January 18, 2012
Yesterday, we visited a town, located 130 km away from Paris, called Reims. Everything in Reims has history behind it but I was amazed the most by the cathedral called Notre-Dame de Reims, which looks a lot like the famous cathedral Notre-Dame de Paris – one of the most visited places in Paris.
We were lucky to have with us our guide Vincent Delaveau, whose knowledge made the visit even more meaningful and who gave us a lot of information about this historical place. As for most of the buildings we have seen, the façade of Notre- Dame de Reims says a lot about the époque when the cathedral was built. As Vincent told us, there was another building at that place initially which dates back in the 5th century. However, the new building that we see now was constructed around the beginning of 13th century. The front of the cathedral keeps the memory of this era, with the typical features of the Gothic style. Of course, the religious symbolism has central place and in fact the three main parts of the cathedral show the history of the world as it was told in the Bible – from the creation by God and the coming of his son amongst the people, through his Crucifixion, to the Apocalypse when everyone will be judged. On the other hand, 56 statues of kings on the façade of the cathedral remind us about the central place that the kings of France have in the history of the country.
The building has the impressive more than 2300 small sculptures on the exterior. Some of them are partially destroyed during the Revolution, but one can still tell what their role is in the whole story told by Notre-Dame. Some sculptures that are created approximately at the same time show completely different patterns, illustrating how rich the cathedral is in terms of variety of styles used in the same epoch. One impressive part of it is two separate columns under the scene with the Last Judgment. They represent the qualities one needs to possess to be sent to heaven or hell correspondingly. Vincent showed us as an example how fear on one column is opposed to courage, depicted on the same level on the other column.
The most interesting part of all, though, is the function the cathedral used to have. It was the place where kings of France were crowned. There used to be a competition between two cites for which one to have the honor to hold the ceremony. It was won by Reims and it became popular and respected city, symbol of the power of the French monarch. The ceremony itself seems to be a long process with multiple small rituals that the king needs to follow. In everything he does, one can see the key idea of him being the God on Earth, the one that is going to lead the people toward the paradise. The number of guests invited to the ceremony is exactly 12 and after they finish the coronation they sit around a table and have dinner. This evidently is a connection with the 12 apostles in the Bible. I find it funny that, after the official part of the ceremony, a big celebration is organized with the money from the citizens. During only one of them they prepare about 60000 liters wine, 40350 eggs, 78 porks, 82 cows and much more and different kinds of food.
Finally, I would advise everyone, who visits Paris or the region around it, to visit Notre-Dame de Reims. In my opinion, it stands in the shadow of Notre-Dame de Paris and just a few of the tourists know about it but this needs to change because the cathedral I saw yesterday is a unique connection between history, religion, architecture and culture.