Where to begin? With the carved drapery of the saints around the doorway….
the piglets on the roof…
the soaring stone vaulting and astonishing stained glass…
or the pig-faced bolts on the front door?
Begun in 1211 and finally completed in 1516, the building of Reims cathedral was the life’s work of generations of stone masons, carpenters, metal workers and labourers. The vision of successive master builders established the overall form and style of this extraordinary Gothic building but the details show the mark and character of countless different craftsmen.
Over 2,000 sculptures decorate the cathedral, including 211 larger than life statues, 3 to 4m tall. Originally the statues were painted in bright colours and the fleur-de-lys along the ridge were gilded.
The soaring columns and tall arched windows are impressive to modern eyes but must have seemed out of this world to medieval visitors.
The interior of the cathedral is relatively plain compared to the fantastically decorated exterior. The beautiful lines of the pillars and vaulting don’t need any more ornamentation.
Kings, saints and angels line prominent galleries around the cathedral. Ordinary people, farm animals and fabulous beasts make an appearance in less conspicuous places. Up on the roof where the clergy never ventured the stone carvers’ imagination had free reign.
Repairs and replacements have been continuing ever since the cathedral was completed. These kings, inside the north tower, were carved for the grand gallery of kings over the west door but were rejected because the details of their beards were wrong.
The bells which used to hang in the north tower were casualties of WW1. Their cracked and partly melted remains still lie at the lower level of the tower where they fell.
Rain water from the nave roof runs through two sets of gargoyles before falling well beyond the cathedral walls. Our guide on a tour of the roof explained that the inner row of gargoyles represent domestic animals and wild birds, in thankfulness, while the outer row are fearsome mythical beasts to protect the building from evil spirits.
Two bells still hang in the south tower but they are only rung on special occasions, for fear of weakening the delicate stonework.
When the cathedral came under direct bombardment in 1914, timber scaffolding around the north tower caught fire and the fire quickly spread to the wooden roof structure. Timber was in short supply when rebuilding work started in 1919, so the roof was reconstructed with reinforced concrete beams, faithfully recreating the old structure. This beautiful, shadowy space above the stone vaulting of the knave has the feel of an old up-turned boat. The concrete beams are secured with oak pegs, to give a little flexibility.
(Click on any photo to view the gallery)