In 750, Archbishop Tilpin installed a community of Benedictine monks to guide pilgrims to the relics of Saint Remi. Thus began a monastic life that lasted a thousand years. Different successive abbots undertook many expansions and enrichment works which made the present Basilica of Saint-Remi gradually take shape. Of these changes over several centuries, the building retained various influences, from Romanesque to Renaissance through the Gothic movement. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Saint-Remi Basilica is a collection of history and art which should not be missed. The 11th century Romanesque nave was lengthened by two transepts at the end of the 12th century to render it accessible to a greater number of pilgrims. At the same time, the facade was reconstructed, while a choir ambulatory and radiating chapels were created. While the Gothic style is apparent in these transformations, they in no way altered the homogeneity and serenity of the church. It contains Saint Remi's tomb, a collection of 12th century stained-glass windows and a Cattiaux grand organ, inaugurated in the year 2000. Saint-Remi was a great fortified monastery going back the 4th and 5th-centuries that held the Saint-Ampoule – with the unction used in the coronations of the Kings of France and the burial place of Saint-Remi. The old galleried nave with its wooden roof is thought to resemble that of many similar great churches in the North including, for example, Jumièges. The chevet figures importantly in the story of early gothic architecture. The delicacy of the slender columns refers to Suger's chevet at Saint Denis.
In 1005 the Abbot Aviard undertook the task to rebuild the church of St-Remy, and for twenty years the work went on uninterrupted before the vaulting collapsed, no doubt from insufficient buttressing. Abbot Theodoric erected the magnificent surviving basilica which Pope Leo IX dedicated in 1049 and to which he granted many privileges. The abbey library and its schools were of such high repute that Pope Alexander III wrote a commendatory letter to the Abbot Peter, which survives. During WWI the basilica was hit directly by German artillery. The process of rebuilding the basilica required new stained glass windows. Most of the stained glass was destroyed during WWI, the remaining ones are the windows of the second and third levels, the rose window behind the choir (the North Rose Window) and five more windows across from the choir.
These two stained glass windows on the southern transept were replaced after the two World Wars.
Like all cathedrals, Saint Remi Basilica has a number of side chapels. The Lamentation of Jesus is presented in two versions, an older prone Jesus with original stained glass behind and a more modern version with Christ on Mary's lap. In addition we have the miracle of the Holy Ampoule and the baptism of Clovis.
The years of around 1170 to 1180 brought further rebuilding, this time to the choir. The purpose of replacing the short eastern section of the Romanesque church was to create a grander and more spacious interior for the shrine of St Remi. The shrine was detached from its previous location, next to the altar, and moved further east, into the choir.
The reason everyone visits the Saint Remi Basilica is to see the tomb of Saint Remi, rebuilt in 1847. The basilica was badly damaged during WWI and the present Tomb of Saint Remi is a modern recreation of the original although the statues are considered to be original. When the choir collapsed, the sarcophagus of Saint Remi was removed unharmed and stored at Chalons. The twelve figures represent life size representations of the premier peers of France. The Count of Champagne, and the Archbishop of Reims flank the baptism scene on each side. The figures to the left are the Duke of Normandy, Duke of Burgundy, Duke of Aquitine (also called the Duke of Guyenne), Count of Toulouse, Count of Flanders. On the other side, the Bishop of Langres, Bishop of Beauvais, Bishop of Châlons, Bishop of Noyon and the Bishop of Laon. These twelve peerages are known as the ancient peerage or pairie ancienne, and the number 12 is sometimes said to have been chosen to mirror the 12 paladins of Charlemagne in the Chanson de geste. Parallels may also be seen with mythical Knights of the Round Table under King Arthur. So popular was this notion, that for a long time people thought peerage had originated in the reign of Charlemagne, who was considered the model king and shining example for knighthood and nobility.
Medieval French kings conferred the dignity of a peerage on some of their pre-eminent vassals, both clerical and lay. Some historians consider Louis VII (1137–1180) to have created the French system of peers. The French word pairie is equivalent to the English “peerage”. The individual title, pair in French and “peer” in English, derives from the Latin par, “equal”; it signifies those noblemen and prelates considered to be equal to the monarch in honor (even though they were his vassals), and it considers the monarch thus to be primus inter pares, or “first among equals”. The dozen pairs played a role in the royal sacre or consecration, during the liturgy of the coronation of the king, attested to as early as 1179, symbolically upholding his crown, and each original peer had a specific role, often with an attribute. Since the peers were never twelve during the coronation (due to the fact that most lay peerages were forfeited to or merged in the crown), delegates were chosen by the king, mainly from the princes of the blood. This paralleled the arch-offices attached to the electorates, the even more prestigious and powerful first college in the Holy Roman Empire, the other heir of Charlemagne's Frankish empire. The twelve original peers were divided in two classes, six clerical peers hierarchically above the six lay peers, which were themselves divided in two, three dukes above three counts.
Outside the south portal, a recent sculpture of Saint Remi baptizing Clovis was done on the 15th Centuary of the death of Clovis. The Basilica of Saint Remi is a place to visit if you come to Reims.
Parish of Saint Remi: http://stremi-reims.cef.fr
The Nobility of France: http://www.almanachdegotha.org/id211.html