Friends of the First Baptist Church of Oakland will be interested in some fascinating similarities with an ancient church in Germany. There is a beautiful cathedral in the German city of Aachen (on the Dutch, Belgian, German border), the core of which was built by Charlemagne (Karl der Große in German), starting around the year 792. The Cathedral was consecrated by Pope Leo III in the year 805. Having visited this Cathedral many times over the past 17 years, I have always been intrigued with the similarities in size and structure to our own church.
Charlemagne had conquered most of Europe and considered himself a divinely appointed ruler--a successor of Constantine. He was the first emperor of The Holy Roman Empire. He chose Aachen partially because of its location in the center of his empire, but also because of its hot springs with curative powers (he had back problems). Being such an important ruler, he built a church on the model of the great churches of Christianity: SS Sergios and Bacchos in Byzantium (Constantinople), Justinian, 527-536, San Vitale in Ravenna, Justinian, 547 AD, the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem (Moslem, but designed by a Byzantine Christian) and others--all octagonal in design, but he created a unique work of architectural art. Most of the emperors of the Holy Roman Empire were crowned in the Aachen Cathedral. The dimensions of the Aachen Cathedral are inspired by writings in the Bible.
Leo Hugot writes in Aachen Cathedral, a tour guide:
The first sentence hints at the implementation of a very definite building program: "Once the living stones have been joined together in peaceful union, and all measurements and numbers are in agreement throughout". Study of the building has revealed a system of measurements which points to the 21st. chapter of the Revelation of St. John. In the seventh vision an angel shows the prophet the New Jerusalem. "And there came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb's wife. And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, Having the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone, most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal; And had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: On the east three gates; on the north three gates; on the south three gates; and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. And he that talked with me had a golden reed to measure the city, and the gates thereof, and the wall thereof. And the city lieth foursquare, and the length is a large as the breadth: and he measured the city with the reed, twelve thousand furlongs. The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal. An he measured the wall thereof, a hundred and forty and four (144) cubits, according to the measurement of a man, that is, of the angel."
The following paragraph (in German) is from Kirchen in Aachen ("Churches in Aachen"), by Bernd Andermahr
Das grundlegende Maßsystem des karolingishen Kirchenbaus bilden die Zahlen Zwölf und Acht. Das Quadrat der Zwölf (144) ist die Maßzahl des "Himmlischen Jerusalems". Daher ist diese Zahl wiederzufinden im Durchmesser des karolingishen Kirchenbaus, der von der Eingangshalle bis zur Apsis 144 karolingishe Fuß maß, und gleichfalls im Umfang des Oktogons. Das umgebende Sechzehneck wies aufgrund der doppelten Anzahl an Ecken auch einen entsprechend größeren Umfang auf (288 Fuß). Das Oktogon weist auf die Zahl der Vollendung, des Jüngsten Tages und der Harmonie, folglich auf die Wiederkunft Christi hin, bei der das "Himmlische Jerusalem", wie in der Offenbarung des Johannes beschrieben, erscheinen wird. Der Jüngste Tag ist auch Thema des Gewölbemosaiks; dem thronenden Christus als Weltenrichter huldigen die 24 Ältesten des Alten Bundes und die Vier Himmlischen Wesen. Das heutige Mosaik ist eine Rekonstruktion des 19. Jh., die auf noch erhaltenen Resten eines karolingischen Mosaiks basiert. Es ist zu vermuten, daß anstelle des thronenden Christus im Zentrum des Originals gemäß der Apokalypse das Lamm dargestellt war, das allerdings mit der Stiftung des Barbarossaleuchters im 12. Jh. wegfallen mußte und durch ein Ornament ersetzt wurde.
So Charlemagne had based his cathedral on measurements based on the numbers 7, 12, and 144 and his own foot size--about 13 inches. Its height, breadth and depth are all equal, and this key measurement is 84 (7 times 12) Carolingian feet. The sanctuary of the First Baptist Church is 84 feet wide and 84 feet deep, the height from the floor to the ceiling is 76 feet, and when we add the ornamentation at the peak of the roof and the height of the floor above the ground, the total is probably also 84 feet. The perimeter of our church appears to be just a bit shy of 288 feet (2 times 144) which is the perimeter of the Aachen cathedral--achieved by extending the middle of each of the sides of the basic octagon into a 16 sided polygon.
Both our sanctuary and the Cathedral are octagonal; according to the German text above, the number eight shows the Completion, the Last Judgment, and the harmony of the Second Coming with the Heavenly Jerusalem. There are also eight "blesseds" in the Beatitudes.
Although they are not doors, we do have three windows on the North, three on the East, and three on the South, but none on the West! Whereas the length of 144 feet in the Aachen cathedral is on axis from the Western entrance to the apse, in our case the West-East dimensions of the building are just shy of 144 feet (because of the lot size). Is the design of our building to these numbers an accident?--not likely!
Phil Meads, Jr.
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