Reims Cathedral Burns

The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that shaped our modern world. Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 144th installment in the series.

September 19-20, 1914: Reims Cathedral Burns

In mid-September 1914, it was still anyone’s guess who would win the Great War on the ground—but the Allies had already won the propaganda war, as far as public opinion in neutral countries was concerned, thanks to a series of German atrocities culminating in the burning of the great medieval cathedral of Notre-Dame de Reims.

Built between 1211 and 1427 on the site of the baptism of Clovis, the first Christian King of the Franks, Notre-Dame de Reims was the church where French kings were crowned and is considered a crown jewel of Gothic architecture. Colossal and otherworldly, it is famous for its intricate façades, mystical stained glass windows, and elaborate statuary throughout, all imbued with historical and allegorical meaning. In 1862 it was added to the French government’s list of Monuments of National Importance, one of the world’s first efforts at systematic historical preservation.

After war broke out, German troops briefly occupied the city of Reims from September 4 to 12, 1914, but were then forced to withdraw after the Allied victory on the Marne. They didn’t go far, however; the new front ran diagonally just a few miles northeast of the city, so the cathedral remained within range of the artillery of the German Third Army, now dug in near Vouziers.

During the Battle of the Aisne, German officers supposedly told gunners to avoid shelling the cathedral on the presumption it was “off limits” to both sides, but then changed their mind when they saw French artillery spotters directing fire on to German positions from the roof—a charge the Allies denied. Whatever the truth was, on September 19 and 20, 1914, over two dozen German shells hit the cathedral (image above), setting fire to temporary wooden scaffolding, which in turn ignited oak wood in the cathedral’s roof.

As the blaze spread, lead used to seal the roof melted and fell to the cathedral floor, setting fire to straw left there by Germans (who had used it as a hospital), followed by wooden pews, trim, and carvings. Shrapnel and collapsing structural elements shattered stained glass windows and destroyed pillars and statuary on both sides of the cathedral, decapitating the famous “smiling angel” of Reims. By an incredible stroke of luck, most of the cathedral’s priceless communion ware, vestments, paintings, tapestries and other treasures survived, giving the French authorities a chance to move them to safety.

This wasn’t the end of the “martyrdom” of the cathedral of Reims, however: Over the course of the war, the structure was hit by 200 to 300 shells, including two more intensive bombardments in April 1917 and July 1918. By the end of the war, the cathedral’s walls and buttresses were still standing, but much of the rest of the building lay in ruins. 

Tragic as it was, the burning of the cathedral of Reims was a gift to Allied propagandists who seized on it, like the destruction of the medieval library at Louvain, as a symbol of German “barbarism”—taking pains to note the disparity between Germany’s claims to be fighting for “Kultur” and its actual treatment of priceless cultural artifacts.


See the previous installment or all entries.

Virginia’s University of Lynchburg is Adding a Harry Potter Class to Its Fall Curriculum

Warner Bros. Ent. Harry Potter Publishing Rights J.K.R.
Warner Bros. Ent. Harry Potter Publishing Rights J.K.R.

While it’s not exactly an invitation to Hogwarts, students at Virginia’s University of Lynchburg are getting just about the next best thing. This fall, the campus is adding a Harry Potter-themed class to its curriculum as a general education course.

The university is in the process of changing some of its course offerings and streamlining classes in recognition of its modern students. According to WSET ABC 13, Dr. Sharon Foreman, director of general education, said of the new curriculum: "It is very targeted towards 21st century students who are going out into a global society and so we want faculty, staff, and administrators to know what that means, what it looks like, and [to] experience it first hand.”

Faculty have decided providing an education for a global society includes offering courses like the upcoming "Harry Potter and the Good Life," which will ask students to read J.K. Rowling’s books alongside the works of philosophers to create connections between the past and present.

University of Lynchburg coordinator of integrated seminars Amy Merrill Willis told WSLS 10 News that the course's instructor, Devin Brickhouse Bryson, is "going to be introducing philosophical concepts from [Plato], Socrates, and Aristotle, and asking students to think about the Harry Potter series in depth.”

Although there may not be a sorting hat or Butterbeer involved, the class sounds like a creative way to engage students in philosophy and critical issues, all while focused on the beloved Harry Potter series.

[h/t WSET ABC 13]

Wizarding World Orlando’s New Roller Coaster Is Full of Harry Potter Easter Eggs

Universal Orlando
Universal Orlando

While Universal Studios Orlando is already home to some incredible attractions in its Wizarding World of Harry Potter, such as its very own Hogsmeade, the Hogwarts Express, and even a Hogwarts Castle, the newest roller coaster seems to be bringing out the most dedicated of Potterheads. The ride, called Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, saw whopping 10-hour waits in its opening days, and for those lucky enough to have experienced the brand-new attraction already, it looks like many have deemed it worth the line.

GameSpot got to take a ride on the Motorbike Adventure, and writer Meg Downey noted all the great details riders will encounter as they soar through the Forbidden Forest—which included a load of Easter eggs.

In particular, Downey calls out the many Harry Potter nods on the walls of the castle ruins. The graffiti, which resembles cave drawings, includes a joke about a Hippogriff attempting to catch Draco Malfoy (likely in reference to the Prisoner of Azkaban scene where the cocky wizard encounters Buckbeak), a drawing of a Phoenix that looks just like Fawkes, and even some sweet writings from Harry’s parents, James and Lily Potter.

A Blast-Ended Skrewt within Universal Orlando's Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure
A Blast-Ended Skrewt within Universal Orlando's Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, a reference to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Universal Orlando

Additionally, the ride includes a reference to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, according to Downey, who reports that Hagrid has a poster of Nifflers in his main workshop.

The new ride seems to be a must-do experience for diehard Harry Potter fans, exploring some of the most mysterious parts of Hogwarts and the fun style of Hagrid and his creatures.

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