Notre-Dame de Reims, or “Our Lady of Reims” (90 miles East of Paris), is amongst the most important cathedrals in Europe. Built on the site of an ancient Roman baths, it replaces an earlier basilica (built around 400 AD) which was destroyed by fire in 1211. Rebuilding of the “new” cathedral—that which we see today—began immediately and the church was expanded in order to accommodate the many coronations which occurred here. But cathedral building is a slow, laborious process and it wasn’t until the 14th century that the upper portions of the façade were completed. Fortunately, the builders used 13th century plans which gives the structure a unified design aesthetic.
The South Tower (originally planned to soar 394 feet but only achieving 267 feet) houses two bells. One, named “Charlotte” in 1570, weighs a staggering eleven tons.
In 1380, Charles VI of France was crowned here. 35 years later, when Henry V of England defeated him at Agincourt, the entire region—including the cathedral—fell to the English. Henry became king of England and France and ended-up marrying the French king’s daughter, Catherine de Valois. Reims was held by the English until it was liberated by Joan of Arc in 1429.
During World War I, the great cathedral was shelled by the Germans, resulting in a fire which melted much of the lead within the roof. Molten lead was seen pouring-out of the mouths of gargoyles. Photos of the destruction was used to rally the French—and her Allies—against an enemy who would destroy such an important historical and cultural landmark. Restoration began in 1919 and—with a generous contribution by the Rockefeller family—the cathedral was reopened to the public in 1938. Work continues to this day while more than a million people visit the cathedral each year.
The bookends above, cast in bronze, capture in fine detail the beauty and intricacy of the church’s design. An Impressionist sky swirls in the background. Please click on the photo to learn more about these bookends.