France: 800th Anniversary of Reims Cathedral

Source: FSSPX News

On May 6, 2011 was held the inauguration evening for the festivities celebrating the 800th anniversary of Reims Cathedral.  Shows, concerts, conferences and other manifestations are planned up until Sunday, October 23, the date of the Mass for the anniversary of the dedication of the cathedral.  It was, in fact, consecrated for the second time, after its restoration, on October 18, 1938.  The full program is available on the website www.amis-cathedrale-reims.fr.

After a welcome address given by the Archbishop of Reims, Archbishop Thierry Jordan, the Te Deum of Marc-Antoine Charpentier was performed by the cathedral's master.  The 2,600 guests present were then received at the Palais de Tau, where the kings used to reside for their coronation.  A show of dynamic polychromy was projected on the cathedral's façade.

This lighting up of the cathedral by a work of high-definition dynamic polychromy animates the statues of the façade and, by reestablishing the original colors in its tiniest details, shows very precisely the expressions on every face.  The spectacle can be seen close-up, from just under the portals, or from far-off; it takes place at nightfall from May to October.  It lasts 20 to 30 minutes, and is repeated 2 or 3 times every evening.

In the same area, on the site of old Gallo-roman hot baths, was built an early Christian cathedral, the first edifice in the West to be dedicated to Mary, preceded by a baptistry in which Clovis was baptized at the end of the 5th century by the bishop St. Rémi.  Then, in the 9th century, Louis the Pious, after his imperial consecration in Reims, authorized the partial dismantling of the city's ramparts in order to build a cathedral that would represent the carolingian architecture.  After having been transformed and  rebuilt, the edifice was burned down on May 6, 1210.

Exactly one year after the fire, a new cathedral was begun, on May 6, 1211, 800 years ago.  The construction, beginning with the apse, took all of the 13th century for the main work, and the high parts of the towers would be completed only in the 15th century, when a fire destroyed the framework in 1481: the roof having been redone, the work was ended in 1516, without the spires having been raised as planned.

During the First World War, the cathedral was bombarded by the Germans, caught fire and was almost completely destroyed.  The edifice was then restored under the direction of Henri Deneux, a native of Reims and head architect of Historical Monuments.  He raised the cathedral back up from its ruins and gave it a framework of reinforced concrete, sustaining the reestablished leaden roof.

The cathedral of Reims is one of the major realizations of Gothic art in France, in its architecture and in its statuary which includes 2,303 statues.  Site of the consecration of 25 kings of France, its façade presents the kings' gallery composed of 56 statues 4.5 meters high, the center being occupied by Clovis enthroned and surrounded by his wife St. Clotilde and by St. Rémi.

(Sources: apic/cathedraledereims – DICI #235, May 25, 2011)