Reims Cathedral

14/10/2008 11:00
Reims Cathedral is cathedral of Our Lady in the city of Reims, in the Champagne-Ardennes region of France, and considered one of the finest examples of the High Gothic style of architecture.

The kings of France were once crowned in Reims Cathedral. Along with the cathedrals of Chartres and Amiens, Reims is a member of the illustrious triad of "High Gothic" or "Classical" French cathedrals built in the 13th century.

The spectacular west front of Reims Cathedral

The original church on this site was the basilica where Clovis was baptized by Saint Remi, bishop of Reims, in 496 AD. A later cathedral was built on the same site, but it burned down in 1211.

The present Reims Cathedral was completed by the end of the 13th century, with the west front added in the 14th century based on 13th-century designs. In the meantime, the nave was lengthened to make room for the crowds that attended the coronations.

In 1875 the French National Assembly voted to fund extensive repairs of the façade and balustrades. This façade is the finest portion of the building, and one of the most perfect masterpieces of the Middle Ages.

Medieval cathedral and modern life in Reims

The towers, 267 ft. high, were originally designed to rise 394 ft. The south tower contains two great bells, one of which (named "Charlotte" by the Cardinal of Lorraine in 1570) weighs more than 11 tons.

The three portals of the west front are positively laden with medieval statues. The central portal, dedicated to the Virgin, is surmounted by a rose-window framed in an arch itself decorated with statuary. The “gallery of the kings” above has the baptism of Clovis in the center and statues of his successors.

Detail of sculptures on the west front

The façades of the transepts are also decorated with sculptures. The north transept has statues of the principal bishops of Reims, a representation of the Last Judgment and a figure of Jesus (le Beau Dieu). The south transept has a beautiful rose-window with the prophets and apostles.

In 1481 fire destroyed the roof and the spires: of the four towers which flanked the transepts nothing remains above the height of the roof. Above the choir rises an elegant bell-tower in timber and lead, 59 ft. high, reconstructed in the 15th century.

The harmonious Gothic interior

The interior of the cathedral is 455 ft. long, 98 ft. wide in the nave, and 125 ft. high in the centre, and comprises a nave with aisles, transepts with aisles, a choir with double aisles, and an apse with ambulatory and radiating chapels.

It has a profusion of sculptures similar to those of the outside and stained glass of the 13th century. The rose-window over the main portal and the gallery beneath are of rare magnificence.

Chandelier and rose window

The cathedral possesses fine tapestries. Of these the most important series is that presented by Robert de Lenoncourt, archbishop under Francois I, representing the life of the Virgin.

The north transept contains a fine organ in a flamboyant Gothic case. The choir clock is ornamented with curious mechanical figures. Several paintings, by Tintoretto, Nicolas Poussin, and others, and the carved woodwork and the railings of the choir, also deserve mention.

Rose window and interior sculptures

Famous Russian painter Marc Chagall's work can also be admired in the cathedral through the stained glasses later installed at the back, and on the side of the cathedral.

The treasury contains the Sainte Ampoule, or holy flask, the successor of the ancient one that contained the oil with which French kings were anointed. The original was broken at the French Revolution but the cuurent version contains a fragment of the original.

Chagall windows - Source: Sacred Destinations
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