Reims Cathedral

Albéric or Aubry de Trois-Fontaines (Latin: Albericus Trium Fontanum), chronicler of the Fourth Crusade, mentions that the old cathedral, in the Romanesque style, burnt to the ground on the 6 May 1210 "through carelessness". A new building was undertaken at once and one year the laying of the corner stone by the Archbishop Aubry de Humbert, occurred. Along with the cathedrals of Chartres and Amiens, the rebuilt Reims is a member of the illustrious triad of "High Gothic" or "Classical" French cathedrals of the 13th century.

Gothic Cathedral Architecture

  • The Medieval Gothic Arch was a major feature of the architecture of the Middle Ages. The Gothic architects and builders discovered the amazing strength and stability of using pointed arches. The walls of Gothic buildings could be thinner because the weight of the roof was supported by the arches rather than the walls. Between 1211 and 1236 a new development took place in the design of the windows for the choir of the cathedral. Stone armatures, called bar tracery, were fitted together to form arches and roundels in a skeletal manner. Some of the stone bars performed a dual function, forming the upper curve of the lancet as well as a segment of the lower curve of the rose. Residual areas were voided and filled with glass. Thus two lancets and a rose were now placed within a single encompassing lancet.
  • More than 2,300 statues decorate the outside of the cathedral. Much of the cathedral decoration was destroyed in the 20th century by shellfire. It was restored over a number of years, with assistance from copies kept in the Musée National des Monuments Français in Paris
  • The medieval kings of France were crowned at Reims Cathedral. On the upper level of the western façade, is the Gallery of Kings: stone effigies of 56 kings of France, flanking a depiction of the baptism of Clovis I, first King of the Franks.
  • Flying buttresses support the current roof. These massive "beams" are critical to supporting this structure. The pointed arches inside the Reims push the weight of the roof outward, rather than downward. The flying buttresses support the roof by pushing back inward, creating a delicate balance between the two forces.
  • Rose windows
    1. West lower rose.
    2. West upper rose.
    3. South rose.
    4. The oldest rose, a Creation window, dating from after 1231, is in the north transept. It was much restored in the 17th century and again in 1872. Animals of the Creation:
      1. horse
      2. kid
      3. lion
      4. stork
      5. fish


  • 1429 - Joan of Arc persuaded Charles VII to accept his coronation in the cathedral following her victories against the English in the Loire region.
  • 1481 - Fire destroyed the roof and the spires: of the four towers which flanked the transepts nothing remains above the height of the roof. The 59 foot high, elegant bell-tower in timber and lead, above the choir, was reconstructed in the 15th century.
  • 11 June 1775 - Coronation of King Louis XVI (and last of the Ancien Régime). After the revolution, only Emperor Napoleon I, Empress Josephine and King Charles X were crowned.
  • 1861 to 1873 - Neo-Gothic Architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc responsible for restoration of the cathedral
  • 1908 to 1909 - Restoration of the large west rose window, which had been badly damaged by hail in 1886.
  • 19 September 1914 - The cathedral's "martyrdom" began with the first German bombardment. A devastating fire soon spread from scaffolding on the north tower to the entire roof structure, with the melted lead pouring forth from the gargoyles.
  • 1915 - The doorways of the western facade were protected with beams and sand-bags, while the Treasure was removed and placed in safety, together with the paintings and tapestries.
  • 15, 19 and 24 April 1917 - For seven consecutive hours, at the rate of twelve per hour, the Germans fired 12 in., 14-in. and 15-in. shells on the cathedral.
  • 1918 - Salvage of the remaining stained-glass of the windows. Before the First World War ½ of the mosaic and ⅓ of the medallions were old. After the war, only ¼ of the original glass was left, and was subject to further restoration in 1925.
  • 3 May 3 1924 - Announcement of the first donation from John D. Rockefeller. Restoration work by Henri Deneux, chief architect for Historical Monuments, was largely funded largely by these contributions.
  • 1937 - The glass of the rose window in the west lower rose and in the rose in the south transept was installed by Jacques Simon.
  • 14 June 1974 - Inauguration of six lancet and three small rose windows for one of the cathedral's side chapels. The windows were, designed by the Russian painter Marc Chagall whose inimitable style lent itself to blue toned, stained glass, depicting
    1. Scenes from the Old Testament.
    2. Resurrection of Christ.
    3. Highlights of lives of the Kings of France.
    4. Tree of Jesse.

Cities of the Plain

Marcel Proust (1871-1922) mentions Reims, amongst other cathedrals of northern France in his novel sequence À la recherche du temps perdu.

"I thought the chandeliers good," said the Marquis, though it was not evident why he should make an exception of the chandeliers, just as inevitably, whenever anyone spoke of a church, whether it was the Cathedral of Chartres, or of Reims, or of Amiens, or the church at Balbec, what he would always make a point of mentioning as admirable would be: "the organ-loft, the pulpit and the misericords." "As for the garden, don't speak about it," said Mme. de Cambremer. "It's a massacre. Those paths running all crooked."

See video
Images on Camera and Canvas
Reims Cathedral, view from Tower over Buttresses
Amazon Books
Image of The Gothic Image: Religious Art In France Of The Thirteenth Century (Icon Editions)
Author: Emile Male
Publisher: Perseus (1973)
Binding: Paperback, 444 pages


Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims
Place du Cardinal-Luçon
49° 15' 13.4352" N, 4° 2' 1.734" E