We are staying tonight in the ancient city of Rheims, where we will make our base for 3 days as we go out to tour other sites. Founded by the Gauls, Rheims became a major city during the period of the Roman Empire and played a prominent ceremonial role in French history as the traditional site of the crowning of the kings of France.
The Cathedral of Reims (damaged by the Germans during the First World War but restored since, although they are still working on it) is a gorgeous Gothic cathedral with many similarities to the cathedral at Strasbourg, but larger. There's a plaque on the wall listing all of the French kings who were crowned here. The current cathedral replaced an older church, destroyed by fire in 1211, that was built on the site of the basilica where King Clovis I was baptized by Saint Remi, bishop of Reims in 496.
At the outbreak of WWI, the cathedral was commissioned as a hospital, and troops and arms were removed from its immediate vicinity. The German Army almost immediately began shelling the city and only stopped when the French sent two officers and a city employee to tell them they could come into the city if they would just stop shelling their beloved cathedral. The bombardment had damaged the cathedral considerably, blowing out many windows, and damaging several statues and elements of the upper facade. The German Army decided to place their own wounded in the cathedral against French protests and spread 15,000 bales of straw on the floor of the cathedral for this purpose. Six days later, a previously unexploded shell went off in the bishop's palace, catching all that straw on fire. The blaze spread to all parts of the timber frame superstructure. The lead in the roofing melted and poured through the stone gargoyles, destroying in turn the bishop's palace. Images of the cathedral in ruins were shown during the war by the indignant French, accusing the Germans of the deliberate destruction of buildings rich in national and cultural heritage. You can imagine how heartbroken the people of Rheims were to see the cathedral so shattered after it took 5 centuries to build and had stood for 5 more centuries as the city's symbol.
After initial stabilization and restoration, the cathedral was fully reopened in 1938, thanks in part to financial support from the Rockefellers, but work has been steadily going on since. Fortunately, the city was not bombed in WWII.As we toured the cathedral, we could still see piles of molten lead from the melted roof on the floor, and there is still a great deal of restoration to be completed on many of the building's 10,000 statues, even after over 100 years. But the restored stained glass windows, flying buttresses, and the magnificent great doors are truly marvelous.