article | Reading time5 min

The fantastic bestiary

A flying rhinoceros, a laughing face... A whole host of fantastic creatures populate the decor of Reims Cathedral !

Creatures and monsters of the imagination

Why are so many imaginary creatures depicted on the cathedral ?

Far from view, the toads, bats, snakes, dogs and other grimacing chimeras with human heads, which took shape in the Middle Ages under the stonecutter's chisels, cry out fears, suffering and doubts.

This fantastic bestiary is poignant !

The anonymous sculptor undoubtedly represented a neighbor, a loved one. You have to imagine these craftsmen, living in poor, uncomfortable hovels of cob and wood, squeezed in at the foot of the sacred fortress. They cut stone as an offering, a promise of a better world.

It's up to you to find them during your visit...

Bestiaire fantastique dans les tours de la cathédrale

© Philippe Berthé / Centre des monuments nationaux

Focus on Sagittarius

At the top of the gable of the south arm of the transept stands a statue of Sagittarius: a man with the body of a horse, shooting an arrow.

What could this arrow be aiming at ?

This may seem enigmatic, since its target disappeared at the end of the 17th century. It was a bronze stag, a statue associated with Archbishop Gervais in the 1060s, which adorned the courtyard of the Palais du Tau
This stag was associated with the officiality, the archbishop's ecclesiastical tribunal, and featured on his seal. The canons, the cathedral's clergy, sometimes had a strained relationship with the archbishop .

The fact that their Sagittarius aims at the stag, symbolizing episcopal justice, can be seen as a wink. You know, in the Middle Ages, there are sometimes rather facetious representations...

In the past, the stag statue had a surprising use: during the coronation of the Kings, it was filled with wine and served as a wine fountain !

Le sagittaire situé au bras sud du transpept de la cathédrale de Reims

© Philippe Berthé / Centre des monuments nationaux

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