[3A] REIMS - Power and the Archdiocese: Penance in Street and Sculpture

Bibliography for Power and the Archdiocese: Penance in Street and Sculpture

On dating the rebuilding of the cathedral:

Prache, Anne, “Séance du 27 novembre 2002,” Bulletin de la Société nationale des antiquaires de France (2002): 334-46.

Prache, Anne, “Le début de la construction de la cathédrale de Reims au XIIIe siècle: l’apport de l’archéologie et de la dendrochronologie,” in Nouveaux regards sur la cathédrale de Reims – Actes du colloque international des 1er et 2 octobre 2004, eds. Bruno Decrock and Patrick Demouy (Langres: Éditions Dominique Guéniot, 2008), 41-52.

On burning heretics near Reims:

Desportes, Pierre, Reims et les Rémois aux XIIIe et XIVe siècles (Paris: Picard, 1979), 161-2 and nn. 37, 38, and 40.

Dossat, Yves, “L’hérésie en Champagne aux XIIe et XIIIe siècles,” Mémoires de la Société d’agriculture, commerce, sciences et arts du département de la Marne 84 (1969): 57-73.

Dossat, Yves, Eglise et hérésie en France au XIIIe siècle (London: Variorum), 1982.

Duvernoy, Jean, Le Catharisme 2 vols. (Toulouse: Privat, 1976), esp. II:120-24.

Lower, Michael, “The Burning at Mont-Aimé: Thibaut of Champagne’s preparations for the Barons’ Crusade of 1239,” Journal of Medieval History 29 (2003): 95-108

Abou-El-Haj, Barbara, “The Urban Setting for Late Medieval Church Building: Reims and its Cathedral Between 1210 and 1240,” Art History 11, no. 1 (1988): 17-41. Click to download

Abou-El-Haj, Barbara, “Program and Power in the Glass of Reims,” in Radical Art History. An International Anthology, ed. Wolfgang Kersten (Zurich, 1997), 22-33 and 226-33. Click to download

Clark, William, “Notre Dame at Reims: The Cathedral of France,” in Clark Medieval Cathedrals (Westport, CT, 2006), chapter 5 Click to download

Part 3A: The Insurrections

Scholarly and popular accounts of the rebuilding of Reims Cathedral typically begin with a report of a fire in the existing structure on May 6, 1210 and the ceremonial laying of a cornerstone at the south façade one year to the day later. Anne Prache, however, recently introduced evidence suggesting that the rebuilding could have been begun earlier, before 1210. Whenever the planning for the reconstruction began, the new church was built competitively larger and taller than its contemporaries, and finished with a vast array of sculpture, unmatched in quantity or quality, with over 2,000 large (three to four meters in height), medium and small figures. It was, moreover, the only building fitted with over lifesize figures on the inner west wall. 

Within three decades of the inauguration of the new cathedral project, when builders were working on the structure’s upper stories, Archbishop Henry of Braine pursued policies aimed at intimidating the local populace while bolstering the authority of the cathedral hierarchy. Some of his moves were fiscal and administrative. Within a year of his consecration in 1227, Henry moved to impound burgher wealth (between 1227 and 1231) and, perhaps with some forethought, to complete or renovate the fortress and archiepiscopal palace at the Mars Gate (1228). Moreover, the archbishop cancelled loans to Troyes and Auxerre to be used to purchase communal charters and annulled a contract arranged by the aldermen of Reims to sell out-of-town rents at interest to Arras, which Henry declared illegal without his consent. Moreover, the archbishop insisted upon his sole right to authorize taxes because the town was his feudal possession, not a corporate entity. 

Beyond these administrative measures, Henry of Braine also exercised his authority through physical violence. In 1231, the archbishop condemned a Waldensian preacher to be publicly burned to death. Four years later in 1235, a sorceress and twenty women were burned in Cambrai, a suffragan. On May 13, 1239, Henry was present, and perhaps presiding, at the mass burning conducted by Robert le Bougre of 183 condemned heretics at Mont-Aimé, south of Reims. Of the sixteen prelates present at the gathering, the leader of Reims was the only archbishop, while eleven of the twelve dioceses represented by their bishops were suffragans of Reims. This incineration of the spiritually transgressive also likely posed a threat to burghers striving for economic autonomy. For in 1231, at the Council of Saint-Quentin, Henry also assimilated usury – a form of commerce in which the burghers of Reims were deeply involved – to heresy. The apparent threat was that, under Henry, burgher moneylenders might meet the same fate as spiritual transgressors – the stake. 

During the years of construction of the upper stories of Reims east, there were also two civic insurrections in Reims. Several of Barbara Abou-El-Haj’s published articles offer vivid accounts of the melees that broke out in the city in 1233 and 1238. Please read: “The Urban Setting” and “Program and Power,” linked in the bibliography of this section.

Vivid highlights of the burgher riots of 1233-35 in Reims include the following details:

  • The burghers “seditiously assaulted” the dean and canons during a funeral procession for a Saint-Remi monk.
  • The burghers boycotted and seized the goods of scab merchants who remained in service to the chapter and threw individuals into the river to drown. 
  • The burghers invaded the canons’ cloister, entered their houses and beat one canon until he bled.
  • In fear, the canons fled to the archiepiscopal castle at Cormicy, leaving the town under interdict. 
  • With the clergy absent from the city, the burghers stormed Archbishop Henry’s prison fortress at the Mars Gate, killing the archbishop's marshal and beating his men. During this siege, the burghers are said to have built barricades in the streets, bastions in nearby houses and earthen ramparts, using paving, cemetery and cathedral workshop stones. 

Though this rebellion was quashed in 1236, again in 1238 the burghers launched an insurrection. 

A vivid account of the second wave of violence and hostility is found in a 1239 letter of Pope Gregory IX: 

The burghers are masters of the town; they guard the gates with arms, exercising strict control of entries and exits which are thus taken at their authorization. They usurp the exercise of temporal jurisdiction which belongs exclusively to the archbishop. They lay siege to the castle of the Mars Gate and have encircled it with palisades and wood works. They have assembled all sorts of arms and appropriated munitions; they have hired eighty archers whose banners are publicly displayed from windows all around the market square. They have allowed to return to the city those whom the archbishop had banned from it. They encourage each other to disobedience, [and] they are bound to one another by oaths. In fact they know only success, resistance to oppression having truly been the initial mover in their action.


  1. Some scholars focus little on this insurrection in their accounts of the building history of Reims, but over the years Barbara Abou-El-Haj insisted on its relevance to understanding the ambitions behind the construction project as a whole and the iconographies of sculpture and glass programs adorning the building [explored in Sections I, pt. 3B and pt. 4]. Compare Abou-El-Haj’s account to that in William Clark, Medieval Cathedrals, attached in the bibliography for this section. What are the arguments for and against considering the final structure of Reims Cathedral in relation to the urban violence of the 1230s?