Tag Archives: Rouen

Staying Dry in Rouen

DSCF2323It is a miserable February day, much like the painting of Rouen Cathedral by Monet, but I’m determined to stay dry while visiting the city. The only motorhome parking is on the opposite side of the Seine but it’s just a short walk over the Corneille Bridge to the city centre.

I had hoped to start my city tour with the Cathedral but a morning service means I have to change my plans and a quick visit to the Tourist Office in the 16th century House of the Exchequer opposite gives me plenty of ideas. What the staff of the Tourist Office fail to mention is that the mayor has decided that, from January 2016, nine of the principle museums in Rouen should be free (Rouen must be more prosperous than I thought, or perhaps there is a mayoral election coming up). I discover this fact from a notice on the closed gate of the Wrought Ironwork Museum. They also failed to mention that most of the museums are only open in the afternoon!

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DSCF2329Luckily, the Fine Arts Museum is open all day and inside it is warm and dry. They also have nice clean toilets and lockers for storing bulky bags so I am free to wander around with just my camera. They have some wonderful works of art, including some by Monet and Renoir. However, my favourite is a painting by Simon Saint Jean whose flowers are dotted with drops of water which look so real that I want to reach out and touch them. My favourite room is the huge, glass-covered atrium which features some of the largest paintings and sculptures and, during the summer, doubles as a restaurant.

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Monet

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Renoir

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Saint Jean

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DSCF2371I find a more morbid kind of art in the Saint Maclou courtyard, where the surrounding 16th century timber-framed houses are decorated with skulls and other symbols of death. The reason for this is that during the middle ages the area was a cemetery and many plague victims from 1348 were buried there.

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DSCF2411However, the most famous person to have died in Rouen has to be Joan of Arc and I find out more about this heroine of the Hundred Years War in the keep, the only remaining part of the 13th century castle. Known in France as La Pucelle (the maiden), she was an illiterate farm girl who was convinced that she would save France. She persuaded King Charles VII to let her fight against the English and, inspired by the voices of saints, she led 4000 troops to victory in Orleans.

DSCF2414She was eventually captured by the English and imprisoned in the castle at Rouen before being tried for witchcraft and heresy. Eventually she was convicted and executed by fire on 30th May 1431. Her heart was thrown into the River Seine to prevent people from venerating her relics.

20 years later her sentence was overturned by a papal commission and in 1920 she was canonized by the Vatican and accepted as a Saint.

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DSCF2450The site where Joan of Arc died is marked by a huge stone and iron cross in the former market square. Next to it, adjoining a more modern covered market, is an equally modern church. Built in 1979, the shape is supposed to evoke the image of the flames rising and the wooden roof has been constructed in the same way that boat’s hulls are made. Large 16th century stained-glass windows stretch along one side. These were rescued from the Church of St Vincent before it was damaged during the bombing in WWII and their installation helped the local people to accept the unusual modern design of the new church.

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DSCF2422I’m not a big fan of ceramics, but the museum is another place to stay dry and the interior architecture of the 17th century Hotel d’Hocqueville is worth the visit alone. There are lots of cabinets of the blue and white porcelain of Rouen, as well as some more unusual additions, such as the wood panelling from the St Ouen Abbey and the former pavilion of the Hotel.

DSCF2403The Secq de Tournelles Museum is a collection of historical metalwork from around the world. This may not sound very interesting, but inside an old church there are approximately 16,000 objects from keys and doorknockers to scissors, irons, baking utensils and armour. It really is an unusual and captivating display.

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Finally, I make it to the Notre Dame Cathedral. Twice destroyed by the Viking invasions in 841 and allied bombing during WWII, it is amazing that it still remains. There are three towers, each very different and boasts the highest spire in France, rising to 151m. Inside the mood is sombre with lines of life-sized statues of saints and apostles, as well as embellished tombs, including that of Richard the Lionheart.

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Joan of Arc – Fighting for her Country and Equality in the 15th Century

How did a young peasant girl from a small village become a heroine of France and a Roman Catholic saint?

DSCF6142Joan of Arc was born in 1412 at Domremy, a small village in what is now Lorraine. Her father was a farmer, with land and a plough team. She was only 13 years old when she heard a voice from God advising her to be sensible and obedient. When the English laid siege to Orleans in October 1428, the voice told her to meet with Charles VII, to lift the siege of the city and to conduct the king to Reims for his coronation.

DSCF6095After a few failed attempts to meet Charles VII she was finally admitted to the royal court and was granted permission to go with the French Army to Orleans and attempt to break the siege. There, she persuaded the cousin of the king to take Orleans by force and, within 9 days, the English departed and the siege was lifted. During the fighting, Joan had clad herself in armour and boosted the moral of the soldiers with her spirit and determination.

The Army then opened a path to Reims where Charles VII was crowned King of France and Joan of Arc was present for the coronation. Unfortunately, less than a year later, she was captured by the Duke of Burgundy and sold to the King of England. Joan was transferred to Rouen where she was accused of heresy and tried by an ecclesiastical court. She was charged in particular with re-igniting the war and was also accused of wearing men’s clothing. DSCF6160Her voices were considered as being inspired by the devil. Her trial lasted several months and in the end she was burned alive in the market place of Rouen. Her sentence was later repealed by the Pope on the 7th of July 1456, following the urging of Charles VII.

In 1869, Mgr Dupanloup, Bishop of Orleans, started the process of canonization. Joan of Arc was finally canonized in 1920 and proclaimed the second patron saint of France in 1922.

Over the years, she has become a popular cult figure, immortalised in books, plays and films, and revered in churches across France. She is a symbol of courage and loyalty to one’s country but I also think that she is a symbol of female equality, long before such a concept was even remotely considered.

We Will Remember Them

DSCF4347It’s a grey, cold and wet day in October and I’m surrounded by oak trees which have just dropped their acorns. Thousands lay scattered on the ground at my feet and it’s hard to imagine that just as many soldiers died here nearly 100 years ago. I’m visiting Delville Wood in the Somme region of France. It is most famously known as the site where South African soldiers died trying to take the wood ‘at all costs’. Only 143 men from 3,150 survived following 6 days of fighting in July 1916. My Great-Great-Uncle Charles Arthur arrived with the 23rd Battalion Royal Fusiliers on the last day to relieve the South Africans. His fight was to end in 5th March 1917 at Rouen and he is buried in St Sever Cemetery.

DSCF4336I am visiting the area with my father to visit the graves of our relatives who fought in the First World War. Some are buried near Ypres, while others are scattered as far as Boulogne and Rouen. Many thousands of people have travelled this route before us. Veterans, relatives, school groups and tourists. All of them seeking to learn something about the First World War, the people who fought for our freedom and maybe a little something about themselves. The museums, battlefields and cemeteries can provoke a range of reactions and the sounding of the last post under the Menin Gate in Ypres every night at 8pm reminds us never to forget. Remnants of the war can be seen in the museums or even bought as souvenirs. Farmers are still finding ammunition and bones as they plough their field.

DSCF4309The red poppy symbol can be found throughout the region and poppy wreaths are constantly being laid at cemeteries, memorials and even the desolate Lochnagar Crater where miners tunnelled under the German defences and used explosives to blow a huge hole in the ground. However, real poppies are not to be found at this time of year but maybe the damp, muddy conditions are a greater reminder of the hardships that the soldiers faced during the war.