Letters from Abroad to Kindred at Home/Place XI

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Letters from Abroad to Kindred at Home by Catharine Maria Sedgwick
Place XI. Aix-la-Champelle
AIX-LA-CHAMPELLE.

Aix-la-Champelle.—This name will at once recall to you Charlemagne, whose capital and burying-place it was. We have just returned from La Chapelle, which so conveniently distinguishes this from the other Aix in Europe. Otho built the present church on the site of Charlemagne's chapel, preserving its original octagonal form, which Charlemagne, intending it for his own tomb, adopted from the holy sepulchre at Jerusalem. We stood under the centre of the dome on a large marble slab, inscribed "Carolo Magno;" and over our beads hung a massive chandelier, the gift of Frederic Barbarossa. How these material things conjured back from the dead these mighty chieftains!

The vault must have been a startling sight when Otho opened it and found the emperor, not in the usual supine posture, but seated on his throne in his imperial robes, with the crown on his fleshless brow, his sceptre in his hand, the good sword joyeuse at his side, the Gospels on his knee, the pilgrim's pouch, which, living, he always wore, still at his girdle, and precious jewels sparkling amid decay and ashes. The sacristan showed us his scull—the palace of the soul!—enclosed in a silver case. His lofty soul has, I trust, now a fitter palace. There are shown also several relics found in his tomb which touch a chord of general sympathy: his hunting-horn, a relic of the true cross, and a locket containing the Virgin's hair, which he wore in death, as he had always worn in life.

This church is said to be the oldest in Germany. The choir, built in 1366, is more modern. Its painted windows are so exquisite in their form that they affect you like a living beauty.

There is a fête to-day. The "grandes reliques," which are shown once in seven years, are exhibiting, and the town is thronged with the peasantry. They were literally packed on the little place before the Cathedral. A priest was in a very high gall«y with attendants, displaying the relics. This church is rich in these apocryphal treasures. The priest held up one thing after another, the Virgin's chemise, the swaddling-clothes, &c., against a black surface, and at each holy thing down sunk the mass upon their knees. There were exceptions to this devout action; travellers who, like us, were staring, and talking, and making discord with the deep responses, and there were a few persons pushing their way through the crowd, hawking little books in German and French describing the relics; and selling beads that had been blessed by the priest. If not holy, the relics have an historical interest that makes them well worth seeing. They were presented to Charlemagne by a patriarch of Jerusalem, and by a Persian king.[1]

The baths of Aix were enjoyed by the Romans. We went to one in the centre of the town, where a brazen lion spouts out the mineral water, and where there is a very handsome building with a colonnade and refreshment-rooms. We would have gladly lingered here for a few days instead of these very few hours; but, like all our country people, we seem always urged by some demon on—on—on.

  1. "Formerly 150,000 pilgrims resorted to this fête, and so late as 1832 there were 43,000."