[3B] : REIMS - Order Restored and Penance Coerced

Part 3B: Order Restored

When the Reims cathedral hierarchy quashed the urban insurrections of 1233 and 1238 [See Section I, pt. 3A] the clergy imposed huge reparations. In 1236 they demanded an indemnity of 10,000 pounds Paris, an enormous sum compared to the 450 pounds that had settled the local rebellion of 1166-1167 against Archbishop Henry of France, or the 3,000 pounds Paris demanded after the 1210 cloister riot at Chartres. Furthermore, the burghers were required to suppress their municipal institution (the échevinage) and to pay 3,000 marks in damages to the canons.

These fiscal and administrative reparations were coordinated with repeated, public humiliations. An account from January 1237 evokes the scene: 

A short distance from the Mars Gate on the Cormicy road, sixty principal burghers, barefoot in shirts, had to excuse themselves to the canons for the excesses committed. Small groups then made reparations to canons personally harmed at the sites of the insults.... A group of twenty burghers particularly compromised had to appear before Pentecost in each of the cathedral churches of the province [Henry of Braine’s suffragan cathedrals] to witness their submission to the metropolitan chapter. 106 other inhabitants of the archiepiscopal ban had to go before Easter, in groups of ten, into the churches indicated (Desportes, 166). 

And after the second insurrection of 1238, the exile of the clergy, and the eventual return of clerical control in the city, again reparations were instituted. This time the burghers were assessed a fine of 1,000 silver marks and had to repeat their penances in the cathedrals of the province in a manner similar to 1237. In addition, six Reims citizens, identified as aldermen, were to process to the cathedral of Thérouanne, barefoot, in shirts, holding branches, and there kneel. Another six named were to do the same in the church of Tournai. Six other burghers would go to Beauvais, eight to Laon, seven to Châlons, six to Amiens, six to Arras, six to Senlis, six to Cambrai, seven to Noyon, seven to Soissons. On the Feast of the Assumption, the entire group had to appear in the same manner at the cathedral of Reims itself.

Abou-El-Haj contends that it was these conditions, more than the coronation rite, that informed the iconographies of the sculpted and glazed adornment of Reims Cathedral’s new east end. As she saw it, there should be no surprise that when once again in possession of the town, the chapter applied maximal effort to demonstrate their authority and the subjugation of the town. This exercise of control she understood as the driving force behind the sculpture and glass that marked their regular processional entrance into the new cathedral. 

Abou-El-Haj’s assertions here should be assessed in relation to new studies on the north transept façade of Reims Cathedral, published in Jennifer M. Feltman, ed. The North Transept of Reims Cathedral: Design, Construction, and Visual Programs (2016). Please read articles by Jennifer M. Feltman, Lindsey Hansen, and Iliana Kasarska. And then read Barbara’s “Dissent: Satan, Job, and Gregory IX” from the same volume.

Abou-El-Haj synthesizes her findings in relation to ceremonial practices at the cathedral, stating that the post-insurgency ordos in Reims expanded the ceremonial use of the canons’ cloister by multiplying the number of their processions around this space and their regular entries and exits and through the north transept, compared with twelfth-century manuscripts. They also expand the canons’ processions in the town and add to these penitential recitations. Already in the twelfth century, the feast of St Mark called for a city-wide procession that paused at chapels and at the principal city gates including the Mars Gate. In William of Champagne’s time, this procession marked the archbishop’s expanded jurisdictions and circumspectly avoided the merchant quarter. After the rebellions of the 1230s, this procession must have been seen as a calculated, proprietary performance staged along the entire perimeter of the town. On those occasions, the dramatic setting for spiritual authority was turned outward from the new cathedral choir into the town and its suburbs.

The thirteenth-century directions for these processions enlarged their penitential character by adding recitations of the Seven Penitential Psalms belonging to the Ritual of Public Penance (Holy Thursday). For the Palm Sunday processions to the abbey church of Saint-Remi penitential laments – like those in Psalms 6, “O Lord rebuke me not in thy anger” or 31, “Blessed is he whose iniquity is forgiven” – were recited as a separate sub-group. During Ember Days a set of penitential Psalms was added beyond the expanded ten already recited only in the later manuals. For the Vigil of the dead and a feast dedicated to Reims's archbishop-saints the chief Penitential Psalm, 50 the Miserere, was read. On Rogation Days before Ascension, the same set of penitential Psalms chanted once in the twelfth century was chanted twice in the thirteenth.

And beginning in the thirteenth century, on these Rogation Days and on the feast of Saint Remi’s translation, a new particularly aggressive phrase was added to each antiphon. As specified by the ordos, the canons, approaching the town upon their return from the abbey church of Saint-Remi, sang the responsory: “Civitatem istam genti peccatrici,” (that city of sinful people) a phrase adapted from Isaiah’s prophetic warnings (Isaiah 1:4): “Woe to the sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity,” and inserted into the metropolitan antiphonary. 

Moreover, in the thirteenth-century ordos the figure of Job is introduced, with his history apparently added to the readings on the first fifteen days of September in preparation for Ember Days, which were penitential in character. The apparent new interest in the status of Job as penitent in the years after the urban insurrection, suggest that when the cathedral canons elected to include Job in the sequence of vignettes in the tympanum of the Portal of the Saints, these clerics were insisting on the centrality of obedience to clerical authority in the history and future of Reims. 


Power and the Archdiocese: Penance in Street and Sculpture

Chapters in Jennifer M. Feltman, ed. The North Transept of Reims Cathedral: Design, Construction, and Visual Programs (Abingdon, Oxon and New York: Routledge, 2016).

  • Abou-El-Haj, Barbara, “Dissent: Satan, Job, Gregory IX,” 161-74. 
  • Berry, Walter, “The North Portals of Reims Cathedral: The Evidence Below Ground,” 15-38. 
  • Feltman, Jennifer, “Royal and Clerical Iconography and the Chronology of the Last Judgment Portal at Reims Cathedral,” 115-40. 
  • Hansen, Lindsey, “Sculpture, Ritual, and Episcopal Identity in the Saints Portal at Reims Cathedral,” 141-60. 
  • Kasarska, Iliana, “The Last Judgment Portal of Reims Cathedral: An Archaeological Study of its Construction,” 85-114. 
  • Wu, Nancy, “Retracing the Original North Transept of Reims Cathedral,” 39-64. 

Erlande-Brandenburg, Alain, La cathédrale de Reims: Chef d’oeuvre du gothique (Arles: Actes Sud, 2007).

Hamann-MacLean, Richard, Die Kathedrale von Reims, 8 vols. (Stuttgart: Steiner, 2008).

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

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

Villes, Alain, La cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims: Chronologie et campagnes de travaux. Essai de bilan des recherches antérieures à 2000 et propositions nouvelles (Joué-lès-Tours: La Simarre Editions, 2009).


  1. In her “Urban Setting” article, Abou-El-Haj examines images of Job and other figures she sees as model penitents in the tympanum of the Portal of the Saints on Reims Cathedral’s north façade. She does not, however, propose a scenario for development of the iconography of the portal sculpture in the wake of the rebellions and penitential reparations. What kinds of evidence could bolster claims about a connection between images of Job or the girl from Toulouse and the reassertion of clerical authority in Reims
  2. How do the new studies of the fabric of the north transept at Reims (Berry, Wu), and inquiries into other iconographies at the site (Kasarska, Feltman, and Hansen) complicate the story presented by Abou-El-Haj? Which new questions are begged?
  3. Which other elements of the iconography of the Portal of the Saints bolster or complicate Abou-El-Haj’s claims?