Arriving in Reims about 4:15 in the afternoon we met up with our Airbnb host and then quickly high-tailed it into town because we had a UNESCO site to see before it closed- the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims!
Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims
Walking up to the cathedral from behind my initial thought was ‘Holy cow…it is HUGE!’ I believe it may be the grandest cathedral I’ve ever seen so I guess it’s not hard to believe they have crowned French kings here. Little old me has walked in the footsteps of French kings. Sometimes things like that just seem unreal to me.
Built in the 13th century, Reims Cathedral is one of a triad of “high gothic” cathedrals built in France at that time, with the other two being Amiens and Chartres (two other cathedrals that are definitely on my list). The original church on the site was actually a basilica built in 496 AD, with a cathedral built on the spot in 1211 (which burned down), and then finally the cathedral we can visit today.
The current cathedral was finished at the end of the 13th century with towers soaring to 267 ft high – although they were originally planned to be even higher- with the south tower containing two huge bells, one of which is called ‘Charlotte’ and weighs 11 tons.
Over the centuries there have been changes made to the original cathedral. First the nave was lengthened to its current 455 ft to make room for growing crowds who attended the coronations. In 1875 there were extensive repairs made to the facade and balustrades to maintain their beauty as a Middle Ages masterpiece. More recently repairs had to be made as the cathedral was damaged in both WWI and WWII.
There are really so many intricate details on this cathedral it can be hard to know where to look first. At the front there are three portals chock full of medieval statues with the central portal dedicated to the Virgin and a “gallery of kings” and a stunning rose-window above the arch over the portal. The facades of the transepts are adorned with even more sculptures like the principal bishops of Reims and a representation of the Last Judgement over the north transept, and the prophets and apostles over the south transept.
Read More: Details of Reims Cathedral
Inside it was much different and the three words I’d use to describe it are- simple, dark, and cold. So cold we could see our breathe the whole time we were inside. I can’t imagine sitting through a service, I’d freeze! I was quite surprised at just how plain it was after the millions of details on the outside. Because we had arrived close to closing time we weren’t able to climb the tower and we were too late to visit the Tau Palace next door and the 9th century Abbey of Saint Remi, all of which makes up the UNESCO site.
City of Reims
After a fairly quick visit to the cathedral we then decided to just ramble around Reims for a little bit so check out the town. For centuries Reims has been a thriving city of France- a principal urban center of Gaul during Roman times, the coronation place of many French kings, known for its textiles since the Middle Ages, and today, the center of a major wine region that specializes in champagne products. In fact a few people asked us if we were in town for “les caves” which we later learned were the cellars for tours and tastings of some famous champagne brands like Pommery, Mumms, and Ruinart. Not being big wine drinkers we actually had no idea this was such a big draw for visitors to this city, but for those that are I bet the tours would be a great way to spend some time in the area.
For us though it was time to head to the grocery story to pick up our dinner, then back to our Airbnb apartment for a relaxing evening with a couple of episodes of Friends and a game of cards, to look forward to another big day of adventures.
For all the information you need to plan your visit to the cathedral please click here.