[5] REIMS - Power and the Kingdom: Coronation, Saint Denis, and Nave Stained Glass

Bibliography Power and the Kingdom: Coronation, Saint Denis, and Nave Stained Glass

Primary Sources

Varin, Pierre, Archives administratives de la ville de Reims, Documents inédits sur l'histoire de Franc) (Paris, 1839-1848), I:703-4, 706-7.

Secondary Sources

Balcon, Sylvie, “Les Vitraux,” in Reims, La Cathédrale, (Paris: Zodiaque, 2000), 333-383.

Bey, Martine Callias, Corpus Vitrearum – France, vol. 4, Les Vitraux de Champagne-Ardenne (Paris: Editions du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 1992).

Erlande-Brandenburg, Alain, “Clovis et les souverains mérovingiens: leur mémoire visuelle aux XIIe et XIIIe siècles,” Clovis II, 785-804.

Hinkle, William, The Portal of the Saints at Reims Cathedral: A Study in Mediaeval Iconography (College Art Association, 1965).

Lillich, Meredith P., The Gothic Stained Glass of Reims Cathedral (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2011).

Rowe, Nina, The Jew, the Cathedral, and the Medieval City: Synagoga and Ecclesia in the Thirteenth Century (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011).

Sadler, Donna L., Reading the Reverse Façade of Reims Cathedral: Royalty and Ritual in Thirteenth-Century France (Burlington: Ashgate, 2012).

Wright, Georgia Summers, “A Royal Tomb Program in the Age of St. Louis,” Art Bulletin 56, no. 2 (1974): 224-43.

The coronation has been the leading interpretive model for the Gothic cathedral of Reims. However, such a durable resolution is apparent only in retrospect. Nothing in the first half of the thirteenth century guaranteed that Reims would continue to hold this prestigious rite, which had been contested in the previous centuries.

For in the era from Hincmar’s reign (845-82) to the construction of the Gothic cathedral of Reims (begun ca. 1211), Reims was not the undisputed site of French royal coronations. Between 877 and 987, the archbishops of Reims anointed seven kings, and of these only three occurred in the episcopal city. Between 987 and 1180, archbishops of Reims celebrated five supplementary coronations, four in their cathedral. But the archbishop of Sens also of had officiated six times between 848 and 923, three times outside their province, never crowned a king in their own episcopal city, and only once more crowned a king, Louis VI at Orléans in 1108. The prevailing scholarship on Reims, suggesting that the cathedral always and forever held the status of French coronation site, undervalues the history of multiple ceremonies at multiple sites by a variety of celebrants. Such a narrative perhaps takes for granted the succession of royal coronations at Reims from 1131, the confirmation of the privilege by Alexander III in 1179 and the coronations in Reims Cathedral of 1223 (for Louis VIII) and 1226 (for Louis IX). 

The rivalry between the royal abbey of Saint-Denis and Reims as coronation site has been explored in the scholarship (Hinkle, Rowe). For in the mid thirteenth century, Saint-Denis continued to represent its entitlement to the coronation ceremony long after the privilege had been awarded to Reims. One means of asserting a connection to the crown was through an elaborate new program of royal tombs, re-interring the remains of Capetians, as well as Carolingian and Merovingian predecessors. At Reims, when the cathedral’s east end was inaugurated for liturgical use in 1241, it provided a dramatic crossing for the anticipated, lavish displays of future royal coronations. But soon after, there was the installation of images of monarchs in the clerestory windows of the nave (ca. 1245-1255), which extended the choir assembly to a sequence of bishops, archbishops, and French kings once filling the lancets of the nave almost to the inner west portals. 

Abou-El-Haj proposed that the stained glass program of the nave of the Gothic cathedral of Reims, installed in the mid thirteenth century further registered this rivalry. Meredith Lillich has published a study that is the last word on the glass of Reims (see bibliography), and the following propositions should be weighed in relation to that work.

