The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







Reims (English traditionally Rheims) is a city of north-eastern France, 98 miles east-northeast of Paris. Its history can be traced back to the Roman Empire. Population (1999): 187,206.



Reims is a sous-préfecture of the Marne département, in the Champagne-Ardenne administrative région.


Reims is situated in a plain on the right bank of the Vesle River , a tributary of the Aisne River, and on the canal which connects the Aisne with the Marne River. South and west rise the "Montagne de Reims " and vine-clad hills.


Streets and squares

Of its squares the principal are the Place Royale, with a statue of Louis XV, and the Place du Parvis, with an equestrian statue of Joan of Arc. The Rue de Vesle, the chief street, continued under other names, traverses the town from southwest to northwest, passing through the Place Royale.

Roman remains

The oldest monument in Reims is the Porte de Mars ("Mars Gate", so called from a temple to Mars in the neighbourhood), a triumphal arch 108 ft. in length by 43 in height, consisting of three archways flanked by columns. It is popularly supposed to have been erected by the Remi in honour of Augustus when Agrippa made the great roads terminating at the town, but probably belongs to the 3rd or 4th century. The Mars Gate was one of 4 Roman gates to the city walls, which were restored at the time of the Norman Invasion of northern France in the 9th century.

In its vicinity a curious mosaic, measuring 36 ft. by 26, with thirty-five medallions representing animals and gladiators, was discovered in 1860. To these remains must be added a Gallo Roman sarcophagus, said to be that of the consul Jovinus (see below) and preserved in the archaeological museum in the cloister of the abbey of Saint-Remi .

Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Reims

Main article: Notre-Dame de Reims

Reims is well known for its cathedral, where the kings of France used to be crowned.

Notre-Dame de Reims Cathedral, the Former Abbey of Saint-Remi and the Palace of Tau were added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1991.

Palace of Tau

The archiepiscopal palace, built between 1498 and 1509, and in part rebuilt in 1675, was occupied by the kings on the occasion of their coronation. The saloon (salle du Tau), where the royal banquet was held, has an immense stone chimney of the 15th century, medallions of the archbishops of Reims, and portraits of fourteen kings crowned in the city. Among the other rooms of the royal suite, all of which are of great beauty and richness, is that (1911) now used for the meetings of the Reims Academy; the building also contains a library. The chapel of the archiepiscopal palace consists of two storeys, of which the upper still serves as a place of worship. Both the chapel and the salle du Tau are decorated with tapestries of the 17th century, known as the Perpersack tapestries, after the Flemish weaver who executed them. The palace is now open to the public as a museum containing such exhibits as statues formerly displayed by the cathedral, treasures of the cathedral from past centuries, and royal attire from coronations of French kings.

Saint Remi of Reims Basilica

Saint Remi Basilica , an easy one-mile walk from the Cathedral of Notre Dame of Reims, is named for the 5th century St. Remi who has been the patron saint of the inhabitants of Reims for more than 15 centuries. The basilica is almost equal in size to the cathedral. Adjacent to the basilica is an important abbey, formerly known as the Royal Abbey of St. Remi. The abbey sought to trace its heritage back to St. Remi, while the present abbey building dates back to the 17th and 18th centuries.

The St Remi Basilica dates from the 11th, 12th, 13th and 15th centuries. Most of the church was constructed by the 11th century, with additions made in later centuries. The nave and transepts, Romanesque in style, date mainly from the earliest, the façade of the south transept from the latest of those periods, the choir and apse chapels from the 12th and 13th centuries. More additions were made in the 17th and 19th centuries. The building was greatly damaged in World War I, and was rebuilt from the ruins in the following 40 years through the meticulous restoration work of architect Henri Deneux . It is still the seat of an active Catholic parish holding regular worship services and welcoming pilgrims. It has been classified as an historical monument since 1841 and is one of the pinnacles of the history of art and of the history of France.

The abbey building is now open to the public as the Saint-Remi Museum. The abbey was closed in the wake of the French Revolution, as all French monasteries were ordered dissolved in February 1790. The museum exhibits at St. Remi include tapestries from the 16th century given by Robert de Lenoncourt , marble capitals from the 4th century AD, furniture, jewellery, pottery, weapons and glasswork from the 6th to 8th century AD, medieval sculpture, the facade of the 13th century Musicians' House, remnants from an earlier abbey building, and also exhibits of Gallo-Roman arts and crafts and a room of pottery, jewelry, and weapons from Gallic civilization, as well as an exhibit of items from the Paleolithic to the Neolithic period.

Buried in the monastery are the archbishops of Reims, several kings and princes.


In 1874 the construction of a chain of detached forts was begun in the vicinity, Reims being selected as one of the chief defences of the northern approaches of Paris. The ridge of St Thierry is crowned with a fort of the same name, which with the neighbouring work of Chenay closes the west side of the place. To the north the hill of Brimont has three works guarding the Laon railway and the Aisne canal. Farther east, on the old Roman road, lies the fort de Fresnes . Due east the hills of Arnay are crowned with five large and important works which cover the approaches from the upper Aisne. Forts Pompelle and Montbré close the south-east side, and the Falaise hills on the Paris side are open and unguarded. The perimeter of the defences is not quite 22 miles, and the forts are a mean distance of 6 miles from the centre of the city.

