Reims Cathedral as a Continuation of the Chartres Tradition

Reims Cathedral as a continuation of the Chartres Tradition

Chartres Cathedral is considered one of the most exemplary examples of the High Gothic style of the early thirteenth century. While Chartres’ construction began after the fire of 1194, Reims Cathedral’s construction began fifteen years later, in 1210. There are many similarities in both of these cathedrals, but it would seem that “the Reims architects utilized Chartres’ design of capitals in the nave arcade, but improved on the total continuity between the nave arcade and the rising shafts above”(201). Reims Cathedral, most notably, builds upon Chartres architectural design but embellishes its sculptural design as well.

Chartres Cathedral is well known for its extreme verticality and the widest central vessel of High Gothic design. Reims, however, is three feet taller and nine feet narrower, furthering the feeling of ascension felt in cathedrals. Also, to increase the feeling of verticality, the Reims architects raised the height of the main arcade. The Reims architects, by raising the main arcade, limited the amount of wall surface between the pointed arch and the stringcourse of the triforium zone.

One of the main objectives of Chartres Cathedral is its enormous use of homogeneity throughout the building. Reims builds upon this objective and obsesses on uniformity. The Chartres master set separate designs for both the transverse arches and diagonal ribs, denoting their different functions in the ceiling system. There is also a differentiation in both the design of the capitals and throughout the central vessel. Reims, on the other hand, sets the same design for the transverse arches and diagonal ribs, and the distinctiveness of Chartres’ central vessel is blurred in Reims. In the capitals of Reims, the capitals of the responds are the same as the core shaft, but have different designs of each small part, adding uniqueness to the mass uniformity of the columns.

While Chartres Cathedral uses a double ambulatory, Reims simplifies the east end of the cathedral with a single ambulatory. Complications arose in the construction of Chartres cathedral because previous structures existed before the construction that they had to work around, while Reims cathedral was built on virgin soil. In the windows of the clerestory, Reims cathedral incorporates bar tracery, which allows more light to come through the building. Chartres, however, uses plate tracery, which is bulkier and blocks a certain amount of light. In Reims, the central column of the triforium zone is slightly larger than its flanking columns. This brings the emphasis of the eye slightly to the center. The triforium zone, in general, is larger in Reims than in Chartres. The triforium zone of Reims wraps around the entire choir at a uniform height. The piers in Reims are graduated, compared to the similar columns of Chartres. Although this effect seems non-uniform, it actually lends to the greater homogeneity of the Cathedral by pulling the eye toward the long choir. The wall arches over the clerestory windows are different in Chartres compared to Reims. In Chartres, a semi-circular wall arch corresponds to the semi-circular window. However, in Reims, the clerestory windows are pointed, as well as the wall arch. Reims Cathedral had the benefit of being built after the High Gothic masterpiece, Chartres, and made sure to build upon its strengths and strengthen its weaknesses.