Reims, Religious Heritage - Visit time : 1 day.
Though today the name Reims first evokes the capital of Champagne, now famous around the world, long before that it was the site of many important episodes of French history.
The cathedral was indeed the place of coronation of the kings of France, and in total, 32 sovereigns, including 29 kings, succeeded one another here in Reims, expressing through their crowning a superiority over their people and a proximity to God. The religious buildings in the city were certainly noble enough for the prestigious visitors they received.
The Notre-Dame Cathedral, the Basilique Saint Rémi and the Palais du Tau all contribute to this religious, architectural and historical ensemble, unique in France. It is on this basis that the city’s religious heritage was selected as a World Heritage Site.
The Notre-Dame Cathedral of Reims is a masterpiece of Gothic art: it demonstrates the remarkable mastery of new architectural techniques within the course of the 13th century, harmoniously combining architecture and carved decoration. The Abbaye de Saint Rémi (Abbey of Saint Rémi), the oldest of the two, still retains its beautiful nave from the 11th century, which houses the remains of Archbishop Saint Rémi (440-533). The first Episcopal palace, known as the Palais du Tau (Palace of Tau), played an important role in religious ceremonies. It was almost entirely rebuilt in the 17th century.
Reims, a city of great importance in early Christianity in Gaul, counted many archbishops who were important figures in the Catholic Church and who have since been canonized. This is the case of the most famous among them, Rémi (440-533), Archbishop who baptized Clovis and instituted the Holy Anointing of the kings. The ceremony took its fixed form in the 12th century and almost all French monarchs thereafter were crowned in Reims. For the anointing of kings, which was performed in the cathedral of the city, the vial containing the chrism, or holy oil, was brought from the Abbaye de Saint-Rémi.
The current cathedral was built on the site of a Carolingian church, which was destroyed by fire, and is one of the largest French cathedrals of the 13th century. With those of Chartres and Amiens (both listed as World Heritage sites), it marks the culmination of the classic Gothic style. All of the innovations found in Chartres are also visible in Reims, except that its builders, perhaps aware that the church would be the site of the coronation of the kings of France, gave it lighter structural elements, creating more bays in the walls to allow the greatest possible amount of light through the windows to illuminate the sacred space. No Gothic facade rivals that of Reims in the quality of its carved decoration. More than just decor, the sculptures of the Cathedral of Reims are an integral part of the architectural composition of the building.
The Palais du Tau, a former archbishopric, was both the Episcopal seat and a milestone in the course of the ceremony, as it was the venue for the coronation banquet. The beautiful 13th-century palace chapel and 15th-century banquet hall remain intact.
Criteria for selection
Criterion(i): For the outstanding handling of new architectural techniques of the 13th century and the harmonious marriage of sculptural decoration and architecture, the Notre-Dame Cathedral of Reims is one of the masterpieces of Gothic art.
Criterion (ii): The perfection of the architecture and sculptural ensemble of the church influenced many later buildings.
Criterion (vi): The cathedral, the archbishop's palace and the former Abbaye de Saint-Rémi are directly related to the history of the French monarchy and, therefore, to the history of France in general. These places were involved in the royal coronation ceremony, the result of an ideal balance between the Church and the State which made the French monarchy a political model throughout Europe until modern times.
Source : UNESCO / ICOMOS