[1] REIMS - Foundations: Conceptual and Architectural

Bibliography on Foundations: Coronation History

Primary Sources

Gregory of Tours, The History of the Franks, trans. Lewis Thorpe, repr. (New York, 1974).

Jackson, Richard, ed., Ordines Coronationis Franciae. Texts and Ordines for the Coronation of the Frankish and French Kings and Queens in the Middle Ages, I (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995).

Secondary Sources

Bur, Michel , “Reims, ville des sacres,” in: Le Sacre des rois, actes du Colloque international d'histoire sur les sacres et couronnements royaux, Reims 1975 (Paris: Belles Lettres, 1985), 39-48.

Bur, Michel, “Aux origines de la ‘religion de Reims’,” Les sacres carolingiens: un réexamen du dossier (751-1131),” in Clovis: Histoire et mémoire – Le baptême de Clovis, son écho à travers l’histoire, ed. Michel Rouche (Paris: Presse de l’Université de Paris- Sorbonne, 1997), 45-72.

Devisse, Jean, Hincmar, archevêque de Reims, 845-882, 3 vols. (Geneva: Droz, 1975-76). 

Goy, Jean, “Les reliques de saint Remi apôtre des Francs,” in Clovis: Histoire et mémoire – Le baptême de Clovis, son écho à travers l’histoire, ed. Michel Rouche (Paris: Presse de l’Université de Paris- Sorbonne, 1997), 649-57.

Kantorowicz, E. H. , Laudes Regiae: A Study in Liturgical Acclamations and Medieval Ruler Worship (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1946).

Le Goff, Jacques, “Reims, City of Coronation,” in: Realms of Memory: Rethinking the French Past, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (New York: Columbia University Press), 3:193-251.

Oppenheimer, Sir Francis, The Legend of the Sainte Ampoule (London: Faber and Faber, 1953).

Rouche, Michel, ed., Clovis: Histoire et mémoire – Le baptême de Clovis, son écho à travers l’histoire (Paris: Presse de l’Université de Paris- Sorbonne, 1997).

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

Sot, M., “Écrire et réécrire l’Histoire de Clovis: de Grégoire de Tours à Hincmar,” in Clovis: Histoire et mémoire – Le baptême de Clovis, son écho à travers l’histoire, ed. Michel Rouche (Paris: Presse de l’Université de Paris- Sorbonne, 1997), 157-73.

Bibliography on Foundations: Reims Building History before the Thirteenth Century

Balcon, Sylvie, Walter Berry and Robert Neiss, Fouilles de la cathédrale Reims (Reims: Nouvelles Imprimeries Champenoises, 1995).

Balcon, Sylvie, Walter Berry and Robert Neiss, “Reims et la quartier de la cathédrale,” Archéologia 326 (September 1996): 20-32.

Demaison, Louis, “Les cathédrales de Reims antérieures au XIIIe siècle,” Bulletin monumental 85 (1926): 67-116.

Deneux, Henri, Dix ans de fouilles dans la cathédrale de Reims, 1919-1930, conference donnée à la Société des Amis du vieux Reims le 1er juin 1944 (Reims: Matot-Braine, 1944). 

Kurmann, Peter, La Façade de la Cathédrale de Reims, 2 vols. (Lausanne and Paris, 1987).

Neiss, Robert and Walter Berry, “Archéologie du site,” in Reims: La cathédrale, ed. Patrick Demouy (La Pierre-qui-Vire: Zodiaque, 2000), 32-60.

Reinhardt, Hans, La cathédrale de Reims: son histoire, son architecture, sa sculpture, ses vitraux (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1963), 15-64.

Coronation History:

In the thirteenth century, the ecclesiastical hierarchy of Reims could justify the tremendous expense of materials and labor used in the construction and adornment of a new cathedral built in the Gothic style on the grounds that the town was the site of the origin of a Christian kingdom of France. Legend held that in 496 Clovis had been baptized in Reims by Bishop Remi (the future Saint Remi), using a chrism sent directly from heaven. In the ninth century, Archbishop Hincmar of Reims elaborated on the tale and composed coronation ordos that gave pride of place to the putatively heaven-sent chrism in the crowning rite.

