The site on which Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen sits has hosted a church from at least the 4th century. The Cathedral has undergone multiple building projects since that period. As a result, the present structure has Early Gothic, Late Flamboyant, and Renaissance elements. An all-star cast of famous historical visitors graced the Cathedral with their presence. These include archbishop Rémy, son of Charles Martel, Charlemagne, the Viking leader Rollo, and William the Conqueror. Claude Monet forever memorialized the Cathedral by making over 30 paintings of the church. Its 19th-century iron spire made it the tallest building in the world for a time. And the Cathedral also has the unfortunate distinction of being hit twice by Allied bombs during World War 2.
Rouen’s Cathedral is a fantastic monument of history; maybe because it’s located in such a large city and an important tourist destination, it didn’t have the same contemplative atmosphere as the other cathedrals. The number of people wandering in and out, the extensive restoration, and the bombastic demonstration of the organ’s powerful voice made it feel more like a tourist site than a place of worship. I saw a confession schedule, but that didn’t change the feeling we were wandering around in a museum. Nonetheless, taking in the architecture, history, and grandeur was an unforgettable experience.
Some historical highlights of the Cathedral are the tombs of Rollo, the first Duke of Normandy, and Richard the Lion-Hearted, containing his actual heart. Stained glass windows are among its visual treasures from the 13th to the 16th centuries. The 15th-century stairway to the medieval library is a thing of beauty. However, we could not see the remains of the magnificent choir stalls from the 15th century due to the renovations (the upper portions were destroyed during the French Revolution).
The ambulatory has statues from the facade removed in the 19th century for restoration, with copies installed back in their place. The little bookstore inside the nave had an informative display about the Cathedral during the war.
We returned to visit the Cathedral on another occasion because it is a marvel regardless of the tourist trappings. We found the two other gothic churches in Rouen equally fascinating, which will be the topic of my next post.
Index of blog posts for our Cathedral Pilgrimage
- 1. A Cathedral Pilgrimage
- 2. Preparing for a Pilgrimage
- 3. First Stop – Reims
- 4. Reims – City of Kings
- 5. Saint Remi and His Basilica
- 6. Christian Time Traveling
- 7. Second Stop – Laon
- 8. Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Laon
- 9. Third Stop – Amiens
- 10. Amiens Cathedral: Almost Heaven
- 11. Soaring Vaults and Great Treasures
- 12. Enchanted Chanting
- 13. Amiens: A City of History, Art, and Culture
- 14. Fourth Stop – Beauvais
- 15. Fifth Stop – Rouen
- 16. Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen
- 17. 3:10 to Gothic
- 18. Joan’s Triumph
- 19. Rouen Treasures