In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Notre-Dame Cathedral of Reims

  • Introduction
  • Primary Sources/References
  • General Overviews
  • Anthologies
  • Monographs
  • Part of a Survey
  • Architecture: Before the 13th Century
  • The Architects
  • The 13th-Century Structure
  • Design: Geometry
  • The Reims Palimpsest (Archives de la Marne, G666)
  • Villard de Honnecourt (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS Fr. 19093)
  • Historical Images
  • Stained Glass

Architecture Planning and Preservation Notre-Dame Cathedral of Reims
Nancy Wu
  • LAST REVIEWED: 01 March 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190922467-0013


The Notre-Dame Cathedral of Reims is one of the most important masterpieces in the history of architecture. Considered a paradigm of the French Gothic style, it is an immense structure designed with a sophisticated vision and constructed with innovative techniques. Traditionally believed to have begun in 1211, a year after a documented fire destroyed the previous cathedral (these dates have been challenged recently, see Prache 2005, cited under the 13th-Century Structure), the building is known for its stylistic uniformity and spacious compactness. Four architects, whose names are famously inscribed in the now-destroyed labyrinth (itself now serves as the logo of the monuments historiques), guided the construction through the 1290s. Views of the cathedral, still under construction, were included in Villard de Honnecourt’s drawings. A number of architectural elements associated with the French Gothic originated at Reims (bar tracery and wall passages), and the cathedral’s imposing west facade is decorated with such iconic images as the Visitation Group and the Smiling Angel. The mid-1230s work stoppage caused by civil unrest forced the workshops to seek employment elsewhere, thereby dispersing the rémois sculptural style especially in German-speaking lands. Much of the 13th-century stained glass on the upper levels has survived, decorated with complex ecclesiastical and royal iconography; similar narratives also appear in sculptures. The cathedral stands at the center of an elaborate archiepiscopal complex, with the archbishop’s palace (now the museum Palais du Tau) to its south and the claustral complex (demolished) to its north and east. In 496, according to Gregory of Tours, the Merovingian king Clovis was baptized by bishop Remi at the cathedral, an event that would lead to the privilege bestowed exclusively on archbishops of Reims to anoint and crown French kings. The historical and political significance of Reims Cathedral, especially its association with French identity both as a quintessential French Gothic building and as the coronation cathedral, was held hostage during World War I when German bombardment caused serious, often irreparable damage. Repair beginning at the end of World War I accidentally exposed foundations of earlier, pre-13th-century structures. The ensuing excavation and restoration work, meticulously documented, uncovered hitherto unknown archaeological information about pre-13th-century cathedrals. More than a century after the start of World War I, gestures of Franco-German reconciliation continue to unfold at Reims.

Primary Sources/References

Reims Cathedral has been the see of the diocese since the 3rd century; the diocese was elevated to archbishopric in the 8th century. Since the Carolingian period its archbishops have enjoyed enormous prestige within the ecclesiastical structure and with the monarchy (Flodoard of Reims 1854 and Flodoard of Reims 1905), especially for gaining the exclusive privilege to officiate the coronation rites which, since the 12th century, were almost all held inside the cathedral (Marlot 1843). Little wonder that its history has been documented or compiled by multiple authors, from the general history of the cathedral and the city (Cocquault 1650), to the liturgical records (Chevalier 1900), and centuries of clergy serving at the cathedral (Desportes 1998).

  • Chevalier, Ulysse. Martyrologe, Calendrier, Ordinaires, et Prosaire de La Métropole de Reims (VIIIe-XIIIe Siécles). Paris: A. Picard, 1900.

    Known as one of the most important bibliographers of all times Chevalier (1841–1923) is the author of numerous monumental works devoted to the history of different regions or monasteries throughout France. His work on Reims provides not only calendars and texts as the title indicates, but also information such as the rearrangement of the Carolingian interior by archbishop Adalbéron (969–989).

  • Cocquault, Pierre. Table chronologique extraité sur l’histoire de l’église, ville, et province de Reims. Reims, France: F. Bernard, 1650.

    Cocquault (d. 1645) was a canon in Reims. As the title implies, this is a detailed table chronicling the history of the cathedral, its clergy, and events taking place at the cathedral. Items concerning the 13th-century cathedral begin on page 278, the year 1211, when the cathedral “fut brûlée” (was burned).

  • Desportes, Pierre, ed. Fasti Ecclesiae Gallicanae: Répertoire Prosopographique des Évêques, Dignitaires et Chanoines de France de 1200 à 1500. Vol. 3, Diocèse de Reims. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 1998.

    The bulk of this volume is a six-hundred-page list of the biographies of the archbishops, canons, and other clergy members in the Diocese of Reims. It also includes informative essays about the ecclesiastical organization of the diocese, the stained glass in the chevet donated by archbishop Henri de Braine (1227–1240), the cathedral library, and the adjacent cloister (the latter two demolished).

  • Flodoard of Reims. Flodoardi Historia Remensis Ecclesiæ. Histoire de l’église de Reims. Reims, France: P. Regnier, imprimeur de l’Académie, 1854.

    A 10th-century canon and archivist of Reims Cathedral, Flodoard (b. 893/4–d. 966) documents in his Historia information during the archiepiscopacies of Ebbon (r. 816–835), who initiated the construction of the Carolingian church, and of Hincmar (r. 845–882), who completed it. He also describes how Louis the Pious (b. 778–d. 840) helped advance the cathedral’s construction and expand its precinct.

  • Flodoard of Reims. Les Annales de Flodoard, Publiées d’après Les Manuscrits. Paris: A. Picard et fils, 1905.

    Floddard’s Annales, which chronicles the affairs of Reims from 919 until his death, is an important eyewitness account of 10th century religious and political history.

  • Marlot, Guillaume. Histoire de La Ville, Cité et Université de Reims Métropolitaine de La Gaule Belgique, Divisée en Douze Livres, Contenant l’estat Ecclésiastique et Civil du Païs. Reims, France: L. Jacquet, 1843.

    This is the French version of a monumental collection on the history of Reims by Guillaume Marlot (1596–1667), prior of the abbey of St.-Nicaise in Reims who also wrote a version in Latin (Metropolis Remensis Historia) that was published posthumously. His texts are important sources for the history and evolution of the coronation rite.

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