Tuesday, March 13, 2012



the cathedral of reims

Coming to Reims was the fulfillment, essentially, of all of my French education ever. Combined. This incredibly historic city very unassumingly holds an impressive amount of history in its small borders, the span of over a thousand years of French history all packed into one little city. It was almost more overwhelming than going to Paris, for this history fiend and francophile. I was surrounded by centuries of kings, wars, and conversions, all centralized to the city of Reims.

If we start from the beginning, we find ourselves just after the fall of the Roman Empire, at the end of the 5th century. In 496, Clovis, the Frankish king that ruled the region of modern-day France, was baptized in Reims by Saint Remi, the bishop of the city. This important event in French and Christian history established France as a Catholic Christian country and designated its rulers by the divine right of kings. All future kings could assert that their power was God-given because of His preference as shown by the baptism of Clovis.

clovis baptized by st. remi

st. remi basilica

constantine baptized, christ baptized, clovis baptized

In maintaining the tradition and example set by Clovis, all subsequent kings, except for a few, were crowned in Reims. For centuries, French kings pilgrimaged from Paris (or Versailles) to Reims to be crowned at the Cathedral, even anointed with the holy oil used at Clovis' baptism. This holy chrism is said to have been sent from heaven specifically for Clovis' conversion and baptism and was therefore used for all coronations.

the cathedral

marc chagall windows--he's everywhere

remnants of the damage of WWI

wine-making stained glass windows :)

The Cathedral, where all of these coronations took place, was heavily damaged during WWI. It was basically left in ruins, there was so much bomb damage. The ceiling was completely collapsed, most of the stained glass was shattered, and structural pillars were damaged. Amazing, it only took 20 years to restore the Cathedral to be reopened, in large part thanks to generous donations from the Rockefeller family.

Next door to the Cathedral is a beautiful museum within the Palais du Tau. Formerly the palace of the Archbishop (who crowned the kings and was therefore quite important in France), the Palais is now home to  a museum displaying important artifacts from the French monarchy, including coronation vessels and vestments, and royal garb.

the smiling angel, from the cathedral's façade

tapestries and statues from the cathedral

king charles X's royal coronation robe. 15-18 ft. long.

Reims' influence on French history does not end at the Revolution, with the fall of the monarchy. The most recent mark Reims has made on French--and world--history is directly related to World War II. Reims is in Northeast France, about halfway between Paris and the German border. This position made it a key city on the Western Front. General Eisenhower used this city as his personal military base, with the American military occupying a converted high school and Eisenhower actually living in a nearby hôtel particulier. It is in Reims, on May 7, 1945 that the Germans signed the official surrender of World War II, marking the permanent cease-fire to this war that had ravaged Europe for years.

I was able to visit the wing of the high school that has been turned into the Surrender Museum, and I had the chance to visit the room where the actual surrender was signed, at nearly 3am.

now named Roosevelt High School, since WWII

the German copy of the surrender

the Surrender Room, preserved as it was in 1945

the table, labeled with everyone's names

Seeing this room and being in this museum was one of those rare moment where I could not think, and was just overwhelmed with the gravity and significance of this one room. It is so unassuming, yet so important. What took place in this city in France in the middle of the night in 1945 changed history. So many places in France are historic, but very few are so specifically poignant.

Reims, while appeasing all of the French teachers who have ever imparted their wisdom to me, was the perfect vacation complement to Lucerne. While the landscape was not particularly attractive (as in there were no mountains or lakes in the vicinity...), the history and character of the city was perfect for me. I got my fix of beauty and awe in Lucerne and my equally-important fix of history and intellectual stimulation in Reims.

pax christi.

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