these pictures is from the original entry to the abbey, which unfortunately I did not copy so I don't have the clear text. Corvey is definitely worth a visit for anyone interested in Carolingian history and architecture.
Ingelheim is the site of a palace Charlemagne planned but it was not completed by the time of his death in 814. He wintered here in 787. The coin image above, a gold coin of Charlemagne from the Toulouse mint, is in the Ingelheim museum. Louis the Pious stayed here 10 times between 814 and 840, when he died. The site remained important during the early Ottonian years, when Otto I used it ten times. A number of imperial synods were held here between 958 and 996. Otto III also used the residence here during his regency. Today there are ruins of some of the original walls but the area has been rebuilt as a residential neighborhood, interspersed with ruins. The first picture is an artist's rendition of what the site looked like in the 9th C. To the right is an overlay of the palace plan superimposed on the current development. Further down is a table model of the site. The great hall is in the background in this model.
Today street addresses reflect the Carolingian history of the district.
The walls of the great hall are extant today and seen below. The angle of these walls is somewhat distorted because I merged two photos. The picture to the right shows detail from the end of the great hall wall.
There is an attractive museum on the site that has many of the artifacts found here during a whole series of excavations. These are mosaics from the palace.
Several sources indicate that Louis the Pious died on an island near Ingelheim, but I was unable to find anyone/anyplace who could identify which island. The Rhine is full of islands in this area. The islands we could see from the crossing in Ingelheim were all too narrow to support a residence, at least they are too small today. How big they were 1100 years ago is really unclear. Where there were larger islands we couldn't find river front access to see them. Hence this picture is not the island Louis died but is typical of the type of Rhine island on which he might have died.
There was a monastery built at Lorsch in 767. Ownership was transferred to Charlemagne in 772. The evidence suggests that there was both a church and what's come to be known as the Gate House or Hall on the site. The current church is of later (post-Carolingian) construction. The church is in the foreground, the Gate House behind it.
The Gate House was built between 876 and 882. Its purpose is not clear. It might have been a small chapel, it might have been an entry way for pilgrims coming to the monastery, it might have been a burial site. A sarcophagus found on the grounds supports the burial site contention. Literature from Lorsch suggests the sarcophagus was used by Louis the German when he died. The building has a dramatic facade, with red stones inlaid into the plaster making for an unusual appearance.
Like many older buildings, this one has changed over time. In the 15th C the roof line changed and barrel vaulting was added. The evolution of the building is shown in the set of drawings below. The original Carolingian building appears in the upper left. To the right is a picture by August Lucas, 1859, showing the Hall without its left tower, which collapsed earlier in the century. Hence, in the picture above, the right tower is original, the left a 20th C reconstruction.
These next pictures show exterior and interior detail. The left is a close up of one of the pillar capitals. To the right is some of the original plaster from the interior of the upper chamber. The Letters S N B M might refer to 'Sanctus Nazarius Beatus Martyr.' The monastery was the home for relics from St. Nazarius. The interior walls have other remnants of Carolingian art work, as well as later, medieval wall paintings.
Lorsch is definitely worth a visit.
Maastricht: St Servus/St Servaas
St Servus is a largely Romanesque church built on the site of an ealier church The church held the relics of St Servus who died ~340 and is buried here. It also has the tomb of Charles, duke of Lower Lotharingia, one of the last Carolingians. First, the church.
There are two crypts in the church. The older did not offer decent photographic opportunuties. The second has the tombs of both St Servus and Charles, duke of Lower Lotharingia. He is the son of Louis IV d'Outermer. Charles died in 991 and his body was moved here in 1001.
These last two pictures of from the cathedral's treasury and while they are a little later, they are very attractive medieval artifacts.
Einhard Basilica, Michelstadt
Einhard built his basilica in the expectation that it would be his burial site. To increase the sanctity of the site, he sent
"his close friend Ratleik to Rome. At night Ratleik entered the catacombs beneath the church 'inter dous lauros' on the ancient cemetery road Via Labicana and there removed the relics of St. Marcellinus and (a) St. Peter from a sarcophagus. They were both beheaded for their faith at the beginning of they 4th century ... In November 827 Ratleik reached Michelstadt with the relics. But the saints made it clear they were not happy to stay here so in January 828 Einhard took them to Seligenstadt where they immediately began to perform miracles." The Einhard basilica in Michelstadt-Steinback
The upshot was that the basilica in Michelstadt was essentially left alone and retains its Carolingian flavor, while the church built in Seligenstadt has been significantly modified over time and and has lost its Carolingian character.
The first pictures show an aerial perspective and ground level perspective of the site. The next one is a small model on the grounds. It shows the side chapel, currently destroyed.
The schematic shows the surviving Carolingian elements and later modification. The building maintains its Carolingian character but has been reconstructed over time.
This shows the interior of the church. Next is a detail of the original Carolingian brick pillars. The space between the pillars was filled in in the 14th C. The next photo is a base of one of the Carolinian pillars.
When we visited in Fall 2007 the exterior was in scaffolding for renovation, but it was possible to visit the interior.
Source: The Einhard basilica in Michelstadt-Steinback, Verlag Schnell and Steiner GmbH, Regensburg, 2003
The Valkhof is on a hill overlooking the river. It is the site of a former Charlemagne fortification and the surviving Carolingian elements are quite modest. There are two buildings with a Carolingian element. The first is an octogon chapel built in the style of Aachen. The initial building was constructed about 1000 and rebuilt about 1400. It used material from Charlemagne's fortification and we think we could identify some of these Caroilingian flat bricks.
The second building is the ruin of Barbarossa's chapel that incorporated several Carolingian capitals on Roman pilars in the chapel.
Paderborn was the site of one of Charlemagne's palaces. The city was heavily damaged during WWII and nothing remains of the palace, although I am not sure it even survived that long. However, there is a museum on its site with artifacts found during a series of excavations. Structurally, the only surviving building element is an unusual underground cistern, age not noted.
However, there are a number of artifacts dating from the Carolingian and Ottonian era in the museum. How did the Saxons die in battle? The sword or some pointed mace or axe like weapon. The first picture is two Saxon skulls, one showing the impact of a sword wound and the second the impact of being hit with a mace/axe like weapon. This is followed by several pre-10th C sword blades. Then there are images of other artifacts from the excavation of the palace.
If you are in the area this is worth a visit. It is about a 40-50 minute drive from ther abbey at Corvey. Paderborn is a modern, rebuilt city.