Reims, Basilique Saint-Remi


    Begun ca. 1170


    A three aisled basilica with a long nave intersected by a projecting aisled transept terminated east by a hemicycle which is surrounded by ambulatory and five radiating chapels; the axial chapel deeper than the others. To the west a harmonius facade with three portals and two towers projects slightly more deeply than the nave hinting at the idea of a western transept.


    Three-storey elevation of an arcade supported by pilier cantonné, a blind triforium, tall clerestory with bar tracery. The superstructure is supported by substantial flying buttresses that resemble those at Soissons. In the chevet the central colonette is link in the triforium and the clerestory. In the nave that same colonette is thickened to reflect that linkage.


    The mid-twelfth century cathedral built by Archbishop Samson was badly damaged in a fire in 1210; the existing church was begun soon afterwards The chevet was completed by 1241 with work progressing east-to-west down the nave. Dating of the west frontispiece is controversial - some scholars believing that working only began towards 1250, however preparation for the columns figures clearly precede this date suggesting a date in the 1220s.

    Sculptural Program

    The west façade of Reims cathedral has three portals united under large sculpted gables that recall the façade of Amiens. Reims also adopts the unusual feature of replacing sculpted tympana with glazed windows. The tympanum sculptures are relocated to the gables above the voussoirs. The south portal has an image of Christ at the Last Judgment in the gable, flanked by angels carrying instruments of the Passion. The five bands of voussoirs below have Apocalyptic scenes, and the lintel shows the baptism of Saint Paul. Half of the jamb figures are of an earlier date, and were most likely intended for a different portal that was never executed. The figures on the right are probably the earliest sculpture from the program that began after the great fire of 1210. From the inside out they depict Simeon, John the Baptist, Isaiah, Moses, Abraham, and Aaron. They are distinctly similar to jamb sculptures of the central portal on the north transept of Chartres Cathedral, with their elongated poses and deeply cut fluid drapery that mark the start of the classicizing trend of the mid-thirteenth century. The left jamb figures are unidentified except for a figure of Pope Calixtus, and are from a later phase of construction corresponding to the gable sculpture. The outer buttress also contains a gable with a sculpted, tympanum-like relief depicting the Preaching of St. Paul.
    The north portal of the west façade has a Crucifixion scene in the gable. The five bands of voussoirs depict scenes from the Life and Passion of Christ. The lintel shows the Conversion of Saul. The jamb figures are mostly unidentified. The man flanked by two angels on the left is thought to be St. Dionysius, and the woman on the right is thought to be St. Helena. These figures are all in the graceful, fluid style of later Reims sculpture, sometimes referred to as the "beautiful" style. The outer buttress relief depicts Helena's discovery of the True Cross.
    The central portal shows a Coronation of the Virgin in the gable. The five bands of voussoirs show a Tree of Jesse and angels. The lintel is not sculpted but displays an inscription. The Virgin and Child are shown on the trumeau. Here the jamb sculptures also date from a variety of eras, and are arranged in pairs, similar to the west façade at Amiens. The right side shows the Annunciation and Visitation, while the left shows the Presentation in the Temple with Joseph and Mary's maidservant. The Visitation pair, with their heavy, crinkled drapery are from an earlier phase of construction and correspond more with the highly classicized figures of the north transept jambs. The figure of St. Elizabeth is especially notable for her individualized expression which shows a weariness and age that indicates a renewed interest in observation of facial types in nature.
    Other than the few earlier sculptures that were reused for the façade, most of the work dates from between 1255 and 1274. The style of the figures, exemplified in the Angel of the Annunciation on the central portal, is characterized by deep swaths of drapery, slender and graceful bodies that elegantly bend and sway, and sweet, serene faces that almost seem to smile. Such a large-scale sculptural program must have attracted masons from across the region, and specific links can be made with workshops in Amiens, and those in Paris working on buildings like the Sainte-Chapelle and St. Germain-des-Prés. The interior west wall of the nave, with its many registers of figures delineated by trilobe-arched niches, were installed at the same time as the exterior program, and includes such stories as scenes from the Life of the Virgin, and the Life and Martyrdom of John the Baptist and St. Stephen.
