Reims (Rheims) - Encyclopedia

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REIMS (RHEIMS), a city of north-eastern France, chief town of an arrondissement of the department of Marne, 98 m. E.N.E. of Paris, on the Eastern railway. Pop. (1906) 102,800. Reims is situated in a plain on the right bank of the Vesle, a tributary of the Aisne, and on the canal which connects the Aisne with the Marne. South and west rise the "montagne de Reims" and vine-clad hills. Reims is limited S.W. by the Vesle and the canal, N.W. by promenades which separate it from the railway and in other directions by boulevards lined with fine residences. Beyond extend large suburbs, the chief of which are Ceres to the N.E., Coutures to the E., Laon to the N. and Vesle to the W. Of its squares the principal are the Place Royale, with a statue of Louis XV., and the place du Parvis, with an equestrian statue of Joan of Arc. The rue de Vesle, the chief street, continued under other names, traverses the town from S.W. to N.W., passing through the Place Royale.

The oldest monument in Reims is the Mars Gate (so called from a temple to Mars in the neighbourhood), a triumphal arch 108 ft. in length by 43 in height, consisting of three archways flanked by columns. It is popularly supposed to have been erected by the Remi in honour of Augustus when Agrippa made the great roads terminating at the town, but probably belongs to the 3rd or 4th century. In its vicinity a curious mosaic, measuring 36 ft. by 26, with thirty-five medallions representing animals and gladiators, was discovered in 1860. To these remains must be added a GalloRoman sarcophagus, said to be that of the consul Jovinus (see below) and preserved in the archaeological museum in the cloister of the abbey of St Remi. The cathedral of Notre-Dame, where the kings of France used to be crowned, replaced an older church (burned in 1211) built on the site of the basilica where Clovis was baptized by St Remigius. The cathedral, with the exception of the west front, was completed by the end of the 13th century. That portion was erected in the 14th century after 13th-century designs - the nave having in the meantime been lengthened to afford room for the crowds that attended the coronations. In 1481 fire destroyed the roof and the spires. In 1875 the National Assembly voted 80,000 for repairs of the facade and balustrades. This facade is the finest portion of the building, and one of the most perfect masterpieces of the middle ages. The three portals are laden with statues and statuettes. The central portal, dedicated to the Virgin, is surmounted by a rose-window framed in an arch itself decorated with statuary. The "gallery of the kings" above has the baptism of Clovis in the centre and statues of his successors. The towers, 267 ft. high, were originally designed to rise 394 ft.; that on the south contains two great bells, one of which, named "Charlotte" by Cardinal de Lorraine in 1570, weighs more than 11 tons. The facades of the transepts are also decorated with sculptures - that on the north with statues of the principal bishops of Reims, a representation of the Last Judgment and a figure of Christ (le Beau Dieu) while that on the south side has a beautiful rose-window with the prophets and apostles. Of the four towers which flanked the transepts nothing remains above the height of the roof since the fire of 1481. Above the choir rises an elegant bell-tower in timber and lead, 59 ft. high, reconstructed in the 15th century. The interior of the cathedral is 455 ft. long, 98 ft. wide in the nave, and 125 ft. high in the centre, and comprises a nave with aisles, transepts with aisles, a choir with double aisles, and an apse with deambulatory and radiating chapels. It has a profusion of statues similar to those of the outside, and stained glass of the 13th century. The rose-window over the main portal and the gallery beneath are of rare magnificence. The cathedral possesses fine tapestries. Of these the most important series is that presented by Robert de Lenoncourt, archbishop under Francis I., representing the life of the Virgin. The north transept contains a fine organ in a Flamboyant Gothic case. The choir clock is ornamented with curious mechanical figures. Several paintings, by Tintoretto, Nicolas Poussin, and others, and the carved woodwork and the railings of the choir, also deserve mention. The treasury contains the Sainte Ampoule, or holy flask, the successor of the ancient one broken at the Revolution (see below), a fragment of which it contains.

The archiepiscopal palace, built between 1498 and 1509, and in part rebuilt in 1675, was occupied by the kings on the occasion of their coronation. The saloon (salle du Tau), where the royal banquet was held, has an immense stone chimney of the 15th century, medallions of the archbishops of Reims, and portraits of fourteen kings crowned in the city. Among the other rooms of the royal suite, all of which are of great beauty and richness, is that now used for the meetings of the Reims Academy; the building also contains a library. The chapel of the archiepiscopal palace consists of two storeys, of which the upper still serves as a place of worship. Both the chapel and the salle du Tau are decorated with tapestries of the 17th century, known as the Perpersack tapestries, after the Flemish weaver who executed them.

