In 150 kilometers from Paris, in the Champagne region, lies the city of Reims, famous for its vineyards and magnificent architectural monuments. The pride of the ancient city, which arose 2500 years ago, is Reims Cathedral (Notre Dame de Reims) – an example of radiant Gothic architecture. All French monarchs were married here.
From the history of Reims Cathedral
Reims Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the most famous monument of Gothic architecture in France.
The erection of the cathedral
On the site of Notre-Dame de Reims, there was once an ancient basilica built before our era. Christianity came to Reims in the 1st century AD. In 498, the king of the Franks Clovis, with his entourage and 3000 warriors, were baptized in this church from the hands of the Reims bishop Remigius.
The history of the temple dates back to the 5th century, when Bishop Nikasiy founded the city cathedral in honor of the Most Holy Theotokos. In 1210, a great fire that destroyed half of the city destroyed the cathedral. A year later, at the same place, at the behest of Archbishop Aubrey de Humbert, they began to build a new building.
The construction of the new church of the Mother of God, begun in 1211, was completed a century later. This is how the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Reims appeared, which still delights us today.
In the XIV century, the temple survived a 100-year war, falling for a long time under the rule of the British. In 1429, the Virgin of Orleans led Charles VII to the coronation of the temple, liberated together with the city with the participation of the army of Jeanne de Arc, which served as the liberation of France from the British.
In honor of the remarkable event, an equestrian monument to the courageous military leader, Jeanne de Arc, stands next to the Reims Cathedral .
During World War I, bombing damaged the cathedral’s stained glass windows and statues. After the restoration, the temple was opened to the public in 1938, although some fragments are still being restored. The cathedral remained unfinished: according to the architect’s plan, the building should be crowned with several openwork pointed towers. Two such towers were built, but, despite this, the Reims temple remains a masterpiece of mature Gothic.
Place of coronation of monarchs
The first French monarch to be anointed in Rheims in 891 was Louis I, the Pious. The tradition of crowning French rulers in Reims began in 1027.
According to legend, in 1027, during the wedding of King Henry I of France, a dove descended from heaven, which brought a vessel with fragrant ointment in its beak, which was necessary for the anointing of the king.
The miracle that happened marked the beginning of the tradition of crowning French rulers in Reims. To each new ruler of the French throne, the archbishop, with the anointing, added a sacred drop of myrrh. The last king to be anointed in the cathedral in 1825 was Charles X.
Here, in the Reims Cathedral, the Russian princess Anna Yaroslavna became the French queen. On May 19, 1051, 40-year-old King Henry I married the youngest daughter of the Kiev prince Yaroslav the Wise. In a marriage with a beautiful Russian princess, Henry had four children.
The architecture of the temple is a masterpiece of French Gothic
Notre Dame de Reims is built in a graceful and sophisticated radiant Gothic style . Numerous sculptures and columns, a festive symphony of openwork arches and pointed spiers soar upward so that a building of enormous size looks stately, slender, elegant, with a sense of proportion.
The huge harmonious cathedral 138 m long and 30 m wide seems to connect the earth and the sky. The author of the project, architect Jean de Orbet, planned to crown the building of the cathedral with 7 towers with spiers 120 meters high. Two 80-meter towers that have been built adorn the main façade. The south tower serves as a bell tower , where there are 2 bells, one of which – “Charlotte” – weighs 10 tons.
Four architects, who have been building the building for 85 years, strictly followed the plan of Jean de Aubre and created a structure of exceptional architectural integrity. The details abundantly decorating the façade are subordinated to the expression of the leading Christian idea.
In the facade, the vertical dominates over the horizontal, which dissolves into elongated sculptures and reliefs directed upward. Reims Cathedral seems to soar into the sky.
On the main (western) façade there is a host of angels: half of the 2300 figures and reliefs on the main façade depict them.
The central portal is decorated with the scene of the Crowning of the Mother of God. Mary is depicted on a throne set on a dais. Jesus puts a crown on her head, around – 6 angels.
Nearby – the sculptural composition “Meeting of Mary and Elizabeth”. The meeting is filled with mutual joy: the Virgin Mary is expecting a child – Jesus Christ, and her childless cousin Elizabeth became pregnant and will soon give birth to John the Baptist. Young feminine Mary and middle-aged Elizabeth are in a joyful foreboding.
Above the right portal of the main facade is the scene of the Last Judgment . On the throne is Christ, next to him are 4 angels, below are the figures of the martyrs.
The composition of the left portal is dedicated to the Passion of Christ, the scene of the Crucifixion. Nearby – St. John and the Virgin Mary, below – the figures of the apostles and angels.
