- February 23rd, 2011
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For my paper, I would like to investigate the iconography and architecture of the Marienschrein at Aachen Cathedral. We have read Lisa Victoria Ciresi’s essay on the Karlsschrein and Marienschrein in class, and her doctoral dissertation is an extremely helpful resource that touches in detail upon numerous aspects of the Marienschrein. While Ciresi focuses on the role of these shrines in coronation ritual, this was not the only function of the Marienschrein. The Aachen Cathedral became one of the most popular pilgrimage destinations of the Middle Ages because of the relics housed in the Marienschrein, and it functioned to manifest the presence of the Virgin in the service of her cult. The Marienschrien is significant in relation to the category of textile relics since it contains four highly prized textile relics: the tunic of the Virgin, the swaddling clothes of the baby Jesus, the loincloth Christ wore on the cross, and the cloth that preserved the head of John the Baptist. The relation between the relics in the shrine is interesting, because, although relics of Christ are present, the relics of the Virgin are the most venerated. Christ’s presence at Aachen is recalled both through relics of his birth and relics of his death, echoing the relief carvings along the roof that depict the Nativity and Passion of Christ in sequential order. Also, both John the Baptist and the Virgin are traditional symbols of spiritual purity, and the combination of their relics suggests some sort of emphasis on spiritual purity. The fact that none of the relics are body parts may underline the fact that both the Virgin and John the Baptist were without sin.
After the Karlsschrein was finished, there was an attempt to popularize the cult of Charlemagne, and this seems to have been done by linking his cult to that of the Virgin. All of the relics in the Marienschrein were supposedly procured by Charlemagne, and this fact is underscored by the inclusion of his figure on the side of the shrine opposite that of the Virgin and Child figures and by the visual similarity between the Karlsschrein and the Marienschrein, and by painting cycles in the Cathedral. The cult of Charlemagne was augmented by visually linking him to the cult of the Virgin through the iconography of the Marienschrein.
The architecture of the shrine is interesting as well. It broke with the styles used for earlier architectural shrines, and shows marked similarities to the architecture of Chartres Cathedral. Chartres holds another very important textile relic, the sancta camisia, or Veil of the Virgin. The similarity in form shared between Chartres and the Marienschrein at Aachen, both of which are dedicated to textile relics of the Virgin, suggest a link of some sort.
These are the main issues I have been interested in or have come across during my research into the Marienschrein at Aachen. I do not know yet which of these I would like to focus on or whether to tie them together somehow.
Another unusual thing about the Marienschrein is that there is evidence that it was displayed on a rotating platform.