The Construction of the Cathedral at Aachen and the Lousberg Hill

Everyone has surely heard tales of Emperor Charlemagne, and his cathedral in Aachen. The most skilled master craftsmen and artisans were fetched from all regions of the wide empire in order to construct this marvelous edifice, which the devout emperor had dedicated to the Virgin Mary at the place he loved above all others. The palaces of the Walhaz lands had to hand over their ornamentations in order to provide the new house of God - which was surrounded by forest-covered hills - with worthy embellishments. Already, the church rose far above neighboring homes, and already people calculated the time when it would be finished. But then they realized with great trepidation that the funds for it were running out. Protracted wars had drained the treasury, and nobody knew how to proceed. Already, plenty of workers had been laid off, and mournfully the citizens observed how fewer and fewer hands moved; how the lime pits remained empty, how the large tree trunks and the antique pillars (which had been transported here at such a cost) were lying around unused, and how trowel and square were covered with dust.

Then, one morning, a stranger appeared and demanded to be admitted before the city council. After his demand was granted, he offered to gather the funds needed for the construction. The devout Aachen burghers would have kissed his feet if he had permitted it. With a thousand thanks they accepted his proposition, and asked what kinds of securities he wanted, and what conditions he would set concerning the repayment of the funds.

“I don’t require repayment” was the reply, and the city councilmen nearly bowled over. For such selflessness was astounding even in those times where people were less proficient in calculating percentages. But their astonishment turned into a different type when the mysterious guest continued: “The only condition is that the first soul which enters the newly-finished church shall be mine.” Then the dignitaries realized who they were dealing with. They were about to make the sign of the cross, and an “Apage Sat…” was on the tip of the tongues of the most educated among them. But then the sensible observation that such a convenient opportunity that would allow them to finish the church without difficulties and without worrying about the costs would not present itself to them a second time kept their devout disgust at bay for just long enough. The stranger stared at them piercingly without revealing any emotions. And, after the stunned councilmen had stammered out a reply that they would have to think about this, he retreated with the comment that he would return the following day to hear their answer.

A passion for construction seems to have been highly prevalent among the people of Aachen ten centuries ago, for this passion swept away all moral scruples. The pact with the unnamed, but no longer unknown stranger was thus accepted, and on the same day all registers were overflowing with gold. As it was stamped with the usual insignia of the Empire, nobody was shy about accepting it. And, as it had been acquired in such a convenient manner, nobody was shy about spending it without restraint, since neither the emperor nor his subjects were deprived in any way by this. The work was speedily supported, and soon the high dome rose up, and the cathedral was completed far enough that its builders could contemplate its consecration. But now good advice was hard to find, for nobody was in the mood to be the first to step across the doom-laden threshold. The stranger had not appeared again, but nobody doubted that he would fetch his reward at the appropriate time. Then the ecclesiastical and secular rulers held council again, and finally they seemed to have found a way forward. For it was announced that the ceremony would take place on the day of Epiphany - it was the year of our Lord 804 at the time - and that Pope Leo III himself had come to Aachen from Rome.

On the morning of Epiphany, the courtyards and chambers of the imperial palace were filled with thousands of people. The high clergy was in their most splendid vestments, the dukes of the realm were clad in shining garments, and Charlemagne himself had also abandoned his usually simple clothing and appeared in the imperial mantle. On the plaza before the cathedral, the crowd thronged back and forth, but everyone stayed away from the grand gate. Only fearful, shy gazes were thrown into its direction, even though nothing strange was apparent there. Then a mob of guardsmen approached the church with rapid steps, and, when they were only a short distance away from the gate, they rushed a large wolf into the church that had been captured a short time earlier. A horrible noise arose - furious and while spitting flames, a devilish figure raced towards the animal, and immediately strangled it with their sharp claws.

