Rouen (pronounced Rew–on) is the capital of the Normandy region of France. And the city’s pride and jewel? Rouen Cathedral, once the tallest building in the World. Located in the very heart of the Northern French city, Rouen Cathedral’s spire circles up into the air to a staggering height of over 150m.
Iconic domes tower up above the town of Rouen and intricate carvings cover the Cathedral like intricate lace, making the Cathedral one of the most impressive examples of Gothic architecture in France, if not the world. Here’s everything you should know before visiting the ecclesiastical building, including a short history!
A history of Rouen Cathedral
Built between 1030 and 1880, William the Conqueror was present at its consecration. Yep, William the Conqueror, that guy who conquered England in 1066 and commissioned the Magna Carta in 1085. Rouen cathedral also happens to be the final resting place of Richard the Lionheart as he also reigned as Duke of Normandy during his lifetime.
His Grandfather, Rollo, was a prominent Viking leader who was also baptized and buried here, Oh, and the Cathedral also happens to house some of my boyfriend’s ancestors are buried in the Cathedral too (apparently- we didn’t have time to check the entire Cathedral for evidence on our brief visit).
Rouen Cathedral Architecture and the Cathedral’s importance in Medieval France
The cathedral includes two prominent towers; Tour de Beurre (literally ‘butter tower‘) and Tour Saint-Romain (four centuries older than the Tour de Beurre). Within these two towers there’s a peal of 70 bells, estimated to weigh a staggering 36 tons in total!
Although Rouen Cathedral was once the world’s tallest building, stealing the crown from Strasbourg Cathedral, the cathedral only managed to keep the title for a mere four years. From that point on, the cathedral was swiftly overtaken by Cologne Cathedral in what is now Germany.
Like many other cathedrals and basilicas throughout Europe (including the Sacré-Coeur in Paris), the Cathedral is actually built on the site of a previously existing church. Originally founded sometime during the 4th Century, the original church was eventually destroyed by Viking raids in the 9th Century.
In more recent years, the beautiful exterior and interior of Rouen Cathedral have inspired writers and artists alike. Some of the greatest painters of the 20th Century made the cathedral their muse; these include the artist Monet and the author, Ruskin.
The interior of the Cathedral is an impressive feat of gothic style engineering. In a time prior to electricity and modern-day machinery, the vaulted ceiling supported spires that were once the highest in the world. Standing in pride of place in the very heart of the city of Rouen, it’s well worth a visit next time you’re in the Normandy capital city.
How to visit Rouen Cathedral
If you’re looking to enjoy a wander around the ecclesiastical building for yourself, then you should know that entrance is free. The Cathedral can be wandered around during non-service hours and is typically open from Tuesday – Saturday 9 AM – 7 PM, Monday 2 PM – 7 PM, and on Sundays 8 AM – 6 PM. However, you should be aware that religious services throughout the year and on Sundays may mean that visiting the cathedral might not be possible, even during opening hours.
If you have a little more time while in the area, be sure to take yourself on a stroll around the city’s historic heart. After all, you’ll soon discover many a timber-framed house and cobbled lane. Moreover, the Gros Horloge just a few minutes walk away from the ecclesiastical building dates all the way back to the 14th-century and is easily one of the most beautiful public clocks in France.