The resurrection of the Saint-Remi Basilica’s Grand Organ in Reims,
initiated by the Grandes Marques (Great Brands) and Champagne Houses

The Organ of the year 2000 is finally here, after a silence of 82 years...”. These were the words spoken by Father André Rousselle, Bishop of Saint-Remi, during the official inauguration of the new organs of the time-honoured Basilica, while in the presence of Bishop Jules Massin, the former canon of the site.

Eighty two years is a long time! On August 1, 1918, three months before the end of the Great War, the Basilica of Saint-Remi was struck by a shell. With the vaulted ceiling in flames, it eventually collapsed and destroyed the great Brisset organ that had been put in place just twenty years prior. Following this disaster, the Basilica had to make do (temporarily) with a small accompanying organ, which was recuperated after the demolition, in 1973, of the chapel to the girl’s college of Avenue Jean-Jaurés.

Would it be right to say that the Saint-Rémi Basilica is even more beautiful than the sacred Cathedral?
The baptism of Clovis
by Saint-Rémi in 496 AC in Reims is immortalised by a statue.

A few avid fans of the old organ refused to see the make-shift organ become a permanent feature of the Basilica. They dreamt of a grand organ that would be worthy of such a building, a building protected by UNESCO as a world heritage site. In 1991, one of these organ fans, the cellar master of Veuve Clicquot, Charles Delhaye, founded an association called “the rebirth of the grand organ of Saint-Rémi in Reims” (“The rebirth of Saint-Remi’s grand organ”). With the support of his Champagne House, he engaged lengthy procedures.

Nine years later, the dream became reality. Four years of construction were necessary for the fabrication, installation and tuning of this magnificent instrument. It was constructed by the organ builder, Bertrand Cattiaux, who had previously restored the organ of Notre-Dame de Paris, as well as that of the Royal Chapel of Versailles.

The new powerful organ consisted of forty four pipes, with three keyboards and pedals. Weighing in at eight tonnes, it was perched in a “bird’s nest” position, at 5.6 meters from the floor. The case of the organ reaches a height of 11.20 meters and contains more than 3000 tubes which are all necessary for its operation. Positioned in the tenth aisle of the southern nave, it blends perfectly with the architectural style of the Saint-Remi Basilica. It is the first organ of this grandeur to have been built in France for thirty years! The organ was, of course, paid for by the local authorities. However, particular thanks must go out to the initial donations made by the organisation, “Renaissance des grandes orgues de Saint-Rémi”. This association was backed by the local population as well as some of the great brands of Champagne, namely: Piper & Charles Heidseick, Pommery, Roederer, Ruinart, Taittinger,and Vve Clicquot.

On September 14, 2000, more than 1500 people came together for the official inauguration and blessing of the organ by Bishop Thierry Jordan, of Reims. He declared in his inaugural speech that, “in the life of a bishop, there are often trying times, but there are also moments of joy such as this, which bring us together today”. The Bishop went on to define the “role” of the organ: “this is an instrument which touches each and every one of us in a different way, and is used to accompany choirs and add dignity to celebrations. It elevates us, and brings to the fore what is truly great in the heart of man”. Bishop Jordan, then went on, in a very particular liturgy of praise, to speak with the “holy organ”, inviting it to “to be born”, before finally blessing it.

A number of otherspeecheswere then given by notable figures such as Joseph Henriot, the chairman of the chairman of Veuve Clicquot and of the association “Renaissance des grandes orgues de Saint-Rémi”, Albert Vecten, chairman of the General Council, also gave a speech alone with Jean-Claude Etienne, chairman of the Regional Council, who thanked those who had contributed to the realisation of this project. Jean-Louis Schneiter, the Mayor of Reims also reiterated that this organ would, “become part of the community’s heritage”.

During this inauguration four concerts were offered to the people of Reims, with André Isoir (organist of the great organ at Saint-Germain-des-Prés) playing the organ. Olivier Latry (one of the official organists at Notre-Dame de Paris) and Pierre Mea (official organist of Reims Cathedral) were also present. Among the many pieces played there were two that merit a particular mention. The first was that of “La Croix Du Sud”, a symphonic poem by Jean-Louis Florentz. The second, “Le ciel brûle d’étoiles”, by Jacques Lénot, was based on a poem by Marina Tsvetaïeva. In this way the Champagne Houses asserted their double vocation: a) as a patron of arts and b) the muse of artists.

Basilique Saint-Remi

Patrimoine mondial