The Palace of Tau in Reims, France, was the palace of the Archbishop of Reims. It is located next to Notre-Dame de Riems Cathedral in Reims. It is associated with the Kings of France, whose coronations were held in the nearby cathedral of Notre-Dame de Reims. A large Gallo-Roman villa originally occupied the site of the palace in the 6th and 7th centuries, and the villa later became a Carolingian palace. The first documented use of the name Tau dates to 1131, and derives from the plan of the building, which resembles the letter Τ (tau, in the Greek alphabet). Most of the early building has disappeared: the oldest part remaining is the chapel, from 1207. The building was largely rebuilt in Gothic style between 1498 and 1509, and modified to its present Baroque appearance between 1671 and 1710 by Jules Hardouin-Mansart and Robert de Cotte. It was damaged by a fire on 19 September 1914, and not repaired until after the Second World War. The Palace was the residence of the Kings of France before their coronations in Notre-Dame de Reims. The King was dressed for the coronation at the palace before proceeding to the cathedral; afterwards, a banquet was held at the palace. The first recorded coronation banquet was held at the palace in 990, and the most recent in 1825.
The repairs of the building have left a very clean yet ancient appearance, basically back to the 18th century when Jules Hardouin-Mansart and Robert de Cotte did their Baroque transformation. There is a small (by cathedral standards) but quite functional chapel on the first floor dedicated to Saint Nicolas, built in the 18th century. Directly below this chapel is the original chapel from 1210-1235 dedicated to Saint Pierre (Saint Peter). On the alter, the cross and candle holders were created for the marriage of Napoleon I and Marie Louis, celebrated in 1810 in the chapel of the Château de Tuilaries, in Paris.
These are three of the La Vie de la Vierge (Life of the Virgin) tapestries. Reims was a center of tapestry production in the 16th century. There are 17 of them, but only seven were on display. The writing is in French and Latin although both are difficult to decipher. It may be difficult to appreciate the size of these tapestries, they look to be about 10×10 feet each. The production of this many huge tapestries is a testament to the wealth of the Abby at this time. There have been attempts to link the production of “Life of the Virgin” and “Life of Saint Remi” offered by Archbishop Robert de Lenon-Court in 1530 and 1531 respectively, to local production. Although purely Fench stylistic elements can be seen, a Flemish element is also notable, thus the origin of the cartoon separate from the tapestry should be considered. The statues are from the transepts of the cathedral, the originals from 1210, and represent unidentified kings.
They have a wide array of beautiful tapestries. The bottom two are illustrations from the “Song of Songs” of Solomon, one of my favorite books of the Old Testament. The tapestries reflect the beauty of the poetry of this book, a little faded but still remarkable after all these years; they are from the 17th century. The ancient tapestries reflected the deep faith of the Abby and made me go back to the psalms to re-appreciate their beauty.
During WWI the cathedral was badly damaged by the Germans. Restoration involved replacing many of the original statues which are on display today in the Tau Palace. Although these statues look small when viewed on the cathedral, many are really huge, made this way to adjust for the distance at which they were viewed. The original Palatine Chapel survived from the 13th century (1215-1235) despite the renovations by Jules Hardouin-Mansart and Robert de Cotte between 1671 and 1710, in addition to the damage during WWI. Today the chapel is used as a storage room for pieces dislodged from the cathedral over time as seen above.
The Tau banquet room is as it was in the 12th century. Before and after the coronation there would be huge celebrations attended by hundreds if not thousands of guests. The King not only wanted to receive the blessing of Reims, he wanted everyone who was anyone to see it. As you stand in this room, you feel the history, all the Kings who came here, all the intrigues that got them here and as a distant memory, the royal mortuary at Saint Denis that signaled the next King that would come here.
These enormous and exquisite tapestries depicting the tumultuous life of the early Frankish King Clovis are unfortunately little known. In 1468 they decorated the hall during the festivities of Charles the Bold’s marriage with Margaret of York. Only two out of six have survived. Woven in Tournai or Arras around 1450, an archaizing style was chosen to make the scenes look as though they really took place in the 5th century. In the 15th century an archaized scene meant that people were portrayed wearing contemporary clothes made to look old adding strange decorations, e.g. lions’ heads, turbans, pointed helmets and a lot of curls and flutings. To the left of each tapestry are scenes from the life of Clovis and to the right are battle scenes from the siege of Soissons.
I have enlarged the left pieces of the tapestry showing the coronation of Clovis and his marriage to Clotilde. In the background of the marriage scene (to the right above), they are building the Church of the Apostles or Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, afterwards known as the Abbey of St Genevieve in Paris.
Because the tapestries were created in the 15th century, warfare was depicted in 15th century experience including early guns, called handgonnes and cannon. Gunpowder was introduced into Europe in the 13th century, there were certainly no guns in the 5th century of Clovis. Because gunpowder was introduced via Arabic sources, the people wielding the handgonnes above are dark-skinned. Also note the flag and standard with the frog, the animal symbol of Clovis. In the 12th century, either King Louis VI or King Louis VII (sources disagree) became the first French monarch to use the fleur-de-lis on his shield. The French monarchy adopted the Fleur-de-lis for their royal coat of arms as a symbol of purity on the conversion of Clovis I by his wife Clotilde. According to tradition, on the eve of the Battle of Tolbiac against the Alamanni in 496, Clovis prayed to God, swearing to be baptised if he emerged victorious on the battlefield. When he did indeed triumph, Clovis readily took the faith and was baptized by Saint Remi. With him, Clotilde built at Paris the Church of the Holy Apostles, afterwards known as the Abbey of St Genevieve. There are varying versions of the legend, but in most Clovis originally had three frogs on his standard, but was trapped by the Goths and desperately looking for a ford when he spotted yellow iris growing the river, a sign that the water was shallow. In gratitude he traded his frogs for flowers. Another tradition has Clovis trading his frogs/toads for flowers on his conversion to Christianity, both legends are probably not true.
The Battle of Soissons was fought in 486 between Frankish forces under Clovis I and the Gallo-Roman domain of Soissons under Syagrius. The battle was a victory for the Franks, and led to the conquest of the Roman rump state (cut off from other Roman territories) of Soissons, a milestone for the Franks in their attempt to establish themselves as a major regional power. The successful acquisition of Soissons effectively doubled the area controlled by the Franks and made Clovis a major power in Central Europe. This is an area encompassing Paris, Reims and parts of the Loire Valley which would continue to be important throughout French history.
They have a model of what the cathedral was originally supposed to look like, with spires on top of the towers. They never got around to building the spires, I think it looks pretty good as it is. The Tau Palace is a really interesting place to visit and is a must if you visit Reims.
Guns, Gunpowder and Longbows: /guns-gunpowder-and-longbows-during-the-hundred-years-war/