Aachen pilgrimage: a thousand-year-old European tradition with Hungarian participation


Aachen Cathedral, with its millennial pilgrimage, is history made in stone and living history. Part of this multi-faceted edifice is particularly precious for Hungary. King Louis of Hungary, inspired by his pious and art-loving mother, donated a chapel which was added to the original building in 1367 as a Gothic side chapel (Hungarian chapel). After Elizabeth Piasten made the first pilgrimage to Aachen to the shrines, Hungarian pilgrims also made the journey every seven years. In order to give new impetus to this 700-year-old tradition, Peter Drücker, Vicar of Aachen Cathedral, is on a week-long promotional tour of Hungary, publicizing the pilgrimage to the shrine that will take place in June 2023.

This article originally appeared on our sister site, Ungarn Heute. Translated by Julia Tar.

The Aachen pilgrimage was the third most important pilgrimage in Europe after Rome and Santiago de Compostela. Charlemagne, King of the Frankish Empire, had received Mary’s robe, Jesus’ nappies and loincloth, and John the Baptist’s beheading linen as a gift from the Patriarch of Jerusalem. The legendary hoard of relics is at the center of the pilgrimage to the shrine, which since then takes place every seven years and usually occupies a period of ten days in the month of June.

In the 14th century, the veneration of the four great textile relics of Aachen had already begun. Pilgrimages to the shrine, which took place every seven years, were accompanied by structural modifications to the church. The small rectangular choir is demolished and a capella vitrea – a high Gothic choir for the presentation of shrines and reliquaries is built, the consecration of which takes place on the occasion of the 600th anniversary of the death of Charlemagne in 1414. At the same time, two chapels were added to the octagon on the south side, the Hungarian Chapel (1367), and directly adjacent to the Gothic choir, the Matthias Chapel (1379/1420).


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From the 14th century onwards, more and more Hungarians came to Aachen, for which King Louis the Great had the Gothic predecessor of the current chapel built in 1367, almost 650 years ago. The chapel was rebuilt in the Baroque style by Maria Theresa and rededicated 250 years ago this year, in 1767. Joseph II banned Hungarian pilgrimages to Aachen, and the chapel later became the treasury of Cathedral. After 1956, the place became important again for Hungarians, because Aachen, together with Mariazell, became a meeting place for Hungarians who emigrated to Western Europe, and even Cardinal József Mindszenty made pilgrimages there.

An altar to Saint Stephen was consecrated on September 15, 1767 in the Hungarian Chapel in honor of King Stephen I of Hungary. On curved Baroque stipes adorned with the Order of Saint Stephen, stands a small altarpiece in light textured marble with decorated side scrolls. The tabernacle is closed by a golden door with a pelican motif. The feeding pelican is represented here as the symbol of the sacrificial death of Christ.

Behind the chapel, there is a life-size statue of King Stephen. The statue of Imre Varga was unveiled in 1993 in the presence of then Prime Minister József Antall.

The motto for 2023: “Discover Me-” Feast of Faith

Peter Drücker, Vicar of Aachen Cathedral, also forwarded the Cathedral Chapter’s invitation to Hungarian Cardinal Péter Erdő.

We just want to celebrate, experience faith together, and witness to our relationship with Christ. We want to follow the call and declare our allegiance to Christ by living the faith,”

Drücker formulated the intention of the organizers, who also wrote the song for the pilgrimage. He stressed the importance of a common celebration for the divided German Church.

“During the last pilgrimage to the shrine in 2014, a total of 125,000 pilgrims came to Aachen, and we also hope for active participation now. That is why we addressed different target groups, children and young people – Christmas carol singers are traditionally always present – ​​the military, bikers, firefighters, politicians, for example The cathedral chapter and the diocese wish to experiment with other forms of events and make targeted offers at low prices. Thus, in addition to mainly ecclesiastical events in cooperation with the city, the diocese and the cathedral chapter, comprehensive cultural programs are offered in numerous meeting places around the cathedral.

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The pilgrimage traditionally begins with the opening ceremony of the Shrine of Mary, where the four cloth relics are kept. In Charles’s day the relics were still closed, but since the 14th century people have wanted to see them. The removal of the relics is carried out according to the ancient rite. During the opening ceremony, people sit as quietly as mice in the church. The shrine temple of the Virgin Mary is shattered and the number of blows is counted. Last time there were 32. After the destruction of the temple, the sanctuary is opened and the relics are removed. Only Mary’s silk-wrapped robe is unfolded and hung on a pole to be shown at masses over the next few days; the other fabrics remain folded and are tied with silk ribbon. They are thus shown on the following days during festive masses, otherwise exhibited in the windows of the cathedral, in front of which long queues form.

Did Mary wear the dress? Surprisingly, the authenticity of the relics does not play a significant role today. In the 70s, it was a big problem – recalls the vicar of the cathedral. Today the relics have significance as a sign of the Incarnation, the poverty of Jesus and the faithfulness of John the Baptist.

Photo via Pixabay

The final act of the pilgrimage is the closing of the sanctuary. The silk-wrapped relics are put back in place, the lock that was broken when the shrine was opened at the start of the pilgrimage is replaced with a new one, the shrine is sealed, the ornamental lock is filled with lead, and the key is cut . The cathedral chapter receives the head, the city the beard. This symbolizes the interaction of church and city.

Traditionally, many church dignitaries attend the festivities. The main celebrant of the festive Saturday Mass is always the President of the German Episcopal Conference – on the first Sunday the Apostolic Nuncio of Germany and on the last Sunday the Cardinal of Cologne. On the days in between, a Hungarian and a Colombian – Bogota is Aachen’s twin city – are always invited. In 2023, pilgrims will celebrate June 13 with Cardinal Erdő, Primate of Hungary.

Photo via Pixabay

The ten days offer a wide range of events of varying interests, with extensive social programs, parties, concerts and regular tables for pilgrims.

Image selected via Pixabay


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