M A Y 6, 2011

Dear friends,

In the Historical Meeting across the Ages piece (04.15. 2011) I promised to go back to the Reims Cathedral theme. The date of the current entry dealing with this unique piece of architecture is not accidental.

Throughout the past year an electronic board put up near the cathedral kept the countdown to this memorable date. The day has come today! On May 6 “the entire progressive humankind” (at least in France) marks the 800th anniversary of the Reims Cathedral, the cradle of the French royalty! The cathedral was the scene of 25 coronation ceremonies, many of which were immortalized in engravings and pictures.

The architects of the Reims Cathedral and their clients accomplished their aim: the building produces a virtually stupefying effect on anyone who sees it for the first time even in our days, so rich in all sorts of technological and other possibilities! It is stunning! It is hard to believe that man could make anything like that. Unexplainably, you feel proud for the entire humankind if in that distant past people could produce such heavenly beauty.

Just as all roads lead to Rome, in Reims your feet invariably take you to the cathedral square, although the main walking and socializing zone is somewhat aside. The first impression is that you see the cathedral in its primordial view, the way Joan of Arc saw it (her monument is nearby in the cathedral square), the Roy du Soleil and other historical figures and leading politicians of the day. You can spend hours examining the countless sculptures on the façade, which give an openwork effect to the cathedral walls.


 

You see those same sculptures differently after visiting the Palais du Tau museum in the neighboring building, where fragments of figures and ornaments removed from the cathedral for restoration are stored. One can appreciate the scale and size of those sculptures only standing next to Goliath in that museum. The giant is 5.4 m high and dates back to 1260. After you see them at close quarters, the figures on the cathedral look even more breathtaking, as if you gain second vision and now notice details you had missed earlier. It reminded me of a toy kaleidoscope, in which bits of colored glass suddenly form a spectacular mosaic, enhancing resolution and adjusting the focus.

 

Speaking of painting on glass, I would like to reiterate how harmoniously samples of high art of different ages can fit together – stained glass produced by Marc Chagall in 1974 finely match the interiors of the majestic 13th-century cathedral. Fortunately, many West European artists of the mid-20th century showed serious interest in stained glass art and its execution methods. Creative personalities, including Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall, Fernand Leger and Georges Braq, made stained glass for secular or religious buildings under construction. They left behind a lot of wonderful examples of old technology wedded to modern art. Thus, Marc Chagall did stained glass for the synagogue of the Hebrew University hospital (Jerusalem), the Catholic cathedral St-Étienne in Metz, (France), and the All Saints’ Church in Tudeley (Britain).

Although there is no agreement among specialists about whether it is appropriate to include stained glass by contemporary artists in medieval interiors, it suffices to enter the Reims Cathedral on a sunny day to have all doubts about Chagall’s stained glass being out of place there disappear. On the contrary, the cathedral looks rejuvenated and its interior modern and up-to-date. All I can wish is the peaceful sky and many happy (already four-digit) anniversaries to this masterpiece of architecture!