There’s more to the Champagne region of France than hillsides cloaked with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vines. The Cathedral of Notre-Dame, the former Abbey of Saint-Remi and Palace of Tau in Reims are UNESCO sites in the spectacular Vino con Vista Champagne-Ardenne Region of France about 80 miles northeast of Paris.
The former archbishop’s palace known as the Tau Palace, because of its T-shaped layout, played an important role in religious ceremonies. It was almost entirely rebuilt in the 17th century.
The Palace was the residence of the Kings of France before their coronation in Notre-Dame de Reims. The King was dressed for the coronation at the palace before proceeding to the cathedral; afterwards, a banquet was held at the palace. The first recorded coronation banquet was held at the palace in 990, and the most recent in 1825.
Visit Reims Cathedral of Our Lady for Easter.
The Palace of Tau has been a museum since 1972 with remnants of the original cathedral statuary. The Musée de l’Œuvre also has reliquaries and tapestries from the cathedral. There are many interesting objects associated with the coronation of the French kings.
The 6th century Abbey of Saint-Remi has the relics of the Saint who died in 553. St. Remi was the Bishop of Reims who converted Clovis, King of the Franks, to Christianity on Christmas Eve in 496 after he defeated the Alamanni in the Battle of Tolbiac. The basilica was consecrated by Pope Leo IX in 1049.
The cathedral in Reims is an outstanding representation of 13th century Gothic art and architecture.
Reims also played a prominent ceremonial role in French monarchical history as the traditional site of the crowning of the kings of France. Archbishop St Remi instituted the Holy annointing of the Kings of France. He was the Bishop of Reims and Apostle of the Franks. On December 24, 496, he baptized pagan Clovis I, King of the Franks. Clovis was converted by his wife Clothide. She was a Catholic Burgundian princess.
This baptism led to a seminal event in European history; the conversion of the Frankish people to Christianity. This alliance between Saint Remi and Clovis initiated a long history of the French Kingdom and the Catholic church.
In Reims, the Cathedral, the Archiepiscopal Palace, and the old Abbey of Saint-Rémi are directly linked to the history of the French monarchy because these places were part of the coronation ceremony. “For the Royal Anointing, which took place in the town’s cathedral, the Ampulla containing the Chrism, or holy oil, was brought from the Abbey of Saint-Rémi.” UNESCO
The Monarchs of France ruled from the establishment of Francia in 486 to 1870. Three kings were crowned at the abbey of the church of Saint Remy and thirty at the Cathedral. From Louis VIII to Charles X, there were only two exceptions: Henry IV, crowned at Chartres and Louis XVIII. These are the French dynasties and monarchies:
1. The Merovingian Dynasty ruled until 751
2. The Carolingian Dynasty until 987.
3. The branches of the dynasty which ruled after 1328, are generally given the specific branch names of Valois and Bourbon.
The Cathedral has a gallery of kings on the west front façade. On the north transcept, central portal on the left hand side you will see bishop Saint Nicaise holding his decapitated head in his hands. He was beheaded by the Barbarians on the square in front of his cathedral.
“The outstanding handling of new architectural techniques in the 13th century, and the harmonious marriage of sculptural decoration with architecture, has made Notre-Dame in Reims one of the masterpieces of Gothic art. The former abbey still has its beautiful 9th-century nave, in which lie the remains of Archbishop St Rémi (440–533), who instituted the Holy Anointing of the kings of France. The former archiepiscopal palace known as the Tau Palace, which played an important role in religious ceremonies, was almost entirely rebuilt in the 17th century.” UNESCO
By virtue of the outstanding handling of new architectural techniques in the 13th century and the harmonious marriage of architecture and sculpted decoration, Notre-Dame Cathedral at Reims is a masterpiece of Gothic art. The perfection of the architecture and the sculptural ensemble of the cathedral were such that numerous later edifices were influenced by it, particularly in regions of Germany. The former abbey still has its beautiful 9th-century nave, in which lie the remains of Archbishop Saint Rémi (440-533). The former archiepiscopal palace known as the Tau Palace, which played an important role in religious ceremonies, was almost entirely rebuilt in the 17th century.
The cathedral, the Archiepiscopal Palace, and the old Abbey of Saint-Rémi are directly linked to the history of the French monarchy, and hence to that of France in general. These places were part of the coronation ceremony, the result of a perfect balance between Church and State that made the French monarchy a political model throughout Europe until modern times.
Of great importance in the early days of Christianity in Gaul, Reims had a number of archbishops who were major figures in the Roman Catholic Church, canonized after their death. This was the case for the most famous among them, Rémi (440-533) the archbishop who baptized Clovis and instituted the Holy Anointing of Kings. The ceremony was fully established in the 12th century, and after that time almost all French sovereigns were consecrated at Reims. For the Royal Anointing, which took place in the town’s cathedral, the Ampulla containing the Chrism, or holy oil, was brought from the Abbey of Saint-Rémi. Rémi, who died in 533, was buried in St Christopher’s chapel, which was replaced in the 11th-12th centuries by a Benedictine abbey church.
The monastic buildings date from the 12th-13th centuries, but were extensively remodeled during the 17th century. However, some very interesting medieval parts were conserved. The present cathedral, built on the site of the Carolingian church which was destroyed by fire, is one of the great French cathedrals of the 13th century. Along with the cathedrals of Chartres and Amiens, it is at the summit of the classical Gothic style. At Reims all the innovations introduced at Chartres may be found, except that the builders of Reims, perhaps conscious of erecting the church for the coronation of the kings of France, enhanced the structural elements with greater lightness and made more openings in the walls to allow a maximum of light to filter through the stained glass and illuminate the sacred space. Nowhere is sculpture so prevalent on a Gothic facade than it is at Reims.
More than simple ornamentation, the sculpture of Reims Cathedral is an integral part of the architectural composition. Reflecting both Île-de-France traditions and the minor arts of the Champagne region, the sculpture possesses a monumental character and a grace inspired by the silver- or goldsmith’s art. While the smiling figures on the west facade are very famous, the sumptuousness of the composition of the Crowning of the Virgin (above the central portal) or the grave antique nobility of other figures such as Elizabeth in the composition depicting the Visitation should not be overlooked.
The old archiepiscopal palace was both the Episcopal See and an important step in the coronation ceremony, the banquet being held there. It was almost completely rebuilt by Robert de Cotte on the behest of Archbishop Le Tellier. The beautiful 18th-century Palatine chapel and the 15th-century banqueting hall were kept intact.” UNESCO