    The north transept also includes three sculpted portals. The west portal, the so-called Porte romane, contains spoliated remains from an earlier twelfth-century sculptural program, probably originally set in a wall tomb on the interior of the old church. The odd isolation of the Sedes Sapientiae in the tympanum, and the seemingly shrunken size of the single band of voussoirs showing angels, indicate strongly that these sculptures were not intended for this location. The severe, elongated face of the Virgin and the tight, damp drapery folds foreshadow work at Laon and the transepts of Chartres.
    The east portal shows scenes from the Last Judgment. The lowest register shows saved souls at the bosom of Abraham on the viewer's left, with damned souls being led in chains by fearsome demons to a cauldron heated by angry flames on the right. The second register again shows the elect in Heaven on the left, and more hellish tortures of the damned on the right. In the center, the Archangel Michael holds the scales that will weigh the souls. The next two registers show the raising of the dead from their tombs. The tympanum shows Christ in Majesty at the Last Judgment, flanked by the Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptist, as well as angels carrying the instruments of the Passion. The three bands of voussoirs show angels, church figures, and the Wise and Foolish Virgins. The jamb sculptures are set at a 90 degree angle to the doorway, due to issues of space on the façade. They depict six Apostles, whose thickly crinkled and bunched drapery and wildly curling hair and beards strongly indicate that the sculptors were looking to antique models.
    The central portal focuses on the deeds and miracles of local saints. The lowest lintel depicts St. Remigius performing the coronation of Clovis, first Frankish king, on the right, and the martyrdom of St. Nicaise on the left. The second register shows miracles from the life of St. Remigius. The third register shows the story of Job on the dung heap, and the fourth register shows more of St. Remigius' miracles. In the tympanum, Christ sits in majesty flanked by two kneeling angels. The three bands of voussoirs depict a mixture of priests, popes, and bishops. The trumeau figure is that of St. Calixtus, whose relics were supposedly preserved in the cathedral. The jambs show, from left to right, an angel, St. Nicaise, St. Eutropia (Nicaise's sister), an unidentified bearded male saint, St. Remigius, and another angel. The jamb figures are not quite as dramatically classicized as their counterparts on the east portal, however the deeply cut, fluid draperies are beginning to be pronounced. The inclusion of local saints in such a large and dramatic program was most likely an attempt to highlight the prominence of the many miracles associated with these men. In particular, the inclusion of the coronation of Clovis might have been commissioned just before Louis IX was crowned in Reims, at a time when Reims was in competition with Sens and St. Denis over the right of coronations. It can be seen as an effort to assert Reims' historical and divine right to perform this powerful task. This type of monumental portal to local saints can also be found elsewhere, notably at Amiens and at St. Denis.
    The sculptures of the north transept were most likely executed, or in the case of the Porte romane, set in place between the fire of 1210 and the conflict between the cathedral and the city which halted all construction in 1233. It would have originally faced the canon's cloister, indicating that the program was chosen by the canons. This also means that the portals would not have initially been visible as a unit, which might account for the lack of coherent program between the three.


    Reims was the seat of an archbishop and the principal city of the province; the city was was also an economic hub and seat of a commune. There was a history of some times violent between clergy and townsfolk leading to riots. In 1232 such a uprising took place. In the 1230's struggle developed also between the secular clergy and the Kings of France. Special architectural details reflect a powerful region with its forms resembling the Soissons, however the pilier cantonné appear to respond to Chartres. Particular to Reims is the sumptuous articulation. This famous site was where legends states that Saint Remigius baptized the first king of France, King Clovis, in the year 511. Subsequently the cathedral became the site of royal coronations. This is an important Roman city with an oval wall in which Roman remains were evident like the Port du Mars and were also influential in Gothic architecture.

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