Although it did take one year after the terrible fire that ravaged the Carolingian cathedral on 6 May, 1210, and all of Archbishop Aubry de Humbert's determination for it to be built on top of the foundations, construction on what would be the city's future religious masterpiece began and advanced quickly between 1220 and 1230.
During this time, the five eastern bays, the walls on the western side from the aisle to the transept, and the aisles of the nave (thus protecting the old, narrower nave, where mass was held until 1228) were built.
Two royal coronations even took place here. The first one in 1223 saw the accession of Louis VIII, and the second in 1226 of the future Saint Louis, Louis IX.
Between 1233 and 1236, the disorder that opposed the inhabitants and their ecclesiastical masters considerably slowed down progress on the works. They were also probably at the origin of the renunciation of the construction of the double aisles in the nave, of the installation of the lateral chapels in the buttresses of the nave, and the construction project of the spires.
Once this period was over, the choir and the transept were finally completed in 1241 and a temporary wall was built to separate the sanctuary from the construction work on the nave. The western side of the cathedral was built independently of the rest of the building, and in 1245 the new façade was raised some twenty metres from the former one which was still present. It wasn't until the first half of the 15th century that the cathedral was completed with the raising of the two towers.
The remarkable architecture of the cathedral.
The doorways on the western façade:
the central one is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and is topped with a gable representing the 'Crowning of the Virgin by Christ', the gable over the right doorway depicts 'The Final Judgement', while the one on the left is dedicated to the 'Passion of Christ', with the crucified Christ framing the Virgin and St. John.
Looking at these sculptures, you can distinguish the work of several different workshops spread out over half a century. The influences came from the sculptures of Chartres, Amiens, and antique art.
The 'Rémois' workshop is remarkable for the 'Champenois' style it created and is in particular responsible for the sculpture of the smiling angel marking the apex of this style.
The 'Saints door' (built around 1220-1230, on which Saints Remi and Clovis, St. Nicasius and his sister, and St. Eutropie are represented), the 'Final Judgement' door (built between 1225 and 1230, with Christ blessing St. John, St. James the Greater and St. Paul on the right, and St. Peter, St. Andrew and St. Bartholomew on the left), and the 'Roman' door (built around 1160-1170, until the 18th century it was integrated into the gallery of the cloister of the canons and presents significant polychromic vestiges dating from the last third of the 12th century) make up the doors of the northern façade.
The Reims Cathedral distinguishes itself from other large French cathedrals (Chartres, Soissons and Amiens) by its different layout, the length of its nave, and the nave of the transept (composed of triples aisles in other cathedrals) made up of double aisles over three bays of the choir.
Destroyed in 1779, upon request by a chapter who could no longer stand seeing children playing there during mass, the maze of black marble, which was embedded in the paving of the third and fourth bays of the nave, was created to glorify the work of the architects.
Before its destruction, the faithful moved along it on their knees as a sign of penance. The silhouettes of the four architects (Jean d'Orbais, Jean Le loup, Gaucher de Reims and Bernard de Soissons) were represented here on angles and could be identified thanks to lead markings. After many discussions, it was decided not to make a permanent recreation of this maze (due to too many difficulties complicating the project). The idea was to propose a reversible reconstitution thanks to a projection of light on the ground upon request of the people.
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