Thursday, June 9, 2011

My Day in Reims

Today was another entertaining, educational, and inspiring day - as many have been. With only one full day in each city from now on, I will have to choose carefully what I want to see.

I started today with a visit to the Basilica of Saint Remi. I had not heard of it before. But Antoine, the sacristan at St. Jacques church, told me with such enthusiasm that I should not miss it. So I took his advice. What a treat!

Saint Remi was Bishop of Reims in the 5th century. He was known for his great intellect, his skill in preaching, and his great kindness and charity. He baptized the Clovis, King of the Francs in the baptistry of a cathedral that existed on the same place as the 12th century current basilica. Recent archaeology onder the cathedral has discovered the site of the baptistry and today there is a small plaque in the floor in the center of the nave marking the place. Clovis' wife, Saint Clothilda was already a believer and the conversion of the King is credited to her prayer and the bishop's ministry. This set into motion the place of the church in the future nation of France.

I arrived just as the 11:15 Mass was ending. A few minutes after the priest had left the altar, the organ music began. a group of about 40 people were seated in the center of the nave in front of the big pipe organ. I later learned that it was a group of German organists and organ enthusiasts on "pilgrimage" visiting the great organs of northern France. Traveling with them are organists of some reputation in Germany who each take a turn giving a short recital. That was a real bonus. I decided to just walk around the church, let the sounds and sights inspire.

The facade of the basilica of St. Remi. This church is considered one of the great examples of an integrated Romanesque and Gothic styles of the early 12th century Romanesque is generally characterized by the round arches; Gothic by the pointed arches. In this style, while the arches are pointed, they are not the tall points of the later pure gothic to be used in the cathedral. You'll see below when I get to the visit of the Cathedral.  
A view of the nave towards the sanctuary. The vaulting of the ceiling is a les pointed arch. The rows of arches at the lower level are round. This is typical of the blended Roman/Gothic style.
A better view of the sides of the nave with the round arches inside the pointed gothic details above.
The grand organ suspended from the side of the nave. Most of the pipes are actually on the gallery behind the pipes. This gallery runs all along the side of the nave. The organist is seated behind the lower set of pipes. Where you see the light glowing between the levels of pipes, there is the console.
The main altar and the apse with the ambulatory surrounding it. The small structure in the center behind the altar is the mausoleum of Saint Remi.

In the midst of the grandeur, the soaring vaults, the massive columns, the huge space, one finds everywhere small spaces tucked away in the edges of the side chapels. This one especially moved me. A tiny chapel off the transept contains only a votive candle stand and a medieval sculpture of the suffering Christ, head crowned with thorns, hands and feet bound, whip marks across his body, and pain evident in his face. He is alone. There is no other figure with him. I am guessing, because I found no commentary in the guide book about it, that it is the moment after the scourging and crowning with thorns. It is as though He is alone with his thoughts and the knowledge that the fullfillment of his earthly ministry is about to come to an end. Home-prepared bouquets and a potted plant were the only ornaments in this space smaller than our adoration chapel at SJN.

Another "Calvaire" in another small side chapel.
The Ambulatory. In an architectural basilica, the side ailes continue around the back of the sanctuary. It allows you to walk around the back of the altar and reach the other side of the church. The only example of this we have in the Fall River Diocese is St. Anne's Church, Fall River.
The "crown", the only light hanging in the basilica is about 15 feet in diameter. It contains 96 candles, one for every year of St. Remi's life.
A sculpture behind the tomb of St. Remi depicting him anointing Clovis after his baptism.
The baptistry in the basilica. The sign hanging on the wall says, "pierres vivantes". It is the second of two sign, the other hanging out of view on the left wall. The whole phrase says, "Vous etes les pierres vivantes" which means, You are the living stones. In a space where you are surrounded with all this masonry, it is an apt image for reflection in the space where initiation into the church occurs.
After the visit to St. Remi, I had a bit of lunch at another great little discovery, a piano bar located across the sreet from the basilica. The staff was very friendly and welcoming. A little light jazz and piano music starting tonight at 9. I may have found my venue for dinner.

After lunch, I took the bus towards the cathedral.

I am going to add on to this post later. Check in again for the rest of it.
I'm heading out for dinner.
A bientot.

WEnt out for dinner last night to the same spot I had lunch.

Had a wonderful time. I got a table right next to the pianist, who was a university student majoring in music. Played both piano and the acordion. After we started to chat, he segued into "New York, New York", which brought about 5 patron from the other room to stand around the piano. Not knowing there was an American there, they struggled through the verses.
I had had enough. I went up to stand next to the pianist who was grinning at what was about to happen. I said, "On commence encore". And the pianist and I started in on the song all over again. Anyway, I spent the rest of the evening with these folks.

The highlight was at 11PM, when it finally got dark out, the "spectacle" was a out to begin. The whole bar emptied and went out into the street facing the Cathedral which is only one block away. To celebreate the 800th Anniversary of the dedication of the Cathedral, there is a lazer show on the facade. It lasted about 30 minutes and included images of the whole cathedral in beautiful color. One thing I learned today, is that most of the grey stone cathedrals we see today were not first built that way. They polychrome, that is painted in bright colors. Statues highlighted, arches defined, reliefs, windows, all brightly colored. The light show included a range of music including chant, medieval organum, rennaissance polyphony, and contemporary original compositions. It was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen.

Here is a picture that I had to take my life in my hands to obtain. Standing in the middle of the busy street facing the cathedral, I had to wait for the traffic lights to change and the busses to get out of the way.

Reims Cathedral
On the south side.
The north-west corner showing the recent cleaning. It was purposely left this way to show people the future effect of the restoration. The work has begun at the rear of the cathedral.
Detail of the portal in the facade.
The nave
I took the tower tour. There was the guide, Pauline, and two young women. It gave us lenty of time to explore and ask many questions. This is the attic. In WW I, the Germans bombed the cathedral, for two reasons. The towers provided a strategic lookout point to observe the movement of troops, and the cathedral's destruction was a symbolic strike at the heart of the city. In the fire, the roof collapsed but most of the walls remained intact. Our tour guide, Pauline, explained that the cost of the reconstrution of the roof was underwritten by a donation from John D. Rockefeller, JR. In the donation, there were two stipulations: The materials to be used must be modern and non-combustible. So an intricates system of steel reinforced plates, pieced together like a 3-D puzzle forms the "inverted ship hull" designed in the traditional gothic arch to support the roof. The stone vaulting seen inside from the floor is below this catwalk. The second stipulation was that the peak of the roof must be decorated with a row of "fleur-de-lis".
The space above the crossing of the nave and transepts. This supports the central tower housing the 14 bells, the largest weighing 2 tons.
View of the city from the roof.
Looking down on the flying buttresses.
Lest we think the medieval's had no sense of humor. The workers were allowed to carve and place caricatures of their own faces as their signature on the masterpiece they helped create.
The north side.
Our guide, Pauline, did a wonderful job in her explanations. She took this photo standing on the south transept.
The double rose windows in the facade. View from the interior.
The organ free-standing in the nave.
Today I head farther north to Lille, then its west-bound to Normandy and Brittany.