Other buildings

The Church of St Jacques was built from the 13th to the 16th centuries. A few blocks from the cathedral, it is now surrounded by a vibrant neighborhood of shopping and restaurants. What remains of the Abbey of St. Denis is now a Fine Art Museum. The old College of the Jesuits is also now a museum. St Maurice (partly rebuilt in 1867), St André, and St Thomas (erected from 1847 to 1853, under the patronage of Cardinal Gotisset , now buried within its walls), are of minor interest. Of the fine church of St Nicaise only insignificant remains are to be seen.

The town hall, erected in the 17th and enlarged in the 19th century, has a pediment with an equestrian statue ot Louis XIII, and a tall and elegant campanile. It contains a picture gallery, ethnographical, archaeological and other collections, and the public library. There are many old houses, the House of the Musicians (13th century) being so called from the seated figures of musicians which decorate the front.

The Surrender Museum is the location where on May 7, 1945, General Eisenhower and the Allies received the unconditional surrender of the Wehrmacht in Reims. (see below)


Reims, along with Epernay and Ay, is one of the centers of Champagne production. Many of the largest Champagne producing houses, known as les grandes marques, have their headquarters in Reims, and most are open for tasting and tours by appointment. Champagne is aged in the many caves and tunnels under Reims. Carved from chalk, some of these passages were dug by the Romans.


Before the Roman conquest Reims, as Durocortorum, was capital of the Remi, from whose name that of the town was subsequently derived. The Remi made voluntary submission to the Romans, and by their fidelity throughout the various Gallic insurrections secured the special favour of their conquerors.

Christianity was established in the town by the middle of the 3rd century, at which period the bishopric was founded. The consul Jovinus, an influential supporter of the new faith, repulsed the barbarians who invaded Champagne in 336; but the Vandals captured the town in 406 and slew St Nicasus , and Attila the Hun afterwards put it to fire and sword.

Clovis, after his victory at Soissons (486), was baptized by Rémi (Saint), the bishop of Reims, in a ceremony with the oil of the sacred phial which was believed to have been brought from heaven by a dove for the baptism of Clovis and was preserved in the abbey of St. Remi. For centuries the events at the crowning of Clovis I became a symbol used by the monarchy to claim the divine right to rule.

Meetings of Pope Stephen III with Pippin the Short, and of Pope Leo III with Charlemagne, took place at Reims; and here Louis the Debonnaire was crowned by Pope Stephen IV. Louis IV gave the town and countship of Reims to the archbishop Artaldus in 940. Louis VII gave the title of duke and peer to William of Champagne , archbishop from 1176 to 1202, and the archbishops of Reims took precedence of the other ecclesiastical peers of the realm.

In the 10th century Reims had become a centre of intellectual culture, Archbishop Adalberon, seconded by the monk Gerbert (afterwards Pope Silvester II), having founded schools where the "liberal arts" were taught. Adalberon was also one of the prime authors of the revolution which put the Capet house in the place of the Carolingians.

The most important prerogative of the archbishops was the consecration of the kings of France - a privilege which was exercised, except in a few cases, from the time of Philippe II, Auguste to that of Charles X. Louis XII granted the town a communal charter in 1139. The Treaty of Troyes (1420) ceded it to the English, who had made a futile attempt to take it by siege in 1360; but they were expelled on the approach of Joan of Arc, who in 1429 caused Charles VII to be consecrated in the cathedral. A revolt at Reims, caused by the salt tax in 1461, was cruelly repressed by Louis XI. The town sided with the Catholic League (1585), but submitted to Henri IV after the battle of Ivry (1590).

In the foreign invasions of 1814 it was captured and recaptured; in 1870-1871, during the Franco-Prussian War, it was made by the Germans the seat of a governor-general and impoverished by heavy requisitions.

In World War I, the city was greatly damaged. The cathedral was severely damaged and was restored. The basilica was rebuilt from the ruins in the course of the next 40 years. The Palace of Tau, St. Jacques Church, and the Abbey of St. Remi also were protected and restored. The collection of preserved buildings and Roman ruins remains monumentally impressive.

During World War II, the town endured some additional damage. At 2:41 on the morning of May 7, 1945, General Eisenhower and the Allies received the unconditional surrender of the Wehrmacht in Reims. It was signed by at the SHAEF headquaters by German Chief-of-Staff General Alfred Jodl, as the representative for Karl Dönitz.

Grand Prix

Reims housed a Grand Prix circuit, and the French Grand Prix was held there 14 times, between 1938 and 1966.


Reims was the birthplace of:

External links

  • City council website
  • Tourist office website
  • Grand Prix circuit
  • Pitures of the Grand Prix circuit
  • Joan of Arc's first letter to Rheims - Translation of the letter dictated by Joan of Arc to the city of Rheims on August 5, 1429.
  • Joan of Arc's second letter to Rheims - Letter dictated by Joan of Arc to the city of Rheims on March 16, 1430.
  • Joan of Arc's last letter to Rheims - Letter dictated by Joan of Arc to the city of Rheims on March 28, 1430.

This article incorporates text from the public domain 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica.

Last updated: 02-08-2005 10:39:12
Last updated: 05-01-2005 23:37:46