Do you need another reason to visit the Champagne region, other than champagne? The beauty of the Reims Cathedral and the adjacent Palace of Tau might convince you!
After a 2 hours drive from Paris, in a slightly North-East direction, you will arrive in Reims, a vibrant city, which played a major role during France history. Reims is today best know for being in the heart of the Champagne region, where obviously champagne is made! But Reims’ fame also comes from its prominent ceremonial role in French monarchy. The Reims Cathedral is where French Kings were made King.
The smiling angel, the most famous statue of the Cathedral
The Reims Cathedral
A word of history
Reims was a very important city at time of the Roman Empire and the actual site of the cathedral was a Roman bath. It was replaced by a basilica where Clovis, “the first king of what would become France” was baptized in the 6th century. Destroyed by fire, the basilica was replace in the 13th century by the cathedral we know today: Notre-Dame of Reims.
Partially damaged by fire in the 15th century, transformed at the French revolution (1789 😉 ), extremely damaged during the first World War, the Cathedral has faced many restauration and transformation during its 800 years of existence.
The Reims Cathedral architecture
Notre-Dame of Reims is an extraordinary example of Gothic architecture. It was built on a latine cross floor plan which was slightly adapted as the apse is the same width as the transept.
The interior of the Cathedral is 138.75 m (about 455 ft) long, 30 m (approx. 98 feet) wide in the nave, and 38 m (about 125 feet) high in the centre. Not the biggest, not the tallest, but one of particular interest as this Cathedral possesses 2,303 stones statues and therefore holds a World record!
It has interesting stained glass ranging from the 13th to the 20th century. The rose window over the main portal and the gallery beneath are of rare magnificence.
Notice the statues around the stained glass. These decoration of the inside of the entrance facade is absolutely unique in the history of Gothic architecture. Built in the 13th century, this was created to offer a triomphal exit to the newly coronated King.
The legend of the Holy Flask
The legend of the Sainte Ampoule or Holly Flask, took form in the 9th century when the Archbishop related the story of the small vial brought by a dove during the baptism of Clovis. The Pope in 1131 authenticated what became the Holy Flask and therefore assured to the Cathedral of Reims the privilege of being the coronation place of French Kings.
The Holy Flask was thereupon used for the anointing of the Kings.
The flask was destroyed during the French revolution, and the reliquary you can see in the Palace of Tau holds what is believed to be a fragment of it.
The coronation of Kings
In order to be recognized King, one didn’t need to be coronated. The new King ascended the throne when the coffin of the previous monarch descended into the vault at Saint Denis Basilica. “Le Roi est mort, vive le Roi“!
The coronation ceremony was to legitimize the accession to the throne. It was performed using the Crown of Charlemagne, and the most important part of the ceremony was the Sacre – the unction with the Holly Flask which symbolised the alliance between God and the King. In exchange for divine unction, the King promised to reign with justice, to protect his people, and to uphold the religion.
From the 10th century onward, all the French Kings (with just a few exception) were coronated by royal unction.
The Palace of Tau
The Palace of Tau was the residence of the Archbishop. It was used by the Kings as a residence before the coronation and the following banquet was held there as well.
Originally a roman villa, the Palace was rebuilt in Gothic style in the 15-16th century and modified to give it its present Baroque style in the 16th-17th century.
The lapidary in the Palace of Tau
Melted lead leaking for the gargoyle mouth following a great fire in the Cathedral
The Cathedral treasures are kept at the Palace of Tau and includes, amongst many, the Holly Flash, a reproduction of the Crown of Charlemagne, an original royal cape from the early 19th century, many reliquaries, tapestries and statues from the Cathedral.
Not the greatest pictures, but those amazing reliquaries are held behind glass.
The former Abbey of Saint-Remi
Very close to the Cathedral and the Palace, you can also see the Abbey of Saint-Remi. The Abbey displays a beautiful Romanesque nave and transept, from the 11th century. Since 1099, the Abbey hosts the relics of Saint Remi, the Bishop who converted Clovis, King of the Franks, to Christianity.
Notre-Dame of Reims Cathedral, the former Abbey of Saint-Remi, and the Palace of Tau were added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1991.
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The Technicals bits:
Unlike most churches in France, the entrance to the Reims cathedral is not free.
Guided tours are organized.
The official website for the Cathedral: www.cathedrale-reims.com
If you want more historical details, you can check: www.reims-cathedral.culture.fr
Next visit? Saint Denis Basilica of course! Where Kings were buried.
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