Saturday, June 19, 2010

Friday, June 18, 2010


Details of statues in Paris...

Faces on the Pont Neuf, allegedly caricatures of Henry II's advisors

Louvre frieze, along the Seine

Lion, fountain in front of St-Sulpice


Rheims Synagogue


Notre Dame de l'Epine

Towns in the Champagne Region

On our way back from Rheims to Metz, to collect our luggage and head home to the USA, Susie and I visited two towns in the Champagne region, Chalons-en-Champagne and l'Epine.

Chalons-en-Champagne, with its twin rivers, the Mau and Nau, has a great deal of charm and a very helpful tourist office. The main square has sidewalk restaurants, half-timbered buildings, and a hotel that, as noted by a plaque, hosted Joan of Arc and her retinue. We ate a nice lunch at one of the restaurants.

The city's covered market looks like it's new, but the traditional vendors are still there in force. Note the fancy way the cauliflowers are displayed.

Chalons also has a nice synagogue. We didn't get to visit the interior, but the exterior is in the Moorish style that characterizes many of the synagogues of the region. Chalons's synagogue was designed by a local architect, Alexis Vagny, and built in 1874-1875 as part of the great wave of synagogue construction that followed the granting of full citizenship to French Jews by the Crémieux decrees of 1870. Chalons still has an active Jewish community, and the synagogue is in use.

A little further along the road toward Metz, we stopped at the village of l'Epine, whose chief claim to fame is its basilica, Notre Dame de l'Epine. This interesting church has a couple of notable contrasts. First, from afar, it looks huge, like the cathedral in Rheims. You can see the basilica from miles away, its towers standing tall on the horizon. Up close, it's more like a scaled-down version of a cathedral, with all the trappings but just smaller. Second, the basilica combines some of the most graceful and luminous Gothic architecture with other windows that are dark and heavy.

The town is named for a thorn bush, in which shepherds apparently found a statue of the Virgin Mary. Construction on the basilica started in 1406 and was completed around 1527. The basilica houses numerous works of religious art and notable 16th-Century pipe organ. The facade is ornate, but the rest of the church is simpler. The flying buttresses are particularly graceful and light; compare these buttresses to those the St-Remi basilica, for instance.

The interior is relatively simple, with a unity of style of that recalls churches of a century or two before the basilica's construction. Thus Notre Dame de l'Epine combines the lightness of late Gothic architecture with the simplicity of early Gothic.

Most of the basilica's stained glass was lost over the years. Here are the remnants of the original 16th-Century glass.

In contrast to the lightness of the nave, with great bright windows made possible by those elegant buttresses, the rose window of the west front harkens back to an early Gothic style, with solid and resolute stone framing that's centuries removed from the rose windows of, say, the cathedral and basilica in Rheims.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Carnegie Library, Rheims

Art-Deco Details in Rheims

Rheims, with its wealth of Art-Deco buildings, offers an overwhelming number of interesting architectural details. Here's a small sampling.

The first two are from houses.

The next is from the interior of a bakery.

This is a section of a frieze on the facade of the Carnegie Library.

The last two details come from the Opera cinema: one of series of stained-glass lights below the awning, and part of the facade's main frieze.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Saint-Remi Abbey and Basilica

While the Rheims cathedral glorifies the spot at Clovis was baptised in 496, the basilica and abbey of Saint-Remi glorify the bishop who performed the baptism. Saint Remi, child of the Gallo-Roman elite and a noted scholar, was appointed Bishop of Rheims at the age of 22. He fostered close relations with Clovis, king of the Franks, who was busily conquering most of what would become the nation of France. Remi, with the support of Clovis's wife Clotilde, a Catholic Burgundian princess and subsequently named a saint, converted Clovis to Catholicism at the baptism commemorated by the Rheims cathedral.

The abbey of Saint-Remi was founded in the 6th Century. The abbey's current basilica was built in the 11th Century, and Saint Remi's relics were transfered to the basilica in 1099. Parts of the church were rebuilt and enlarged in the 12th through 15th Centuries. Further additions were made in the 17th and 19th Centuries. Remi's tomb still lies in the basilica's choir; the adjoining buildings of the abbey now house the St-Remi Museum, Rheim's museum of history and archeology.

The basilica, as it now stands, is an interesting amalgam of late Romanesque and early Gothic styles. The mixture is not as jarring as in the basilica at Dinan, where one side of the nave is Romanesque and the other side Gothic. But if you look, you can see the change of styles, for example, in the extension of the nave, where the two newest bays are Gothic.