The high point of the 38-meter arch of the cathedral façade is crowned with the figure of a smiling angel. On his silent lips was the good news, addressed to all. The smile of an angel brings grace to residents and guests of the city, therefore, a cold stone radiates warmth, and silence is more weighty than words: an angel smiles for a reason.
Gallery of Kings
An important theme for the Reims Cathedral – the anointing to the throne – is reflected in the decoration of the facade. In the curves of the arch there are scenes from the life of kings David and Solomon, figures of the Old Testament kings, which precede the images of kings: after all, France adopted Christianity in Reims.
The base of the towers is surrounded by the Gallery of Kings, which consists of 63 figures 4 meters high and weighing 4-5 tons. The central group is King Clovis, immersed in the baptismal font, next to them are Clotilde’s wife and Saint Remigius.
At the base of the towers there are 500 statues of monarchs and bishops, knights and artisans, saints who glorify the rulers of the country. The gallery was created in the 13th century.
Gorguni and chimeras
Downpipes are decorated with images of chimeras. These are guard statues that protected the purity and purity of the holy temple and scared away evil spirits seeking to harm.
Here – gargoons in the form of demons, animals and monsters. A symbol of protection, gargoons are designed to scare away evil from the sinners of the temple. The roof ridge is decorated with shamrocks and lilies.
The austere interior contrasts with the rich exterior decor of the cathedral. The internal shape of the temple resembles a ship turned upside down , the vault of which does not rest on the walls. The load was taken on by the diagonally crossing “ribs” – pillars and pillars. The space between the “ribs” was filled with light brickwork.
Walls and stained glass
The walls, freed from the load, are cut by high and wide lancet windows, which almost merge with each other. Due to the huge open windows, the interior of the temple is high and light. The abundance of light creates a feeling of lightness and airiness of the structure.
The cut surfaces of the walls and window openings were skillfully covered with paintings made of pieces of colored glass – stained-glass windows, the image on which is perceived in the light. After painting, the stained-glass windows were fired in an oven, after which they firmly dug into the glass.
The stained-glass windows, which have grown upward and lightened the heavy walls, have completely replaced the wall paintings in the interior of the Reims Cathedral.
Stained-glass windows in the form of a Gothic rose are large round windows that look like a star or a blossoming rose flower, the petals of which are arranged symmetrically. Rose is a symbol of divine beauty, a combination of bend colors – red, blue and yellow, for contrast – black and white shades.
On the stained-glass window of the large rose-window of the main portal of the cathedral – “The Dormition of the Virgin”. In the center is the Virgin Mary, around her on 12 petals are angels, apostles and saints. On the outer circle of roses are the prophets and kings – the predecessors of Christ, who meet the Mother of God in Paradise.
The stained glass window of a large rose of the northern facade tells about the creation of the world. In the center – Jesus, surrounded by angels, next to it – Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, above – the image of the Mother of God with the Child.
On the stained-glass windows of the upper windows – the image of kings on thrones, bishops and archbishops, a total of 36 images. The stained glass window of a large rose on the south facade represents the Resurrection of Christ surrounded by angels and apostles.
Wall glass mosaics
The light refracted through the stained-glass windows brings an element of wonder and mystery into the space of the cathedral, causing sacred awe. Penetrating through a series of openings in the walls decorated with stained-glass windows, the rays of the sun fill the temple with enchanting light. It seems as if the Holy Spirit descends on the faithful, penetrating the cathedral in waves of light.
The author of the central chapel of stained-glass windows is Marc Chagall. In the altar part of the central chapel there are huge painted windows illustrating the sacrifice of Isaac and the execution of Jesus Christ through crucifixion.
The stained glass windows reproduce the genealogy of Jesus Christ, scenes from the Old and New Testaments, as well as scenes from the life of French monarchs.
The glass mosaic depicts the prophets: John the Baptist, Isaiah and David, as well as the scene of the Baptism of the Lord. Here the angel informs Joachim and Anna about the birth of Mary, John the Baptist denounces Herod of dissipation.
The colored images of the northern facade tell about the creation of the world by God, the western one tells about the prayers of the Virgin Mary. This is how the stained-glass windows set off and emphasize the greatness of the main coronation church in France.
Reims Cathedral was decorated with an unusual floor of black marble with the names of the architects – creators of the cathedral, and the archbishop, who laid the first stone of the magnificent building.
On the floor, symbolizing the difficult journey of the pilgrims, the parishioners passed on their knees. In the 18th century, during the restoration, the floor was dismantled.
Reims Temple, which celebrated its 800th anniversary in 2011, demonstrates the talent and skill of the architects of the Middle Ages. The amazing beauty of Notre Dame de Reims is a treasure not only of France, but of the whole world.