Thursday, 18 August 2011

Early Morning in Reims

North Tower of Basilica St Remi
Last monday I arrived in Reims, having enjoyed the luxury of being driven from Paris Gare du Nord to the city along 90 miles of the Marne, the valley dappled in sunlight and freshened by a light wind that should please Champagne's growers, who are tense and preoccupied with the start of the harvest next week. It is quite understandable that they are anxious, as  a glorious spring and perfect June has been followed by a cold wet July and a changeable early August. So, after a good night's sleep, I rose early on tuesday morning to calm my mind by visiting one of my favourite churches, the Basilica St Remi, which has at least as strong a link to the heart of Champenois culture as Reim's great Cathedral of Notre Dame.

The one thousand-year-old Basilica takes its name from St Remi, one of the seminal figures of the early medieval French church who became Bishop of Reims at the age of 22. Later, in 493 AD he famously baptised the pagan Clovis, King of the Franks, after the monarch had been nagged into taking the plunge by his Christian wife. Remi lived on well into his 'nineties, the memory of him still jogged today  every time you look upwards to the crown of 96 candles in the Choir.

side chapel
The Benedictines started to build their great church around 1000AD and though there was a delay due to lack of funds, the Basilica was completed and consecrated by Pope St Leon IX in 1043. Despite the ravages and depredations of nine centuries - most of the monks' treasures were lost during the Great War of 1914 -1918 - it remains a peach of the Romanesque style, the walls of the Great Nave, its side chapels and the North Tower still intact. Above all, it is wonderfully atmospheric instilling a sense of calm perspective, as one steps out into the real world of Climate Change, economic turmoil and rioting on the streets of my beloved England.

Tomb of St Remi

Nave & North rose window

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