08/21/2013 05:14 pm ET Updated Oct 21, 2013

Floodlit Gothic: Reims Cathedral

I was tired after a long day of guidebook research. But there's a buzz about the sound-and-light show at Reims Cathedral so, after dinner, my France guidebook co-author, Steve Smith, and I walked down the street to one of the greatest cathedrals in Europe.

The building, began in 1211 and essentially finished in 60 years under the direction of four different architects, is remarkable for its harmony and unity of style. Having learned from the construction of earlier Gothic churches, the architects in Reims were now confident in its structure. It's far more elegant-looking and has more glass than, for instance, the Cathedral of Chartres.

When wonderstruck by Gothic cathedrals, I often contemplate the lives of the people who built these huge buildings back in the 13th century. Construction on a scale like this required a community effort. It was all hands on deck. Most townsfolk who participated donated their money or their labor knowing that they would likely never see it completed -- such was their pride, dedication, and faith. Imagine the effort it took to raise the funds and manage the workforce. Master masons supervised, while the average Jean-Claude did much of the sweat work. Labor was something that even the poorest medieval peasant could donate generously.

The builders of the Cathedral of Reims gave it their all, in part because this was the church where French kings would be crowned. And today, visitors enjoy the church in a way its builders could never imagine.