The Smiling Angel, “L’ange au Sourire”, standing just above the north entrance of the main façade of the Cathedral of Reims near Paris is one of the most famous works of medieval statuary. Carved sometime between 1236 and 1245, the enigmatic icon is not the only smiling angel in the 2303 large collection of sculptures at Reims, but it is by far the most known, thanks in part to the angel’s history.
During World War I, the city of Reims was shelled for four years by artillery fire. On September 19, 1914, the scaffolding on the north portal catches fire. A beam of the burning scaffold collapses and decapitates the angel. The head falls to the ground four meters below and breaks into twenty pieces. They were soon picked up and secured in the cellars of the archbishop’s palace, to be discovered by the architect Max de Sainsaulieu in 1915.
After WWI a casting was made from the original fragments (kept in the Musée National des Monuments Français), making it possible to reconstruct the head. It was reattached to the sculpture on February 13, 1926. The gently smiling angel is a symbol of the cathedral and the city of Reims.