Monday, June 7, 2010

Rouen's Churches

Rouen's nickname is the city of a hundred steeples. Indeed, churches and towers seem to be around every corner, sometimes side-by-side. The city's two biggest churches are its cathedral and a former abbey church, which, although both high Gothic, present an interesting contrast.

The cathedral, Notre-Dame de Rouen, draws its fame not only from its own attributes but perhaps even more so from the Monet's celebrated series of paintings showing the cathedral's facade in different weather and at different times of day. But the cathedral is so original, so compelling that its facade, even with its familiarity and even with its lower part covered for restoration, leads you to ask "Is that really the Monet cathedral?"

Ironically, at least to me, this cathedral, so famous for its role in seeing light in its various characters, on the inside appears sort of gloomy. The cathedral, constructed from the 12th to the 16th Centuries, is vast, and its interior has the powerful vertical lines of high Gothic.

But for a Gothic church with flying buttresses, the overall effect inside seems dark.

In part this may be due to the lack of windows at the gallery level above the main arches of the nave and below the upper windows.

Like many French churches, the cathedral lost much of its original stained glass during the Second World War. The cathedral's great rose window is in white glass, which makes the stonework all the more remarkable and adds some additional light to the nave.

The cathedral does have some beautiful stained glass. Here's a section of one of the windows in the choir.

The cathedral has many interesting elements. During the restoration of the facade, some of the statues have been brought into the cathedral. Here's the statue of King David, here recognized, by his holding a harp, as the psalmist.

And the north transept has this terrific Renaissance staircase, although it looks to me like the upper flight now doesn't actually go anywhere.

The church of Saint-Ouen, although perhaps less famous than the cathedral, is more harmonious and more luminous. It was originally the abbey church for the Benedictine Order. Construction began in 1318 and was completed in the 15th Century. Even under its exterior grime, the abbey's facade is highly symmetric.

Saint-Ouen's flying buttresses, although seemingly similar to the those of the cathedral, for some reason are able to support walls that let in a great deal more light.

Thus, in contrast to the cathedral, Saint-Ouen's gallery is lit by enormous windows.

Thus in the choir, as in the nave, Saint-Ouen is warm and luminous, while still showing off its impressive height.

Above the arches, the choir still shows some elements of painted decoration.

Like the cathedral, Saint-Ouen is big. Those pillars are huge!

Saint-Ouen's stained glass is breathtaking. Here are the windows in the north transept.

The colors of the glass in the windows of the nave in turn color other parts of Saint-Ouen. Here is the play of light on part of the floor of the north aisle of the nave.

And, saving the best for last, here is the great rose window of the facade, with its modern glass framed by flamboyant forms.

No comments:

Post a Comment