The outstanding event in Reims’ early history, configured retrospectively, was the conversion and baptism of the Frankish chieftain Clovis at the end of the fifth century by Bishop Saint Remi (d. 532/533). As recorded by Gregory of Tours a century after the event, Bishop Remi ordered the baptismal pool to be made ready. The public squares were draped with colored cloths, the churches were adorned with white hangings, the baptistery was prepared, sticks of incense gave off clouds of perfume, sweet smelling candles gleamed bright and the holy place of baptism was filled with divine fragrance. God filled the hearts of all present with such divine grace that they imagined themselves to have been transported to some perfumed paradise (Gregory of Tours, II: 31).

For Gregory of Tours, Clovis, urged to convert by his queen Clothilde, was “like some new Constantine, [who] stepped forward to the baptismal pool,” fulfilling a battlefield vow adapted from the emperor’s life. The imperial model was appropriate to Gregory’s concern for the key events by which Christianity was legalized and its imperial churches spectacularly endowed, as well as to the all out effort to defeat Arianism and to convert northern Europe, by persuasion or coercion, in which he was engaged. 

But the mythical link binding Clovis, Reims, and the coronation rite was most forcefully advanced under Archbishop Hincmar of Reims (r. 845-82) in the ninth century. Hincmar dramatically enlarged the narrative of Clovis’ baptism to enhance Saint Remi’s saintly reputation and to link him directly to his Carolingian successors by refashioning the baptism into a precedent for Reims and its archbishops to claim the exclusive right to anoint and crown kings. The first stage in Hincmar’s program took place on October 1, 852, when the archbishop placed Remi’s relics in a new reliquary. On the occasion of the translation, Hincmar wrote a poem celebrating his sainted predecessor, attributing to him a standard array of miracles: raising the dead and healing the blind (appropriately episcopal) and recalled his baptism of Clovis, the one who consecrated the “royal scepter of the Sicambrian people.”

In 869, Hincmar inserted himself as celebrant into Charles the Bald’s coronation as King of Lorraine at Metz Cathedral, for which the archbishop composed a lengthy preamble. In this preamble, the papal coronation of Charles’ father, Louis the Pious, at Reims was cast as the emperor’s direct, dynastic descent from “glorious Clovis, king of the Franks, baptized along with his entire family and three thousand Franks, not counting women and children, on Holy Easter in the cathedral of Reims, and anointed and consecrated as king with the help of heavenly chrism, some of which we still possess” (see Le Goff, “Reims, City of Coronation,” 199). Thus Clovis was provided with a miraculous baptism through Remi’s sanctity. 

New elements of the coronation ritual cemented the equation. For Charles the Bald, Hincmar composed the first surviving ordo that merged (baptismal) unction with coronation. Unction provided a liturgical representation of the superior authority of the church over the imperium in ceremony if not reality. Significantly Hincmar added, though he did not invent, a miracle that purportedly asserts Reims’s divinely sanctioned status as site for royal coronations: The delivery of the holy ampulla of oil from the Lord. 

Hincmar’s text reads:

