The Reims Cathedral, or the Notre Dame Cathedral of Reims, as it is more officially known, is one of the most famous cathedrals in the world and a major France tourist attraction. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Gothic masterpiece was built on the site where a basilica once stood. This basilica, which fell victim to fire, was where Saint Remigius baptized Clovis in 496 AD. Clovis was the first King of the Franks to unite all of the Frankish tribes under one ruler, and he is thus credited with laying the foundations for what would eventually become the country of France. Saint Remigius, or Saint Remi, as is he is commonly known for short, served as the Bishop of Reims and was an apostle of the Franks. The baptism of Clovis by Saint Remi marked a major moment for the Catholic Church and was a significant event in European history. It also led to the crowning ceremony that was known as the Holy Anointing of Kings. Every French king from Louis the Pious in 815 to Charles X in 1825 was ceremoniously crowned at the site of the Reims Cathedral. The practice essentially came to an end when King Louis Phillipe opted out of having a coronation ceremony in 1830.
Work on the Reims Cathedral began in 1211 AD. The general intent of the project was twofold. The cathedral would replace the former church that was damaged by fire and serve as a new sanctuary where French kings could be anointed and crowned. As is common among the cathedrals of Europe, the Reims Cathedral took a while to finish. To be more exact, it wasn’t fully completed until 1516. Various things affected the construction process. During the Hundred Years’ War, for example, the cathedral and the city of Reims in general were sieged by the English. Due largely in part to the efforts of Joan of Arc, northern France was liberated, and this allowed Charles VII to finally be crowned at Reims in 1429. Charles VII’s reign actually began in 1422, but his succession to the throne was left in question while England occupied northern France.
The Reims Cathedral certainly has an interesting history. Also lending to its popularity as a tourist attraction is its beauty. The structure is among the very best examples of the French Gothic style. Unfortunately, the Reims Cathedral was heavily damaged by German shellfire during World War I. Restoration work began in 1919, however, and the Reims Cathedral was eventually restored to its former glory. It fully reopened in 1938. Funding for much of the restoration project was provided John D. Rockefeller. Thankfully, the Reims Cathedral escaped major damage in WWII. In 1991, it was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites – an honor that was also bestowed upon two other historic structures in Reims – the Abbey of Saint Remi and the Palace of Tau.
As is true of such other French cathedrals as the Chartres Cathedral and the Amiens Cathedral, the Reims Cathedral figures among the very best examples of the classical Gothic style. Not only does it represent experiments of the Early Gothic style, but it also incorporates elements of the Radiant Gothic and Flamboyant Gothic styles that came later. During the lengthy construction process, builders of the Reims Cathedral adhered themselves to the original vision of the project. This allowed the structure to maintain a certain unity in terms of design. In addition to the overall perfection of its architecture, the Reims Cathedral is particularly known for its amazing sculptural ensemble. Only the Chartres Cathedral has more sculpted figures. Among the individuals who are depicted by the numerous statues that appear on the facade of the Reims Cathedral are Clovis, his successors, the bishops of Reims, Jesus, the prophets and the apostles.
Palace of Tau & Abbey of Saint Remi
Palace of Tau & Abbey of Saint Remi
Two other major attractions in the French city of Reims are the Palace of Tau and the Abbey of Saint Remi. As is true of the cathedral, the Palace of Tau can be found in the Place du Cardinal. The two structures actually sit right next to one another. The palace was built in 1690 with the purpose of housing the bishops of Reims. It also served as the residence of the Kings of France before their coronation ceremonies. Today, the Palace of Tau is a museum. Among the things that are displayed inside are original statues that used to grace the cathedral facade. The statues that replaced the originals on the facade are copies.
As for the Abbey of Saint Remi, it dates back to 1007. That makes it the oldest church in Reims. In case you are wondering about the name, the Abbey of Saint Remi conserves the relics of Saint Remi, as it has since 1099. It also maintains its ninthth century nave. You can find the Abbey of Saint Remi at 53 Rue St-Simon, and it too functions as a museum. Much of what is on display at the former abbey covers the history of Reims.