Reims, the epicenter of power

If you wanted legitimacy as a monarch in France, it was essential that you be crowned in Reims, which makes it a pretty important place.

In 496, Remigius, the bishop of Reims, baptized Clovis, King of the Franks, using the oil of a sacred phial – purportedly brought from heaven by a dove for the baptism of Clovis and subsequently preserved in the Basilica of Saint-Remi. For centuries the events at the crowning of Clovis became a symbol used by the monarchy to claim the divine right to rule. Today we saw the Basilica and the tomb of Saint Remi, Both withstood the terrible devastation of WWI, one of the many horrors Reims has survived – including being burned by Attila the Hun in 451.

But nothing can really top the Cathedral of Reims, the platform from which so many reigns were begun. Our heroine Joan brought her Dauphin here, and she is much remembered.

The Cathedral is spectacular and a fitting place for the many royal ceremonies which took place with its walls. The central part of the facade, including the famous Rose window, is under renovation, but there is still much to admire. We watched the figures on the 15th century clock rotate at noon, and saw the spot where Saint Remi baptized Clovis. And then there is the altar, on which, since 987, the kings of France were crowned , with just a few exceptions. It was marvelous.

Next to the cathedral is the Palace of Tau, home to the archbishops of Reims. The first documented use of the name dates to 1131, and derives from the plan of the building, which resembles the letter T in the Greek alphabet. The Palace was the residence of the kings of France before their coronation. 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 in 990, and the most recent in 1825.

The palace houses statuary and tapestries from the cathedral, together with other objects associated with the coronation of the French kings. Evidently, they have 28 coronation robes in their collection. We saw Charles X’s robe, along with his official portrait wearing it. Pretty exciting, as was the collection of reliquaries and other French treasures. How about the talisman worn by Charlemagne, with a thorn from the crown of thorns?

There was one other major focus of power and glory we witnessed, and it was quite thrilling. In Reims, at 2:41 on the morning of May 7 1945, General Eisenhower and the Allies received the unconditional surrender of the Germans. General Alfred Jodl, German Chief-of-Staff, signed the surrender here at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces.

Then, as now, the building in which this event happened was a school, afterwards named for FDR. But in that year, it served a very different purpose. We stood in the map room where the signing occurred, which was announced to the world the next day. Today, the usual gang of teenagers grace its steps.

If the walls of Reims could talk….

They might talk about our lovely lunch at Brasserie du Boulingrin. What a  meal, from the Kir Royale and the amuse bouche to the dessert.

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