The street was prepared for the procession to the baptistery and the baptistery was prepared and the people thought that they breathed the perfumes of paradise. Procession, cross, gospels, hymns, canticles, litanies, acclaiming the saints, the holy pontiff took the king by the hand from the royal demeure to the baptistery, followed by the queen and the people... When they arrived at the baptistery, the cleric who carried the holy chrism was stopped by the people in such a fashion that he could not reach the baptismal fonts. After the fonts were sanctified, the chrism was missing by God’s will. And no one, because of the pressure of people, could exit the church nor enter it, the holy pontiff, his eyes and his hands turned to heaven, prayed tearfully. And immediately a dove more white than snow carried in his beak an ampulla filled with holy chrism. The perfume was more marvelous than all the other perfumes which previously filled the baptistery. It filled all who were present with an indescribable sweetness. When the holy pontiff received the vial, the dove disappeared. The holy pontiff poured this chrism into the sacred fonts. And the king, witness to such a great miracle, having rejected the ceremonies of the devil and his works, demanded to be baptized by the holy pontiff. He advanced, new Constantine, to the bath of health, in which was healed of his ancient leprosy and washed the sordid deeds of his old sins by the divine ministry of Saint Remi in whom, by the apostolicity of his doctrine and the grace of his miracles, another Silvester seemed to be present. Clovis entered into the fonts of life. The holy bishop said to him: humbly bend your neck, Sicambre; adore that which you have burned; burn that which you have adored.”(quoted and translated from Sot, “Écrire et réécrire l’Histoire de Clovis,” 167).

Shortly after 948, Flodoard, in his History of the Church of Reims, reiterated the miracle of the holy chrism and glorified King Clovis and Queen Clothilde and their descendants as possessing the scepter of the Roman Empire. By these additions almost four centuries after the event, Hincmar and Flodoard transformed Clovis’ baptism into a miraculous precedent for Reims to claim the privilege to crown all French kings, competing not only with Sens but also attempting to sideline his own former house, Saint-Denis, which could call upon its own precedent in the unction of Pepin in 754.

Building History:

As at many similar sites, the cathedral of Reims had undergone transformations in the centuries since its founding. In the twelfth century, just generations before the reconstruction of the building in the Gothic style, Reims Cathedral had been remodeled following the example of Abbot Suger’s Saint-Denis. This rebuilding campaign took place under Archbishop Samson (1140-1160). Though little remains of Samson’s church, excavations suggest that this archibishop had in mind a cathedral of imposing scale, appropriate to the rank of his metropolitan see, one that would rival and perhaps exceed Suger’s renovations of Saint-Denis (1137-1144). Like Saint-Denis, Samson’s renovations were undertaken at the west and east ends of the church, those sites that projected the archbishop’s public posture and his spiritual authority as metropolitan of a See whose prestige as the site of coronations had been under construction since the ninth century, and whose principal rival was Suger’s abbey. It may also be the case that Samson took the opportunity to represent archiepiscopal authority over a town that had staged a communal rebellion during the vacancy prior to his appointment. Upon taking office, he had suppressed the communal charter granted and then withdrawn by Louis VII (see Section I, pt. 2).  

Samson enlarged the cathedral at the west by replacing a single tower with a two towers, possibly a double-towered façade modeled on Saint-Denis and linked to the old church by one bay. In the east, he may have adopted Suger’s innovative double ambulatory, which he would have seen six years earlier when he attended the dedication of Saint-Denis’ choir in 1144. Samson’s ambitious church extended almost two thirds of the length of the present cathedral. In Kurmann’s words, the twelfth-century cathedral was exceeded in scale by its thirteenth-century successor only by the breadth of the west façade and in the circumference of the choir.


  1. Can you harmonize an account of the local myths of the sacred chrism and the development of the coronation rite with a material history of the fabric of Reims Cathedral
  2. How does knowledge of the dual histories of the coronation rite and of the pre-thirteenth-century structure of the cathedral inflect your understanding of the Gothic cathedral of Reims? Are these histories more relevant to the structure of the Gothic cathedral of Reims or to its sculptural adornment?
  3. How do your answers to the questions above change if you consider the cathedral’s reception by different interpretive communities – the clerics of the cathedral, noble guests of the cathedral and count (also the archbishop), local Christian burghers, local members of the Jewish community, visiting merchants or others? How would you work to reconstruct the mental landscapes or “horizons of expectation” (in the terminology of reception theory) of these varied interpretive communities? Do you think art historians should even try to recover such a range of response?