The surviving eight pairs of clerestory lancets in the eastern four bays of the nave present the fiction of an unbroken tradition of Reims' prelates enthroned beneath the kings they crowned, their glances for the most part directed toward the site of coronations. Only six among the fifteen Reims bishops portrayed are identified by inscriptions, all on the south side of the nave, across from the archbishop's chapel and palace. Depicted are: Donatianus, Viventius, Baruch, Barctius, Bennadius, Barnabus (see Bey, Corpus Vitrearum, 383-91, following this volume's numbering system for each bay). Because they pre-date the baptism of Clovis by Saint Remi (496), none of the bishops named in the surviving glass, all of whom occupied the see in the fourth and fifth centuries, could have anointed or crowned a Frankish king. The glass thus projects this privilege back to the earliest bishops of Reims, retroactively elevated to archiepiscopal rank, asserting the antiquity and entrenchment of the association of Reims with royal coronation. This sequence finds a visual counterpoint in the redesigned royal tomb program of Saint Denis which, in precise reciprocity, asserts the abbey’s claims for an ancient and continuing alliance with the kings of France – though not only through images, but also through possession of royal bones.  

Abou-El-Haj contends that, given the rivalry with Saint-Denis, the clerics of Reims deliberately chose to have Carolingian King Charles the Bald depicted in the nave glass. She observes that it is striking that though six prelates on the Reims Cathedral glass are specified in captions, only one king (bay 128), on the south side, is named, “Karolus,” often identified as Charlemagne. Although any one of three French kings named Charles predating the thirteenth century could have served the purpose by providing a real or imagined precedent for the coronation privilege, the priorities of the cathedral hierarchy suggest specifically that the figure depicted should be understood as Charles the Bald, the French king for whom Hincmar wrote the first extant ordo that merged unction with coronation. The choice to depict Charles the Bald would have been polemical given Saint-Denis’s historical links to Charles, who had presided there as lay abbot and donated precious treasures and lucrative privileges to the abbey. 

Notwithstanding the cathedral’s expansive royal imagery, by the thirteenth century, Reims could make no claims for royal allies in any form other than lavish ceremonies and abundant images. Critical encounters in the history of relations between the Reims Archbishops and the French crown make this plain. 

Barbara Abou-El-Haj’s student Ilana Abend-David pieced together these details about the relationship between the cathedral hierarchy of Reims and the crown in the thirteenth century. Archbishop Henry of Braine had participated in the barons’ rebellion against the regency of Blanche of Castile in 1229. He had also supported his suffragan bishop, Miles of Beauvais, against the Beauvais burghers who rioted in 1232-1233, and against King Louis IX, who had seized Miles’s palace and the bishop’s temporalities in a struggle over the right to high justice and in response to the bishop’s failure to pay eight hundred pounds hospitality. In 1234 the king marked his dissatisfaction with Henry by having his bride, Margaret of Provence, anointed and crowned at Sens, Reims early medieval rival for the coronation. The king seized metropolitan revenues for almost five years after Henry’s death in 1240. Only after three requests did Archbishop Joël of Reims contribute to the king’s crusade, in April, 1248, 100 pounds, one tenth of the thousand pounds the king requested, while many of the suffragans (or their towns) gave ten to seventeen times that amount. In 1250, while Louis IX was on crusade, the chapter elected Thomas Beaumetz, who had been banished by the king in 1235 because he had defended ecclesiastical liberties. Only in 1258 did King Louis IX return to Reims, the first time since his coronation in 1226, to arbitrate yet another set of conflicts between Archbishop Beaumetz and the burghers. These included all the old disputes and a few new ones: possession of the keys to the town gates, accusations that the burghers had formed an “alliance, that they had levied a tax on each trade without consent of the archbishop, that they had mounted war engines, which the king ordered destroyed.” Saint-Denis fared slightly better, although the abbey feared that a new dynastic burial church at Louis’s foundation at Royaumont might eclipse their own.


  1. Abou-El-Haj evokes an image of a Reims cathedral clergy insecure about its status as holders of the right to French royal coronation, over an against claims from Saint Denis. She suggests that an image of Charles the Bald in the cathedral stained glass could defend claims to this privilege. What further kinds of information could bolster this debate? Is there visual material that could strengthen it? Textual? 
  2. What kinds of questions about patron and audience does Abou-El-Haj beg with these suggestions?