After the cathedral, which it almost equals in size, the most celebrated church is St Remi, once attached to an important abbey, the buildings of which are used as a hospital. St Remi dates from the 11th, 12th, 13th and 15th centuries. The nave and transepts, Romanesque in style, date mainly from the earliest, the façade of the south transept from the latest, of those periods, the choir and apse chapels from the 12th and 13th centuries. The valuable monuments with which the church was at one time filled were pillaged during the Revolution, and even the tomb of the saint is a modern work; but there remain the 12th-century glass windows of the apse and tapestries representing the history of St Remigius, given by Robert de Lenoncourt. The churches of St Jacques, St Maurice (partly rebuilt in 1867), St Andre, and St Thomas (erected from 1847 to 1853, under the patronage of Cardinal Gousset, now buried within its walls), are all of minor interest. Of the fine church of St Nicaise only insignificant remains are to be seen.

The town hall, erected in the 17th and enlarged in the 19th century, has a pediment with an equestrian statue of Louis XIII. and a tall and elegant campanile. It contains a picture gallery, ethnographical, archaeological and other collections, and the public library. There are many old houses, the House of the Musicians (13th century) being so called from the seated figures of musicians which decorate the front.

In 1874 the construction of a chain of detached forts was begun in the vicinity, Reims being selected as one of the chief defences of the northern approaches of Paris. The ridge of St Thierry is crowned with a fort of the same name, which with the neighbouring work of Chenay closes the west side of the place. To the north the hill of Brimont has three works guarding the Laon railway and the Aisne canal. Farther east, on the old Roman road, lies the fort de Fresnes. Due east the hills of Arnay are crowned with five large and important works which cover the approaches from the upper Aisne. Forts Pompelle and Montbre close the south-east side, and the Falaise hills on the Paris side are open and unguarded. The perimeter of the defences is not quite 22 m., and the forts are a mean distance of 6 m. from the centre of the city.

Reims is the seat of an archbishop, a court of assize and a sub-prefect. It is an important centre for the combing, carding and spinning of wool and the weaving of flannel, merino, cloth and woollen goods of all kinds, these industries employing some 24,000 hands; dyeing and "dressing" are also carried on. It is the chief wool market in France, and has a "conditioning house" which determines the loss of weight resulting from the drying of the wool. The manufacture of and trade in champagne is also very important. The wine is stored in large cellars tunnelled in the chalk. Other manufactures are machinery, chemicals, safes, capsules, bottles, casks, candles, soap and paper. The town is well known for. its cakes and biscuits.


Before the Roman conquest Reims, as Durocortorum, was capital of the Remi, from whose name that of the town was subsequently derived. The Remi made voluntary submission to the Romans, and by their fidelity throughout the various Gallic insurrections secured the special favour of their conquerors. Christianity was established in the town by the middle of the 3rd century, at which period the bishopric was founded. The consul Jovinus, an influential supporter of the new faith, repulsed the barbarians who invaded Champagne in 336; but the Vandals captured the town in 406 and slew St Nicasus, and Attila afterwards put it to fire and sword. Clovis, after his victory at Soissons (486), was baptized at Reims in 496 by St Remigius. Later kings desired to be consecrated at Reims with the oil of the sacred phial which was believed to have been brought from heaven by a dove for the baptism of Clovis and was preserved in the abbey of St Remi. Meetings of Pope Stephen III. with Pippin the Short, and of Leo III. with Charlemagne, took place at Reims; and here Louis the Debonnaire was crowned by Stephen IV. Louis IV. gave the town and countship of Reims to the archbishop Artaldus in 940. Louis VII. gave the title of duke and peer to William of Champagne, archbishop from 1176 to 1202, and the archbishops of Reims took precedence of the other ecclesiastical peers of the realm. In the 10th century Reims had become a centre of intellectual culture, Archbishop Adalberon, seconded by the monk Gerbert (afterwards Pope Silvester II.), having founded schools where the "liberal arts" were taught. Adalberon was also one of the prime authors of the revolution which put the Capet house in the place of the Carolingians. The most important prerogative of the archbishops was the consecration of the kings of France - a privilege which was exercised, except in a few cases, from the time of Philip Augustus to that of Charles X. Louis VII. granted the town a communal charter in 1139. The treaty of Troyes (1420) ceded it to the English, who had made a futile attempt to take it by siege in 1360; but they were expelled on the approach of Joan of Arc, who in 1429 caused Charles VII. to be consecrated in the cathedral. A revolt at Reims, caused by the salt tax in 1461, was cruelly repressed by Louis XI. The town sided with the League (1585), but submitted to Henry IV. after the battle of Ivry. In the foreign invasions of 1814 it was captured and recaptured; in 1870-71 it was made by the Germans the seat of a governor-general and impoverished by heavy re- quisitions.

See G. Marlot, Histoire de la ville, cite et universite de Reims, 4 vols. (Reims, 18 43-4 6); J. Justinus (Baron I. Taylor), La Ville de Reims (Paris, 1854).

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