Saturday, June 12, 2010

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.

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