The cathedral of Reims (Notre-Dame de Reims), France

Notre-Dame de Reims (Our Lady of Rheims) is the cathedral of Reims, where the kings of France were once crowned. It replaces an older church, destroyed by a fire in 1211 and built itself on the site of the basilica, where Clovis was baptized by saint Remi, bishop of Reims, in AD 496. The cathedral was completed by the end of the 13th century, with the exception of the Western front. That portion was erected in the 14th century after 13th century designs—the nave having in the meantime been lengthened to afford room for the crowds that attended the coronations. The towers, 81 m tall (approx. 267 ft), were originally designed to rise 120 m (approx. 394 ft). The Southern tower holds two great bells; one of them, named “Charlotte” by the cardinal of Lorraine in 1570, weighs more than 10,000 kg (approx. 11 tons).

In 1875 the French National Assembly voted £80,000 for repairs of the façade and balustrades. The façade is the finest portion of the building, and one of the great masterpieces of the Middle Ages. German shellfire during the First World War burned, damaged and destroyed important parts of the cathedral. Restoration work began in 1919; the cathedral was fully reopened in 1938, but work has been steadily going on since.

The three portals are laden with statues and statuettes. The central portal, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, is surmounted by a rose window framed in an arch itself decorated with statuary. The “gallery of the kings” above shows the baptism of Clovis in the centre and statues of his successors.

The façades of the transepts are also decorated with sculptures—that on the North with statues of bishops of Reims, a representation of the Last Judgment and a figure of Jesus (le Beau Dieu) while that on the south side has a beautiful modern rose window with the prophets and apostles. Fire destroyed the roof and the spires in 1481: of the four towers that flanked the transepts, nothing remains above the height of the roof. Above the choir rises an elegant lead-covered timber belltower that is 18 m (approx. 59 feet) tall, reconstructed in the 15th century and in the 1920s.

The inside of the cathedral is 138.75 m (approx. 455 ft) long, 30 m (approx. 98 feet) wide in the nave, and 38 m (approx. 125 feet) high in the centre. It comprises a nave with aisles, transepts with aisles, a choir with double aisles, and an apse with ambulatory and radiating chapels. 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.

The cathedral possessed fine tapestries. Of these the most important series is that presented by Robert de Lenoncourt, archbishop under François I, representing the life of the Virgin Mary. They are now to be seen in the former bishop’s palace, the Palace of Tau. The Northern transept contains a fine organ in a flamboyant Gothic case. The choir clock is ornamented with curious mechanical figures. Famous Russian artist Marc Chagall’s work can also be admired in the cathedral through the stained glass installed in 1974 in the axis of the apse.

The treasury, kept in the Palace of Tau, includes many precious objects, among which the Sainte Ampoule, or holy flask, the successor of the ancient one that contained the oil with which French kings were anointed, which was broken at the French Revolution, a fragment of which the present Ampoule contains.

Notre-Dame de 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.

[Source: Wikipedia]

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