Reims Cathedral - 800 Years Old
The year 2011 marks the 800th anniversary of Reims cathedral, the cathedral that stands out from all others, for it was there that the Kings of France were crowned. The commemorative ceremonies began on May 6 and will end on October 23. Those of you in France may get the chance to visit the beautiful structure and to attend some of the celebrations. Construction on the current building began in 1211. Reims Cathedral has endured much damage from fires and bombings, through the ages.
In French, the word "sacre" is used for "coronation". "Sacre" better describes the event, a moment of intense religious feeling and a vital link to the deeply-rooted belief in the continuity of the sacred monarchy.
On May 15, the head of the House of Bourbon, Prince Louis de Bourbon, delivered a five-minute speech in the Palais du Tau (above, named for the Greek "t"), the residence of the King during the coronation. It was a speech that never could have been delivered by a modern-day politician, in today's climate of multiculturalism, renunciation of the past, disdain for nationalistic feelings, and dwindling adherence to Christianity, its values and its moral code.
Here is the text of his speech. I understood most of it. If you find an error, please let me know.
He opens with greetings to all those present: the Apostolic Nuncio, the regional Prefect and Vice-Prefect, the Mayor, the elected officials, "my dear cousins", the administrator, "ladies and gentlemen," "dear friends":
Remember, thirty-five Kings of France were crowned in the cathedral whose anniversary we are commemorating today. It is both exhilarating and moving. Thirty-five kings acclaimed by a people of France proud of her traditions and her history.
Note: I believe he says "a people", not "the people", to distinguish the people of then from the people of today.
Young and old, peasants and city-dwellers, nobles and clergy, each in his own way participated in the coronation. Some took care of the tapestries, others of the banquets, and others were just spectators. France lived these events passionately. You can feel in this cathedral, in this room, the vibrations of those who preceded you here. It is the past that makes things certain. I'm not so sure. It is not sure that the memory we are reliving today will not engender a certain feeling of pride. Beyond the divisions, beyond the quarrels, the coronation marked the beginning of a reign, the advent of a man anointed, in the footsteps of Clovis and Saint-Rémi. The coronation was the divine unction, the renewal of society, a new breath in the continuity of a lineage of the country; a hope of an entire people for the one who incarnated the unity of France.
Note: The line "It's the past that makes things certain" ("C'est le passé qui rend certain") seems to be a quotation of some sort, but I could not find it.
In a period of time that sees only the future, and forgets the past, I am very struck by this event that unites us - a cathedral, and more than that, THE cathedral of the coronation. In the glow of the footlights, each of you in his own way is commemorating the event; every woman, every man, is seeing its symbolism, everyone here is feeling history, our history, vibrating.
Allow me to express my emotions on the occasion of this commemoration, my emotions on seeing men and women assemble in this immense vessel that inscribes France into the most Christian tradition. A paradox of history, nonetheless…
I have received, as head of the House of Bourbon, a very special heritage - to be the successor to the Kings who made France, the very ones who came here to receive God's consecration.
I cannot claim to remain insensitive to this anniversary, or to the symbolism and beauty of this place that well deserves its international radiance. I have received an inheritance that I accept, but I am not alone in bearing it. Yes, you, my dear friends, you the people of France, for you, too, it is your heritage, our common memory, our foundation, our roots. Just as I do, you attach to it this particular importance that none can avoid today.
"France, What have you done to the promise of your baptism?" a blessed man inquired here more than twenty years ago, having come to meet the people.
Note: This was Pope John-Paul II, and the year was 1981.
Today, France remembers, France comes to life, France breathes. Yes, this monument of the past, this monument of unity is also a monument of the future, one we will transmit to our children, so that they may be proud of their country, of France.
His speech was greeted by applause and shouts of "Vive le Roi!" which were deleted in this video. There is another video where they are audible. I chose to post this one because it is louder and clearer.
Below one commemorative stamp for Reims' 800th birthday. See this site (in French) for more.
Those interested in the decline of Christianity in France may find this article by Mary Jo Anderson informative.
On the visit to France by John-Paul II and the pressures put on him during his return visit, see Catholic Tradition.