Climbing the towers of Reims Cathedral offers an unusual discovery of a masterpiece of Gothic architecture and its 20th century framework.
Photographs : Elisabeth Perotin
A masterpiece of Gothic architecture
Dominating the city of coronations, the tour route travels along the The facade is divided vertically into three portals, the largest of which is in the center. The two side parts are topped with symmetrical towers. From top to bottom, four levels structure it : the portals, the clear floor at the level of the flying buttresses of the nave, the upper gallery or gallery of kings, and finally the belfries housing the bells.
The Passion of the Christ and The Apocalypse
Have you noticed ? The facade of Reims Cathedral is distinguished by the absence of spiers on the towers and by its portals with protruding doors and openwork tympanums implying the transfer of the statues to the gable above them. The sculptures of each portal respond to a precise iconographic program : the one on the left represents the Passion of Christ, the one on the right the Apocalypse and the Last Judgment, and finally, in the center, the life and glorification of the Virgin Mary.
The gigantic statues in the gallery of kings
Walk along the recently re-gilded roof and contemplate the city of coronations ! Take the opportunity to closely observe the gigantic statues in the gallery of kings, 4.6 meters high and weighing almost 8 tonnes! Speaking of numbers, here are some: • The towers of Reims Cathedral have 249 steps • They rise to 83 meters in height • The floor of the kings is located 40 meters high • The angel of the bell tower is perched 87 meters high • Of the 2302 statues, 58 king statues make up the facade • The frame, whose volume amounts to 2000 cubic meters, weighs 1600 tonnes.
A fire completely consumed the wooden framework
Regarding this framework, know that on September 19, 1914, a fire completely consumed the wooden framework which dated from the 15th century. 1800 tonnes of oak beams have disappeared as well as the cover of 400 tonnes of lead ! Later, two people contributed to the restoration of Reims Cathedral :
• John Davidson Rockefeller Jr. A major oil industrialist, philanthropist and Francophile, he made several donations as early as 1924. In total, these covered 37% of the total cost of the project!
• Henri Deneux Chief architect of historic monuments, at the origin of an innovative framework. It is in fact inspired by a process invented in the 16th century by the Renaissance architect Philibert Delorme. He thinks of a framework structure made up of small wooden elements assembled by wedges. Henri Deneux uses this principle for that of Reims Cathedral, but replaces the wooden elements with reinforced cement parts. Boards are assembled by mortises and wooden wedges. This is a real technical feat: economically manufactured on site, the easily transportable elements (because they are lighter) are assembled like a game of “Meccano”! This new framework, built from 1924 to 1926, is inexpensive, non-flammable, light and can be dismantled if necessary.