Saturday, June 12, 2010

Saint-Remi Abbey and Basilica

While the Rheims cathedral glorifies the spot at Clovis was baptised in 496, the basilica and abbey of Saint-Remi glorify the bishop who performed the baptism. Saint Remi, child of the Gallo-Roman elite and a noted scholar, was appointed Bishop of Rheims at the age of 22. He fostered close relations with Clovis, king of the Franks, who was busily conquering most of what would become the nation of France. Remi, with the support of Clovis's wife Clotilde, a Catholic Burgundian princess and subsequently named a saint, converted Clovis to Catholicism at the baptism commemorated by the Rheims cathedral.

The abbey of Saint-Remi was founded in the 6th Century. The abbey's current basilica was built in the 11th Century, and Saint Remi's relics were transfered to the basilica in 1099. Parts of the church were rebuilt and enlarged in the 12th through 15th Centuries. Further additions were made in the 17th and 19th Centuries. Remi's tomb still lies in the basilica's choir; the adjoining buildings of the abbey now house the St-Remi Museum, Rheim's museum of history and archeology.

The basilica, as it now stands, is an interesting amalgam of late Romanesque and early Gothic styles. The mixture is not as jarring as in the basilica at Dinan, where one side of the nave is Romanesque and the other side Gothic. But if you look, you can see the change of styles, for example, in the extension of the nave, where the two newest bays are Gothic.

While the basilica has some vertical elements, it retains the layers of horizontal solidity that characterize Romanesque architecture.

These sorts of tiers also characterize the basilica's facade.



In the choir, surrounding Saint-Remi's tomb, the multiple levels of arches and windows actually serve to make the space seem higher.

While much of the basilica's stained glass was destroyed in the two world wars, the windows were rebuilt with great care and taste. For instance, this transept rose window has traditional stained glass that brings jewel-toned light into the church.

Other windows have glass in more modern styles, but the glass serves to highlight the beauty of the windows' Gothic stonework. For example, this lower transept window is organic and flowing.
And this window, with its motif of birds (this relates to Saint-Remi, for reasons that are too incredible and arcane to warrrant explanation here), provides great illumination, verticality, and exuberance.

The other buildings of the abbey are adjacent to the basilica. Actually, it would be hard to be more adjacent, as the buildings are built right up against the basilica's north walls, in the spaces between the buttresses. The neoclassical style of the cloister is interrupted--sectioned--by the buttresses.

The upper-floor gallery along this side of the cloister show the arches of these flying buttresses.

The other sides of the cloister harmoniously and uniformly reflect the neoclassical classical style without interruption.

Some of the museum's rooms are really beautiful, such as this Gothic hall.

The museum tells the story of Rheims, starting with prehistory. It contains some remarkable Roman mosaics, including this enormous depiction of gladiators.






This 7th-Century necklace was made with pearls of amber and rounds of glass.










One of the museum's highlights is a set of medieval tapestries depicting the life of Saint-Remi. This panel, the right half of one of the tapestries, depicts Remi baptizing Clovis. The king, in the basin, is attended to by Remi, who wears a golden mitre.




The museum's main staircase is itself a work of art--symmetrical, light, ornate, and just plain huge.










Between the windows, on the far wall, hangs a portrait of Louis XV as a youth, wearing coronation robes. Indeed, he was crowned in the cathedral of Rheims so that he could rule with divine right, traced back to Clovis, conferred by Saint-Remi, for whom the abbey is named.

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