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The cathedral that crowned kings

March 26, 2017

Reims Cathedral is where for centuries the kings of France were crowned. More exactly, most were crowned there. Among the exceptions was Louis VI who chose Orleans fearing that his half-brother Philip would stop him from entering Reims. When the Archbishop of Reims objected, claiming his right to perform the coronation, he was overruled by Louis who said that as king he could decide the matter for himself.

In any event, Reims – rather than Paris – may seem an unlikely place for a coronation, but when the archbishop of Reims baptised Clovis around 496 A.D. he set a powerful precedent. Today, the rather squat looking cathedral is hidden amongst the city’s shops and offices. Approaching it from the river, the west front suddenly comes into view for the first time as you turn into Rue Libergier.

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The partially cleaned west front is a mixture of pinks and greys. A smiling angel looks particularly pleased about something.

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A finely traced king and queen, surrounded by angels with outsize wings, perch beneath the west window.

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Inside the cathedral, the great and the good, strike important looking poses in their stone niches.

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Above them, coloured glass makes the most of whatever sun there is on a chilly Spring afternoon.

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In the nave, a suspended chandelier serves to accentuate the sheer height of the cathedral.

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Along the aisle, information boards record the cathedral’s history, but I struggle with the French and lose much of their meaning.

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The cathedral itself is bare of treasures, but at the adjacent Palace of Tau the treasury is on display. On the Reliquary of the Resurrection, a couple of dozy guards are oblivious of Christ who is stretching his arms in triumph.

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A crowded galleon, with finely traced rigging – The Reliquary of St Ursula – competes for attention with a bejewelled chalice and goblet.

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Most people heading south east down route A26 don’t give Reims a second glance. They don’t know what they are missing.

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