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.

Celebrate the Holidays With the 2020 Harry Potter Funko Pop Advent Calendar

Funko
Funko

Though the main book series and movie franchise are long over, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter remains in the spotlight as one of the most popular properties in pop-culture. The folks at Funko definitely know this, and every year the company releases a new Advent calendar based on the popular series so fans can count down to the holidays with their favorite characters.

Right now, you can pre-order the 2020 edition of Funko's popular Harry Potter Advent calendar, and if you do it through Amazon, you'll even get it on sale for 33 percent off, bringing the price down from $60 to just $40.

Funko Pop!/Amazon

Over the course of the holiday season, the Advent calendar allows you to count down the days until Christmas, starting on December 1, by opening one of the tiny, numbered doors on the appropriate day. Each door is filled with a surprise Pocket Pop! figurine—but outside of the trio of Harry, Hermione, and Ron, the company isn't revealing who you'll be getting just yet.

Calendars will start shipping on October 15, but if you want a head start, go to Amazon to pre-order yours at a discount.

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

6 Fascinating Facts About Vincent Price

There’s more to Vincent Price than just his iconic horror movie roles.
There’s more to Vincent Price than just his iconic horror movie roles.
Photoshot/Getty Images

It’s basically impossible to talk about classic horror movies without mentioning at least one film starring Vincent Price. With his menacing voice, laugh, and presence, Price easily became a staple in Hollywood horror cinema. The actor may be known for House of Wax (1953), The Last Man on Earth (1964), and The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971), but he has more than 200 acting credits across film, television, and theater.

Although his contributions to the horror genre are truly unparalleled, few people know that there is much more to him beyond these performances. He once wrote that he is passionate about three things: work, art, and food. Here are six fascinating facts you may not know about Vincent Price.

1. Vincent Price initially studied for a master’s degree in Fine Arts.

Price graduated from Yale University with a degree in English and a minor in Art History. He taught at his alma mater for a year before entering the Courtauld Institute of Art of the University of London. Although he fully intended to study for a master’s degree in Fine Arts, he was drawn to theater and decided to become an actor instead.

2. A museum in East Los Angeles is named after Vincent Price.

In addition to being an actor, Price was also a well-respected art collector and consultant. In 1957, he and his then-wife Mary Grant donated 90 pieces of art to the East Los Angeles College (ELAC) because they wanted students to have “first-hand experiences with art.” The institution named the art gallery, now the Vincent Price Art Museum, in their honor. Price had recognized art’s significance in education ever since he was a student himself. As he once said, "A picture was worth a thousand words, even if I had to read 10 million words to get to see more pictures.”

3. Vincent Price was a major foodie.

Vincent Price was as talented in the kitchen as he was on the screen.Frank Barratt/Stringer/Getty Images

Price was born into a family of food businessmen, so it's perhaps no surprise that he embarked upon his own culinary adventures. He went on to earn a reputation as a gourmet cook, cementing his culinary legacy by authoring several cookbooks and hosting his own cooking television show, Cooking Price-Wise.

4. Tim Burton’s Vincent Price documentary remains incomplete and unreleased to this day.

Price was Tim Burton’s good friend, frequent collaborator, and childhood idol. During the filming of Edward Scissorhands (1990), Burton approached Price to discuss the idea of an independent documentary about the actor’s life. They shot some interviews at the ELAC, and the project was tentatively titled Conversations with Vincent.

After Price’s death, Burton wanted to complete the documentary, which he then renamed A Visit with Vincent. However, it never happened. Some say the film wasn’t released because it became too personal for Burton, while others believe studios refused to grant any budget for the project.

5. Vincent Price's daughter says he was bisexual.

“I am as close to certain as I can be that my dad had physically intimate relationships with men,” said his daughter Victoria Price in an exclusive interview with #Boom Magazine. He was also supportive of her when she came out to him. She recalled that he said, “You know, I know just how you feel because I have had these deep, loving relationships with men in my life and all my wives were jealous.”

6. Vincent Price’s voice is featured on a Disneyland attraction.

With a voice as iconic and distinctive as Price had, it’s no wonder Disneyland Paris hired him to record narration for their dark ride attraction, Phantom Manor. However, the audio was shortly replaced by a French narration, so only Price’s evil laugh remained. After a major renovation in 2019, Walt Disney Imagineering brought back his recordings and included previously unused material in the refurbished attraction.