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History of the palais du Tau

Discover the fascinating history of the palais du Tau, the former residence of the Archbishop of Reims!

The origins of the palais du Tau

At the heart of the city of the Rèmes

In the early 5th century, Christianity became the state religion. Saint Nicaise, the eleventh bishop of Reims, settled here and built a cathedral dedicated to Notre-Dame.

The Palais du Tau, built in the southern part of the cathedral quarter, became residence of the archbishop. It was also the seat of temporal power for the archbishop, who was the principal lord of the city of Reims and the Reims region. From the 13th century onwards, he held the title of Duke and First Peer of France, making him a great vassal of the French Crown.

In addition to the cathedral and the palais du Tau, the district is made up of buildings housing clerics and their activities:

  • The cloister, a place of spiritual and temporal power, knowledge and charity.
  • The Hôtel-Dieu, where the sick and pilgrims were received.

Why the palais du "Tau"?

A strange name for an archiepiscopal palace, or more commonly known as the archbishop's palace!

The palace's name of "tau" (letter T in the Greek alphabet) probably derives from the fortuitous development of two wings of buildings: the Salle du Tau and its angled return.

The name may also derive from the bishop's pastoral staff, which, before the episcopal crosier, was shaped like a tau, an image of the Holy Trinity or the cross.

Palais du Tau, cour d'honneur (avant restauration)

© David Bordes / Centre des monuments nationaux

A long history...

Let's take a look back at the construction and evolution of the Palais du Tau, listed as a historic monument in 1907!

Built at the end of the 4th century on an ancient Gallo-Roman dwelling on the south side of the cathedral, it initially resembled a fortified house.

After a fire in the early 13th century, it was rebuilt and a two-storey palatine chapel was added.

Around 1500, under Archbishops Guillaume Briçonnet (1497-1507) and Robert de Lenoncourt (1503-1532), the palace was remodeled in the flamboyant Gothic style. Today, only the rib-vaulted lower hall and the 20th century decoration of the banqueting hall remain.

It was transformed into a classical palace between 1671 and 1710 under the direction of Jules Hardouin-Mansart, King Louis XIV's first architect, and Robert de Cotte, his pupil and main collaborator.

It became national property in 1793, then successively court, stock exchange, barracks, prison, etc. The palace was finally restored for the coronation of Charles X in 1825.

Around 1860, based on plans by Viollet-le-Duc, the large wing along rue du Cardinal de Lorraine was extensively remodeled.

In 1905, the separation of Church and State led to the expulsion of the archbishop.

© Reproduction DR / Centre des monuments nationaux

On September 19th 1914, the building fell prey to flames as a dramatic fire consumed the cathedral's roof structure.

In the aftermath of the Great War, the Monuments Historiques department, under the direction of architect Henri Deneux, devoted all its energy to restoring the cathedral, whose reopening was solemnly celebrated in 1938.

The palais du Tau had to wait for the return of peace and prosperity before undergoing major restoration work between 1950 and 1972.

Partially used at the beginning of the 20th century as the Musée d'ethnographie champenoise, the Palais du Tau was rebuilt as a museum housing the cathedral's great statues and tapestries. As a result, the rooms were given greater volume, and the Salle du Festin was restored to its late 15th century appearance.

In 1972, the opened to the public.

Classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991, along with the cathedral.

© Reproduction DR / Centre des monuments nationaux

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