Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Sainte Clothilde in the Cold...

The Cathedral Notre-Dame naturally dominates the urban landscape of Reims and its imposing form can still be seen from the distance much as it has since its construction in the 13th century, despite the intrusion of modern buildings. Another contender here is the relatively 'recent' edifice of  Basilica of Saint Clothilde (Basilique Sainte-Clothilde), built at the very end of the 19th century.

Unfortunately, most of the dramatic views of Sainte Clothilde are to be seen from the motorway so I have to content myself with photos from a far greater proximity. These look stark and imposing during the winter months; the summer hides everything behind leafy trees. The day I visited, the skies were dark and damp, the temperatures freezing and the doors firmly locked so I never managed to see the interior of the basilica.

What I like the most is the slightly oriental 'feel' that emerges from the mass, from certain angles. In fact, that was indeed intentional on the part of the architect resposible for its design.

Sainte Clothilde was conceived in 1896 as a commemorative church to mark the forteenth centenary of the baptism of Clovis, the great historical figure as first Christian king of the Franc kingdom. His conversion to Christianity is said to be due to the influence of his wife, Clothilde, hence the name of the basilica we see today.

It was also designed to house a reliquary offering an impressive collection of items of religious significance, 'les reliques', in the crypt. These I have yet to see, though this will be more out of curiosity than any religious feeling on my part. There are some two thousand Relics!

Cardinal Langénieux, archibishop of Reims, ordered the construction of an edifice that would be dedicated to the saints of France; Sainte Clothilde.

The Rémois, Alphonse Gosset (1835-1914) took on the task of designing Sainte Clothilde. Gosset was a well- established  architect, with the creation of the Grand Théâtre de Reims, the grounds of the champagne house Pommery and the workers' districts of the city  to his name.

The neo-byzantine style was employed and the basilica is based on the form of a Greek cross. The stature is imposing.

Drawing inspiration from his research work published in 1877, Les Coupoles d'Oriént et d'Occident, Gosset makes references to Hagia Sophia of Constantinople, the Basilica of Saint Peter in Rome and the church of Saint Augustin in Paris.

The rather detailed brick structure looks very sober from a distance and the angular forms of the towers are set off by the rounded forms of the domed roofs. At dusk, the skyline is quite magical! In the summer, the atmosphere is lively and the open-air Sunday market of Quartier Sainte Anne held around the basilica brings another feel to the site all year round.

1 comment:

  1. An amazing looking building, shame you couldn't get inside to have a look around! I wonder how they chose to display the two thousand bits of dead saint?
    The neo-byzantine architecture reminds me a bit of a Victorian style unique to Bristol, called the 'Bristol Byzantine'. I wrote a blog post about it a while back, if anyone reading this likes their nineteenth century orientalist styles:


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