Rouen was our introduction to Normandy – the first of many stops on that trip – and we were bowled over by this charming town with its half-timbered homes and beautiful churches and cathedrals. Art fans kind can find the largest collection of impressionist art outside Paris at the Musée des Beaux-Arts. Claimed by some to be the birthplace of impressionism, Rouen was a favorite of painters such as Gaugin, Pissarro, and especially Monet, whose series of 30+ painting of Rouen’s cathedral is well-known and praised. For those looking for some historical importance, Rouen has got you covered. Joan of Arc was only 13 when she received her first visions of the saints who told her to drive the English out of France. She was victorious in many battles until finally captured at the age of 19. She was brought to Rouen to stand trial and was subsequently burned at the stake.
The Cathedral of Monet’s paintings is the famous for its butter tower (Tour de Beurre) which was financed by the sale of indulgences to consume butter during Lent.
The beauty of this cathedral continues to inspire today – we spent a few minutes chatting with and watching an artist paint the cathedral. Wish I had this hanging in my living room.
The Normandy region is well-known for their half-timbered houses – buildings with exposed wood framing – a style which dates back to the Middle Ages. I personally could not get enough of them. I mean, come on. It feels like my fairy tale stories come to life.
I promise that we did actually take photos of non-timbered things. The Church of St. Ouen may have been my favorite of Rouen’s four churches we visited. They started building the church in 1318, but the building was halted by the Hundred Year War during which it suffered significant damage. The church was eventually finished in the 15th century, with further additions in the 19th century. It had a small little park dusted with pink petals – perfectly coordinating with my ballet shoes.
And among all the churches in Rouen, one of these things is not like the others. The Church of St. Joan of Arc is vastly different from the other churches in this city. Built in 1979, this modern church stands in the center of the ancient market square – right next to the spot where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake, which is simply and unceremoniously marked with a plain cross. The structure of the church is meant to evoke the flames that brought Joan of Arc’s life to an early end.
My parents are coming out to visit this coming May and a trip to Normandy is on the books. As this is a city which should be experienced by anyone visiting the Normandy region, you can bet that a stop in Rouen in on the itinerary.