Then a great rejoicing arose from the gathered multitudes. And, in the same moment when the archenemy retreated under terrible howls and baring of teeth with the soul of the unfortunate wolf which had been fed to him instead of the hoped-for soul of a human, the bells of the house of God began to ring. And accompanied by the pope and 365 bishops and prelates, Emperor Charlemagne solemnly entered the splendid temple while singing the hymns of the faith.

Meanwhile, Master Urian had flown away on the wings of the storm wind in his terrible fury. In this manner, he reached the shores of the ocean, where the surf was surging wildly deep beneath him. His black soul was filled with nothing but thoughts of revenge for the swindle perpetrated on him by the devout emperor. He wanted to ignominiously ruin Charlemagne, as well as the newly-established city of the emperor, along with the beautiful cathedral which he had helped build himself in hopes for the rich payment promised to him. Brooding over his plans, he suddenly noticed the wide sand dunes of the ocean’s shores, and the malicious notion of burying the city and all its inhabitants beneath such a mountain of sand flashed through his soul. As soon as he had this thought, he acted on it. With the speed of the weather, he plunged from his great height to the shore. Invisible hands helped him, and, in this way, a long dune was ripped out of the ground where the flood had accumulated it for centuries. The Evil One loaded it on his shoulders like a sack of flour, and the piggyback haul moved towards the unsuspecting city of Aachen.

The journey ended up being a lot of hassle for the Black Despoiler. The length of the sandy hill caused it to droop on both sides like a sack. The part hanging down in front blocked the view of the carrier, which almost caused him to lose his way. But then he was able to orient himself again, nimbly stepped over the river Maas, and now rambled towards the valley of Aachen. Then, suddenly, a mighty wind arose and scattered so much sand in his eyes that he was scarcely able to see anything in front of him. In this manner, his sight became more and more occluded, and he only reached the Soers valley with difficulty. Then he encountered an old woman who was walking along the road from Aachen, and now stopped out of astonishment about the wandering mountain of sand and its black carrier. “How far do I have to go to Aachen”, asked Master Urian the old one, sweetening his voice to make it as lovely as possible. The old one realized his little scheme: She had observed the Evil One often enough during the construction of the cathedral, and his countenance had not yet vanished from her memory. “Oh,” she cleverly replied, “you’ve gone far astray from the path, my dear man. Just look at my footwear: I started wearing these shoes in Aachen when they were new, and now the soles are completely torn from the long journey.”

Then the Black One shouted a curse that echoed throughout the valley, and the old woman jumped back several steps. “I am tired of this hauling!” he exclaimed in anger. “For now, this deceitful nest may escape my wrath, but I shall find time and opportunity for avenging myself in the future!” And with these words, he threw his sandy burden down to the ground, and, spraying flames, rose into the air. This was the last time that the Black One has been seen wandering around in Aachen and its surrounding regions - the Enlightenment has subsequently driven him down into his sulfurous hideouts. However, many people believe that his secret presence has been felt from time to time, but there is no agreement about the guise in which he appeared in later periods.

In this manner, Aachen was saved from its doom thanks to the subterfuge of the old woman. The hill can still be seen in front of the city gates, and the citizens of Aachen often wander to its friendly, sunny height and do not think how baneful it could have become for their dear home. And the deep gully which still separates the Lousberg hill from the Salvatorberg hill was caused by the forceful throw by Master Urian, as the dune burst in the middle and created the two summits.

While the image of the poor victim has been chiseled next to the main gate of the cathedral (which is now called the “Wolfsthüre”/”Wolf’s Gate”), the Lousberg1) still reminds wanderers that, once, a woman was too clever even for the Devil and tricked him using her wits alone. The women of Aachen can be rightly proud of this even today when thinking of the doom that was prevented thanks to this.

Source: Reumont, A. v. Rheinlands Sagen, Geschichten und Legenden. 1837, p. 58ff.

Notes & commentary: The Devil in Aachen

“loos”, “lus”, “lose” - shifty, wily, clever.