Reims (alternative English spelling Rheims) is a city of the Champagne-Ardenne région of northern France, standing 144 km (89 miles) east-northeast of Paris. It was originally founded during the period of the Roman Empire.
Reims played a very important role in French history, as it was the place where the kings of France were crowned. The most famous and cherished of these events was the coronation of Charles VII in the company of Joan of Arc. Thus, the Cathedral of Reims (damaged by the Germans during the First World War but restored since) played the same role in France as Westminster Abbey did in England. It was there that was kept the Holy Ampulla (Sainte Ampoule) containing the Saint Chrême (chrism), which was said to have been brought by a white dove (the Holy Spirit) at the baptism of Clovis in 496, and was used for the anointing, the most important part of the coronation of French kings.
Reims is often considered the capital of Champagne, an old province of France, world-famous for its sparkling wine (Champagne). Today however, Reims is merely the largest city in the region.
At the 1999 census, there were 187,206 inhabitants in the city of Reims proper, while there were 291,735 inhabitants in the whole metropolitan area.
Before the Roman conquest Reims, as Durocortorum, was capital of the Remi, from whose name that of the town was subsequently derived. The Rémi 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. Nicasius, and Attila the Hun afterwards put it to fire and sword.
Clovis, after his victory at Soissons (496), was baptized by Rémi, 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 Saint-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 II with Pepin 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 Capetian dynasty 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 VII 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 1909, Reims hosted the first international Aviation meet. Major aviation personages such as Glenn Curtiss, Louis Blériot and Louis Paulhan participated.
In World War I, the city was greatly damaged. The cathedral was severely damaged by German bombardment and a subsequent fire in 1914. The ruined cathedral became one of the central images of anti-German propaganda produced in France during the war, citing it, along with the ruins of the Cloth Hall at Ypres and the University Library in Louvain, as evidence that German aggression targeted the cultural landmarks of European civilization. After the war, the cathedral 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. It was in Reims, at 2:41 on the morning of May 7, 1945, General Eisenhower and the Allies received the unconditional surrender of the Wehrmacht. The surrender was signed at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) by German Chief-of-Staff General Alfred Jodl, as the representative for Karl Dönitz.