While the basilica has some vertical elements, it retains the layers of horizontal solidity that characterize Romanesque architecture.

These sorts of tiers also characterize the basilica's facade.

In the choir, surrounding Saint-Remi's tomb, the multiple levels of arches and windows actually serve to make the space seem higher.

While much of the basilica's stained glass was destroyed in the two world wars, the windows were rebuilt with great care and taste. For instance, this transept rose window has traditional stained glass that brings jewel-toned light into the church.

Other windows have glass in more modern styles, but the glass serves to highlight the beauty of the windows' Gothic stonework. For example, this lower transept window is organic and flowing.
And this window, with its motif of birds (this relates to Saint-Remi, for reasons that are too incredible and arcane to warrrant explanation here), provides great illumination, verticality, and exuberance.

The other buildings of the abbey are adjacent to the basilica. Actually, it would be hard to be more adjacent, as the buildings are built right up against the basilica's north walls, in the spaces between the buttresses. The neoclassical style of the cloister is interrupted--sectioned--by the buttresses.

The upper-floor gallery along this side of the cloister show the arches of these flying buttresses.

The other sides of the cloister harmoniously and uniformly reflect the neoclassical classical style without interruption.

Some of the museum's rooms are really beautiful, such as this Gothic hall.

The museum tells the story of Rheims, starting with prehistory. It contains some remarkable Roman mosaics, including this enormous depiction of gladiators.

This 7th-Century necklace was made with pearls of amber and rounds of glass.

One of the museum's highlights is a set of medieval tapestries depicting the life of Saint-Remi. This panel, the right half of one of the tapestries, depicts Remi baptizing Clovis. The king, in the basin, is attended to by Remi, who wears a golden mitre.

The museum's main staircase is itself a work of art--symmetrical, light, ornate, and just plain huge.

Between the windows, on the far wall, hangs a portrait of Louis XV as a youth, wearing coronation robes. Indeed, he was crowned in the cathedral of Rheims so that he could rule with divine right, traced back to Clovis, conferred by Saint-Remi, for whom the abbey is named.


Carnegie Library, Rheims

Rheims's Cathedral

The cathedral of Rheims, Notre-Dame, is one of the four most famous cathedrals in France, along with those of Paris, Saint-Denis, and perhaps Chartres. Apart from its religious and architectural interest, Rheim's cathedral is noted for its involvement with the French monarchy, starting with the baptism of Clovis in 496, through the coronation of French kings for over a thousand years, ending with the coronation of Charles X in 1824.

The baptism of Clovis, in which the Frankish king Clovis converted to Christianity at the urging of his Catholic wife Clothilde after his victory at Tolbiac, stands as the point at which the country that became France first officially involved Catholicism. A stone in the center of the cathedral indicates the very spot of the baptism.

To cement their reigns with the memory of Clovis, French kings, beginning with Louis the Debonnaire in 816, staged their coronations in Rheims. Thus for most of the kings of France this cathedral became the opening of the reign, which would end with their burial at the Basilica of Saint-Denis. The cathedral itself was built in the 13th and 14th Centuries, replacing a church, which had replaced the basilica of Clovis's baptism, which in turn had been built on the site of Rheims's Roman baths.

The cathedral's facade has a strikingly consistent style, strongly vertical, and airy despite its mass. The cathedral was badly damaged in World War I. Restoration work began in 1919 and continues to this day.

If the cathedral influenced the French kings, these kings in turn have left their mark on the cathedral. In particular, above the great rose window, statues of French kings stand across the cathedral's facade, with, in the center, Clovis being baptised.

The facade also includes more fanciful figures, such at this gargoyle with the cast-metal head of cow.

The interior of the cathedral is about as stately as you can get, all vertical lines, with columns designed to look graceful rather than just solid, topped by Corinthian capitals.

The cathedral's design has a great unity, as can be seen in this view of the corner of the nave and the south transept.

The stained-glass windows are all modern, given the destruction wrought by German bombs in the war. Some of the windows have been rebuilt with traditional designs, such as for the great rose window of the facade. The restorers have done magnificent work here. The glass, in jewel tones, relates well to its Gothic stonework.

Other windows in the cathedral are resolutely modern. Marc Chagall created a set of windows for the north side of the choir. These windows seem more serene--and perhaps more sedate--than those at Metz. The windows include elements from both the Old and New Testaments. Here's a part of the windows that show Old Testament scenes.

Finally, other windows may be waiting for full-on restoration, but these windows have remarkably interesting stained-glass, in tones of white and gray. Here's a glimpse of one of these windows.