Rouen: Cathedral Lights and a Martyred Heroine


The French city of Rouen is known for two things – its magnificent cathedral and the martyrdom of Joan of Arc at the age of nineteen. There has been a church on the site of the Rouen cathedral since the 4th century.  Construction started on the current cathedral in the 1200s.

If you’re lucky enough to be in Rouen on a summer night then the place to be when it gets dark is the square in front of the cathedral.  Every night Rouen creates a ‘light show’ that is shown on the front edifice of the cathedral.

Birth of William the Conquerer

Each year the show has a theme such as the Normandy invasion – staring with the omen of Halley’s comet through the birth of William the Conquerer to the invasion.  Spectators sit on the square steps to enjoy the show which lasts about 20 minutes.

Can you spot a scene from the Bayeux tapestry?

By day the cathedral remains an impressive structure with its Gothic spires, 13th century stained glass windows and detailed carvings.  It has survived multiple religious wars as well as two world wars.


The cathedral has also inspired many artists most famously Claude Monet who painted an entire series of Impressionist paints depicting the cathedral at various times of day.

Rouen Cathedral – Full Sunlight

Monet painted he over thirty paintings were between in 1892 and 1894. In 1895 he selected what he considered to be the twenty best paintings from the series for display at his Paris dealer’s gallery and sold eight of them before the exhibition was over.

At this time there was a resurgence of interest in French Catholicism and the Rouen cathedral was seen as an example of all that was best in French history and culture. It’s Gothic style has been admired and adopted by many European countries during the Middle Ages.

Such was the fame of the Rouen Cathedral that those with enough wealth, influence, royal blood or all three chose it as their final resting place.

The tombs at Rouen include such notables as Richard the Lionhearted – well his heart anyway.  John Plantagenet who was one of the main overseers in the trial of Joan of Arc also used to be buried here but his tomb was destroyed by Calvinists in the 16th century.


This brings us to Joan of Arc.  The English who were in control of Rouen at the time since she was supporting the sone of the dead French king Charles VI who had his throne stolen from him.  She is today considered a hero and a martyr but she was condemned to burn at the stake at the age of nineteen.  Her official crime?  Cross-dressing.




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