In 1974, Marc Chagall (1887-1985) created, with the collaboration of the Jacques Simon Workshop, three stained glass windows for the axial chapel of the Cathedral.
The realisation of these windows, which took six years (1968-1974), was made possible thanks to the donations of the Committee of Builders of Champagne-Ardenne, and a membership drive conducted by the Friends of the Reims Cathedral. The total cost was 300,000 Francs (€47,000).
From 1957, Marc Chagall regularly came to Reims, where he was working in collaboration with the Jacques Simon Workshop on the realisation of a certain number of important projects in France and internationally (the Metz Cathedral, the United Nations in New York, the church of Tudeley, the Rockefeller chapel (Union Church) at Pocantico Hills, etc.).
In November 1968, the Committee of Builders of Champagne-Ardenne, an association comprising a number of businesses, construction material dealers, contractors and architects of the region, decided to commission Marc Chagall to create stained glass windows in the Reims Cathedral to replace those made in the nineteenth century by Coffetier and Steinheil.
In 1971, Jacques Duhamel, then Minister of Culture, officially decided the placement for the windows to be in the axial chapel.
© Pascal Stritt, 2007 © Région Champagne-Ardenne, Jacques Philippot
Chagall began by immersing himself in the atmosphere of the edifice and its medieval windows, from which he asked Charles Marq to reproduce the colours. He then commenced work by gluing pieces of cloth on preliminary models, followed by working with gouache on larger and larger models.
The ensemble of these works, six lancet and three small rose windows, is ten metres high and covers an area of about 75m².
The central window evokes the history of Abraham and the last moments of the Earthly life of Christ (the Passion and the Resurrection), that is, the foundations of the Old and New Testaments: the sacrifice of Abraham heralding that of Christ. The rose window represents The Holy Spirit.
The window on the left expresses the prophesy of the Old Testament. It depicts the Tree of Jesse, linked to the genealogy of the Virgin, under whose patronage the Cathedral is placed. From the side of Jesse springs the branch giving birth to the kings of Judah, of which Chagall portrayed only Saul, David and Salomon. The rose window represents a certain number of prophets announcing the coming of the Messiah.
In this realisation, Marc Chagall succeeds in combining the modernity of drawing and of composition, with the hues of medieval stained glass, from which he borrowed the ancient blues in order to preserve the overall harmony of colours. The windows were inaugurated on June 14, 1974.