Saturday, October 19, 2019

Tales in the Cathedral: Storytelling in Aachen

I already blogged about this year's FEST conference, but I still owed a report from the amazing storytelling event that followed after. I always love it when a gathering of international storytellers is followed by a festival, and this time Regina Sommer and the Haus der Märchen und Geschichten organized a truly special treat: We told stories inside the Aachen Cathedral at night!

We visited the cathedral during the conference that was organized by three different countries. It was my first time seeing it in person, and I was absolutely stunned by how beautiful it is. When we returned for the storytelling event (after a very friendly dinner), I could barely believe that this was going to be our venue for the night. We got a chapel for a green room (best green room ever, see the photo on the right), and they even opened the sacristy for us so that we could use the bathroom... (talk about being behind the scenes). The pre-event mood was cheerful, friendly, and filled with awe, underscored with Davide Bardi tuning his guitar in the chapel.

We were in excellent hands to help us explore: A group of young guides, trained by art historian Wirtz Ágnes (incidentally also the founder of the Világszép Foundation, the NGO I work for) when they were children, returned for the evening to offer special tours to visitors, telling us about the history and secrets of the cathedral. We got to see Charlemagne's throne built from stone slabs brought from Jerusalem, and also his golden sarcophagus. While we were on stage, the latter was visible behind us, and if we looked up over the audience, we could see the empty throne facing us from the first floor gallery. It was thrilling to imagine that someone that famous was listening to our stories... along with about three hundred people in the audience, who filled up all the seats. We had a full house... or rather, a full cathedral.

Storytellers were invited to represent carious cultures and traditions that had a connection to Charlemagne, the cathedral, the school he founded there, and the Carolingian renaissance era. For example, I was there because the cathedral has a Hungarian chapel, built in the 14th century; it has been an important place of pilgrimage ever since. Everyone told one story, and in-between performances we got to hear enchanting organ and saxophone music that filled the entire space, and transported us through time and space. The story I brought was a Hungarian legend from the time of the Mongolian invasion - it tells about how refugees were helped across the Danube by Fairy Queen Tündér Ilona, and the magician Göncöl táltos, who gave up their own powers for 777 years for them. This story holds a special significance this year, because the Mongolian invasion ended 777 years ago. I could hear the audience gasp when I told them that. It was an unforgettable moment. I was a little worried before for bringing such a pagan story into a cathedral, but since the event was opened by George Macpherson doing an ancient Celtic invocation, we both agreed that we would be fine. The Dom handled our stories well.

The other performances were all captivating, and although I could not follow the ones in German very well, I still enjoyed them. Davide Bardi and Paola Balbi brought us their incredible telling of Jesus' death and return from the points of view of Mary Magdalene and Peter. Michaela Sauber told us about Parsifal, Nuala Hayes brought us the Children of Lir, Gidon Horowitz the legend of the first temple in Jerusalem, Sam Cannarozzi legends of alchemy, Raymond den Boestert a tale of Till Uilenspiegel, and Abbi Patrix a creation myth from Africa about the spirit of creativity. Wirtz Ágnes and the young guides told us a story about Aachen together.

The whole evening was an amazing experience that connected people across time, space, and cultures, and I was incredibly honored to be a part of it. I wondered if the people building the Hungarian chapel centuries ago would have ever thought one day a Hungarian storyteller would visit, and talk about magicians and fairies under the arches...

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