Reims Cathedral
Reims Cathedral

Reims, a vibrant city

Reims is the 12th largest city in France.

Located 45 minutes away from Paris by the TGV, it attracts Parisian companies eager to move and cut their operating costs.

Reims was  the city where the kings of France were crowned for centuries.

This unique cultural and architectural heritage earned it the label City of Art and History.

The City of the Remes

Durocortorum, the oppidum the Gallic Remes tribe built in the early 1st century AD, grew to become Reims.

13th century stained-glass windows in Reims Cathedral
13th century stained-glass windows

The Remes’ good fortune was due to the fact that they didn’t join the Gallic rebellion during the Gallic War, but took side with the Roman Empire.

In return for their support, the Romans made Durocortorum a federated city and awarded it its independence.

The antic city therefore retained its laws, religion and government.

It also became the capital of the Gallia Belgica, one of the three provinces the Romans created in Gaul after the conquest.

A thick stone wall encompassed the city during the 3rd century barbarian invasions.

However, this didn’t prevent the Huns from destroying it during their raids a century later.

The City of Saint-Rémi

Reims Cathedral - Sculptures and gargoyles
Sculptures and gargoyles

The first cathedral was built in the 4th century and stood slightly north of the current one.

King Clovis, the founder of the Kingdom of France, converted to Christianity after marrying Princess Clotide of Burgundy.

According to legend, Saint-Rémi, the bishop of Reims, christened Clovis on December 25, 496AD; however, it’s more likely that this took place 2 or 3 years later.

Still according to legend, Saint-Rémi anointed Clovis with a miraculous oil (Holy Chremen), which an angel, who took the form of a dove, delivered in a special vial (Holy Ampulla).

Reims, the capital of Austrasia

At the death of Clovis, the Kingdom of France was split between his four sons.

In 511AD Thierry thus inherited the Kingdom of Austrasia – which corresponded to the northeast of modern France – and made Reims the capital.

In 751AD, Austrasia became part of the Carolingian Empire until 987.

Charlemagne was crowned in Rome, but his son Louis the Pious began a long tradition when he was crowned king in Reims in 816AD.

The city became for 10 centuries onward – until 1825 – the place of coronation of all the kings of France – with the exception of the Protestant Henri IV.

Reims from the Middle-Ages to the Revolution

Reims Cathedral facade
Detail facade

The foundation of the University of Reims in 1548 triggered the city’s development.

The Wars of Religion plunged it into turmoil 20 years later, but expansion took off in the 17th century, as crowds flocked to the city’s four renowned fairs.

Reims specialised also in the weaving of hemp, linen and wool, a lucrative industry that made the fortune of many inhabitants.

The Revolution brought its share of devastation, but the cathedral escaped destruction, as it served as a hay barn for many years.

However, the revolutionaries burned the Holy Ampulla and Saint Remi’s relics on the town square.

The city of aviation

In the early 20th century, Reims became the cradle of aviation.

In 1908, Henry Framann indeed made the first flight – a 27kms journey – between the city and Bouy.

Reims hosted the first international air meeting in 1909, and the Great Aviation Week of Champagne – La Grande semaine d’aviation de la Champagne in 1910.

The city’s military airplanes competition took place in 1911 and the Gordon-Benett International Speed Flight Cup in 1913.

Finally, Reims’ geographic location earned it to become a major barracks town during the 20th century.

Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Reims

One of the city’s most iconic monuments is the cathedral.

Notre-Dame de Reims, one of the jewels of Gothic architecture, was listed world heritage by Unesco in 1991.

Reims Cathedral and gardens
Cathedral and gardens

It is also renowned for its exceptional statuary, as it boasts no less than 2303 sculptures.

It stands on the site of the oratory where Saint-Rémi baptized Clovis in the late 5th century.

Built on the ruins of the old Roman baths, this oratory was eventually replaced by a first cathedral dedicated to Mary.

In the early 9th century, Louis the Pious authorized the partial demolition of the city wall to build a new cathedral.

This building, which stood to the north of the current cathedral, was rebuilt and transformed through the years, but burned in 1210.

The construction of the present cathedral began on May 6, 1211.

The architect Viollet le Duc restored it in the 19th century, after the damages incurred during the French Revolution.

Tragically, the cathedral suffered 28 bombings during WWI, and was labeled martyred cathedral.

It was in terrible condition, however was still standing, while 85% of the city of Reims was destroyed.

André Deneux, the chief director of the French Historical Monuments – and a native of Reims – oversaw his restoration in the early 1920s.

Reims Cathedral interior
Impressive dimensions

Some of the original 13th century stained glass windows escaped destruction; Marc Chagall and Imi Knoebel created new design to replace those that had been destroyed.

The building restoration was possible thanks to the many private donations, and in particular those of the Rockefeller family.

It however lasted decades, and introduced new, lighter and non flammable materials.

The two remaining bells, Marie and Charlotte, ring only for major occasions to protect the building, which although solid, could suffer from the vibrations.

They thus rang for the cathedral’s 800 anniversary celebrations.

Notre-Dame de Reims’ famous labyrinth, which was depicted on the floor of the nave, was destroyed at the request of the Chapter in 1779.

However, its graphic representation is today used as an official logo for the French Historical Monuments.

Finally, the cathedral was the place where Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer met in July 1962 to seal the official Franco-German reconciliation.

Reims Cathedral - model
Model of the cathedral

The Church of Saint-Rémi

Saint-Rémi basilica is the second most famous church of Reims after the cathedral.

It indeed stands on the site where Saint-Rémi was buried.

Legend has it that Saint-Rémi anointed Clovis with a miraculous oil – Saint Chremen – when he baptized him.

His grave soon became a place of pilgrimage and a Benedictine abbey was built around it.

However, we know that Archbishop Hincmar ‘invented’ the Holy Ampulla – the vial containing the Saint Chremen – for the coronation of Louis the Pious in order to draw crowds to church.

The Holy Ampulla was used for all royal coronations from then on.

The abbey became the depository of Saint-Rémi’s relics and the Holy Ampulla.

The church was rebuilt in the 11th century and was the largest Romanesque building of its time.

Reims Cathedral - Stained-glass windows by Marc Chagall
Stained-glass windows by Marc Chagall

The Catholic Louis XIII began a second tradition that lasted until the revolution.

Once crowned in the cathedral, the French kings went in large military procession to the Church of Saint-Rémi, where they affirmed their role of defenders of the church.

The abbey was rebuilt in the 18th century but closed at the Revolution.

It reopened in 1896 and was elevated to the rank of basilica to commemorate the 14th centenary of Clovis baptism.

The monastic buildings were converted into a hospital.

Although damaged by WWI bombing, the church was not restored until the 1950s.

It was eventually converted in a historical museum in the late 1970s.

Department of Marne
Coordinates: Lat 49.258329 – Long 4.031696

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