Tuesday, October 25, 2011



This past week I have been to Rouen twice! Rouen is the biggest city in this region, and it is where the major government buildings and offices are for Northwest France. I've come here a few times in the month I've been in France for formation days for my job, but these past two visits have been the most time I have been able to spend exploring the city! Last Tuesday, I went into Rouen to finalize my visa and become an official temporary citizen. Although I had to take care of some administrative business, I still had time to have fun. And then yesterday, I got to solely be a tourist!

the Great Clock of Rouen, an icon of the city

Last Tuesday ended up being a rainy, gloomy day--typical of Normandy--so the other Americans from Evreux and I didn't do as much exploring as we had wanted to. The rain and chill put a damper on that, but we still did get to see some pretty neat things in the city!

Tour Jeanne d'Arc--where St. Joan of Arc
was imprisoned and tried in 1430-31
a medieval McDonald's? this is down the street from the
Cathedral, and it is ironically in the oldest
building on the street!

Luckily, the weather yesterday ended up being much nicer. It was a beautiful, crisp fall day--the perfect start to a two-week break! I was in Rouen with some French friends, including one who went to college in Rouen and knows the city quite well. We visited the main tourist sites, but with an insider's tour. What we were all most excited about was seeing the new altar that was just installed & consecrated in the Cathedral in Rouen. All of the bishops in Normandy (including our own) went to the Inaugural Mass on Sunday--we were among the first tourists/faithful to see it!

the beautiful Cathedral of Rouen, which Monet
famously painted

The Cathedral is beautiful, and the interior is very well maintained--both for tourists and for Catholics in Rouen. Rouen was heavily bombed in World War II, and there are ruins all around the city. The Cathedral in particular was hit fairly significantly, so there has been heavy restoration work done in the past 60+ years. What is amazing, however, is that the Cathedral did not collapse completely! Two major structural pillars supporting the roof were hit, causing some damage. However, if the bombs had exploded less than 20 feet south of their actual location, they would have hit columns supporting flying buttresses, and the Cathedral would have collapsed. It's really miraculous that it is still standing!

the tomb of the heart of Richard the Lionheart

There are many people buried in the Cathedral, although they are mostly former Archbishops. Rouen has a long, and at times tumultuous, history, as this region of France had been for centuries a contested land between the French and the English. One of the most iconic historical rulers of Normandy/Northwest France is Richard the Lionheart. As a direct descendant of William the Conqueror, who invaded and conquered England in the 11th century, Richard the Lionheart ruled as the King of England and the Duke of Normandy, thus he had complete political power over this region. He participated in the Third Crusade in the Holy Land, and is also for his military zeal. His heart is buried in the Cathedral of Rouen!

the Cathedral, from behind the main tabernacle
the Church of St. Joan of Arc

This church above, the Church of St. Joan of Arc, is a very modern, yet still beautiful, church. It was finished in the late 1970's, and it was built next to the site where St. Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake in 1431. The current church has a really interesting story, actually. The former church on this site was called St. Vincent, but it was badly damaged by bombing during World War II. Thankfully, the stained glass windows were salvaged, and installed in this new church--most likely it's most redeeming quality. It was sunny when we visited, and the sunlight poured through the windows. It was stunning! Just oustide of the church, there is a large garden with a cross and a plaque honoring the place where St. Joan of Arc was actually killed.

Walking, and just being, near such a historically significant place inspires a very particular feeling, one that I have constantly been experiencing in France. Some of my French friends joke, when we see old structures/churches/monuments, that these are older than the United States, but it's true that the history of this region and this country is something that I am not used to--and I relish in that. I find it exhilarating to think about the millions of people who have walked on the cobblestone streets, prayed in these churches, lived in these towns that are hundreds, if not thousands, of years old. I appreciate that history so much and I don't expect to get over that feeling of being overwhelmed!

So now I'm off for a week vacation in Bretagne! Bonnes vacances :)

pax christi.

ps--I'm writing with the windows open in my apartment. At the end of October. I love this weather!

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