The Building of Rouen Catherdral

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The impressive Gothic Rouen cathedral has the tallest church spire in France. A fine example of a wealth of history, art and architectural details.

La cathedrale primatiale Notre-Dame de l’Assomption de Rouen, Rouen cathedral is one of the most magnificent Gothic churches ever to be built.

For three centuries the construction carried on for, allowing all forms of the Gothic spectrum. The spire is Neo Gothic and was added in the 19th century. The Dukes of Normandy were traditionally crowned here, and some were buried in the cathedral including the heart of Richard the Lion Heart. In the Bishops palace Joan of Arc was put on trial. The church has some stained-glass windows from the early 13th century and has the oldest recumbent tomb statue in France.

The site where the Rouen cathedral is built was used for Christian worship since at least the early 4th century. Most of the present church was constructed between 1200 and the early 16th century.

Construction of the current church began during the late 12th century to modernise and enlarge a Romanesque cathedral. During Easter 1200 a fire caused major damage to the structure allowing the new Gothic church to be built free from the Romanesque predecessor constraints.

Shortly afterwards the construction of the Gothic cathedral resumed. However, the Hundred Years War, finances, revolts, weather and fire damage interfered with the building project, which delayed the construction meaning it dragged on for three centuries. Parts of the church remained in use throughout. The long building period allowed for the full Gothic spectrum to take hold.
Rouen cathedral was damaged but not destroyed during the Wars of Religion, the French Revolution and the Second World War. Like with most old houses and buildings, maintenance work never ends, and part of the cathedral is usually covered by protective sheeting and scaffolding.

In 1944 during the Second World War several of the windows were blown out. However, in 1939, on the initiative of Jean Lafond almost all stained-glass windows in Rouen were removed from historic buildings and churches and kept securely until the end of the war. Rouen cathedral has stained glass windows dating all the way back to as far as 1210.

Rouen cathedral is not one of the largest cathedrals in France but as mentioned before it has the tallest steeple and the rest of the dimensions are impressive.

The western façade of Rouen cathedral is the largest of any church in France. It was famously painted by the impressionist artist Claude Monet. There is a series of 28 paintings showing the façade at different times of the day. The paintings are now all over the world. One is in the local Fine Art Museum and five in the Musee d’Orsay.

The left tower and the two side portals on the western façade are the oldest part of the Gothic cathedral these dates back from the 12th century. The tympana dates back to the 13th century. The one on the left above the Portail St Jean show the death of John the Baptist. On the Portail St Etienne shows the stoning of the first Christian martyr, St Stephen.

The lattice work window gallery and gables are flamboyant Gothic from the late 14th and early 15th centuries.

The early Gothic Tour St Romain, the tower on the left is older with its base dating from the 12th century. In the 15th century the roof with golden suns were added but burned down in 1944 after a bombing raid by the US Air Force however it was restored true to the original.

The last major part of the church to be completed was the Gothic south tower back in 1507. It carries an octagonal crown and never had a steeple. Known as the Tour de Beurre (Butter Tower) as it was believed the construction was financed through indulgences paid by some of the rich who didn’t during lent give up eating butter.

In the 16th century the central doorway was completed as the construction of the Butter Tower damaged the older structure. The tympanum here has the Tree of Jesse. It was destroyed during the Wars of Religion by the Huguenots but replaced in the early 17th century and recently restored.

The row of apostles are copies. You can see the surviving statues up close in the ambulatory of the church.

You can clearly see why this building is so impressive.

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