Monday, September 26, 2005

Visiting Champagne No. 1: Reims Cathedral

So, this last weekend we were away in Champagne, helping with the Vendange. Well, 'helping' is rather a long way from the truth. Our hosts were quite keen that we had more of a learning experience than a sore back experience. But since we weren't there for long, and there was so much to see, we were quite happy to go along with their planning. In fact, they went out of their way to accommodate us at a time when they were extremely busy, so we were very fortunate.

It's going to take quite a bit of finger-tapping to get down all the thoughts and experiences of the last weekend, so I thought I would write a few paragraphs each evening this week.

To recap a little, my friend OR is married to the daughter of a Champagne producer. He spends a lot of his weekends over in the village where his in-laws live near the city of Reims (pronounced Rance and written Rheims in English), helping out in their vineyard. After visiting the village for the wedding of our friend last year, a very traditional affair, we managed to get invited back to see the Vendange (grape harvest).

We drove over on Saturday morning and met up with our friend's wife, ER at the hotel in Tinqueux where we were staying. She had kindly asked us if we would like a tour of Reims. We began with the cathedral whose immense facade bears down on you as you drive towards it.

Up close, however, it is beautifully carved with figures and exotic beasts. The scultures adorning the doorways are extremely large, such as this smiling angel who stands just to the right of the main door, welcoming visitors inside. I have never seen anything like this figure before. She seems positively brimming with happiness. Our friend told us that she is well known and showed us the gold medallion around her neck which is engraved with the angel's smiling face.

The interior of the cathedral is a vast, lofty space. Many of the stained glass windows were destroyed during the 2nd World War and were later replaced. One of the most famous is the high window created by the Russian emigre artist Marc Chagall in the 1970s together with his wife and son who had set up a stained glass workshop in Reims. The window is very typical of Chagall's work, and yet remains very suited to its setting. The photograph below details just a part of the whole window.

I belive this Chagall window was paid for by Champagne producers. Another of the windows was also also replaced by the champagne growers in the 1950s, this one depicts many of the little villages where the growing of Champagne grapes is the central fact of existence, including the little village of Sacy that we would be visiting the next day.

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