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. 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.
The oldest monument in Reims is the 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. 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 GalloRoman 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.
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 Tad are decorated with tapestries of the 17th century, known as the Perpersack tapestries, after the Flemish weaver who executed them.
After the cathedral, which it almost equals in size, the most celebrated church is Saint Remi, once attached to an important abbey, the buildings of which are used as a hospital. St Remi dates from the 11th, 12th, 13th and 15th 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.
The valuable monuments with which the church was at one time filled were pillaged during the Revolution, and even the tomb of the saint is a modern work; but there remain the 12th century glass windows of the apse and tapestries representing the history of St Remigius, given by Robert de Lenoncourt. The churches of St Jacques, 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 all 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.
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.
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 League (1585), but submitted to Henri IV after the battle of Ivry.
Original text from a 1911 encyclopedia