Page images
PDF
EPUB

Rouen.)

THE CATHEDRAL.

35

river. Here are situated the finest cafés and restaurants, and on certain evenings a band plays for the public entertainment.

But it is yet possible to get away from elegant modern mansions and handsome shops and gay promenades into labyrinthine streets, where nothing seems to have been changed for centuries. The houses are structures to gaze at in wondering admiration, and to dream about long after, marvellous combinations of solid oak beams and slates and stone and plaster, seemingly toppling over to each other across the roadway. The glimpses of shady interiors, the curious windows and doors, the rich carvings and pendant ornaments, the broken lines of the architecture, the far-projecting eaves and quaint roofs and gables combine to hold the imagination and recall a thousand romantic dreams and memories. these old world nooks and corners are fast becoming fewer and fewer, and Rouen will ere long only possess its monumental edifices as links between its present busy life and the memories of past ages. In the neighbourhood of the Rue des Arpents are some streets which, though narrow and dirty, are intensely interesting In the Rue du Bac it is easy to fancy that the houses are vying with each other which shall overhang most. The Rue Martainville is the route by which the Dukes of Normandy were wont to enter their capital. The Rue d'Epiceries presents on market days a characteristic spectacle, and a contrasting scene is afforded by the Marché aux Fleurs, where there is an enchanting display of fuchsias, myrtles, mignonette, verbenas, gladioli, lilies, and so forth, growing in pots, and also a vast profusion of huge bouquets.

Christianity was introduced into the district now known as Normandy by St. Nicaise, but the first Bishop of Rouen was St. Mellon, a native of Cardiff, in Wales. He built the first Christian church in the city, in A.D. 207, and officiated as its pastor till his death, in 302. He was widely reverenced for his zeal and charity. By his successors the church was enlarged, and in the year 400 rebuilt. pillaged and destroyed in 841, but rose from its ruins and witnessed the baptism of Duke Rolph, or Rollo, in 912. Successive Dukes of Normandy lent their aid to the bishops in the further enlargement and endowment of the church. Three years before the Norman Conquest, Duke William was present at the dedication of the completed edifice. In 1200 it was burnt down, and from that time till the middle of the sixteenth century the present cathedral was in process of construction. King John of England may be looked upon as one of the founders, inasmuch as he assigned certain funds for the rebuilding of the sacred structure.

The aspect of the western front of the cathedral (which overlooks a small square, formerly used as a fruit and flower market) seems to awaken different emotions in different minds. Some can find no words but those of wonder and admiration to express their feelings as they survey the vast proportions of the grand Gothic façade, and cast their eyes over the rich profusion of sculptures and elaborate decorations. Others complain of corrupt taste and confusion in ornament, and one writer describes the façade as "viciously florid." The central porch and upper part of the façade were erected by the celebrated Cardinal Georges d’Amboise in 1509–1530. The two Leroux, père et fils, master-masons of Rouen, were the architects, and a number of Norman artists were employed to execute

It

was

the sculptures. The side portals are two centuries older, and of simpler design. Above the portals are sculptured a crowd of bishops, saints, apostles, and Bible personages. Over the left doorway is the celebrated figure of Herodias dancing before Herod. The lady is

[graphic][merged small]

represented with heels high in the air, and is apparently performing what little streetboys call a catherine-wheel. The best hour for viewing the vast mass of stone-work that forms the west front of the cathedral is just after sunset, when in the mellowing light the intricate details of the rich ornamentation and stone screens of open tracery tone down and harmonise to produce one grand effect.

The facade is flanked by two stately towers. To the north is the Tower of St. Romain, built in a purer and severer style than the rest of the building, and a really

Rouen.)

THE CATHEDRAL.

37

beautiful specimen of thirteenth-century architecture. Its substructures include a portion of the early cathedral that witnessed the baptism of Rollo, and at an earlier date the murder of Bishop Prétextat by the emissaries of Queen Frédégonde.

The queen's anger had been excited because, two years before, Prétextat had officiated at the marriage of her step-son Mérovée to her rival and sister, Brunehant. The latter lady had been exiled to Rouen by Chilperic, the husband of Frédégonde and father of Mérovée.

The beautiful tower to the south is the Tour de Beurre, 230 feet in height, built at the end of the fifteenth century. It is usually stated that it derives its name from having been built with money received for the privilege of eating butter in Lent. To accept this theory we are compelled to credit the mediaval Normans with so excessive a passion for butter, that we incline rather to favour the idea of a local archæologist, and believe that the cost of the Tour de Beurre was defrayed by a tax on all butter brought into Rouen market. However this may be, the lofty tower, surmounted by an octagonal stage and open parapet, stands beside the cathedral, a splendid monument of mediaeval art. It once contained the famous bell called Georges d’Amboise, weighing 36,000 pounds, whose founder, John le Machon, died of overjoy twenty-six days after its completion. The great bell pealed so loudly when Louis XVI, entered the city in 1786 that it cracked, and not long after it was melted down by the Revolutionists. The central spire is universally condemned as unsightly and obtrusive. It is utterly unworthy of the grand edifice it surmounts. A former wooden spire was destroyed by lightning in 1822, and the present cast-iron structure, towering to a height of 482 feet, was erected in its place. Up the centre winds a corkscrew staircase to a dizzy height, commanding an extensive prospect. The Portail de la Librairie in the north transept derives its name from a court that led up to it, and which was anciently a sort of “Paternoster Row.” The south transept is entered by the Portail de la Calende. Both these portals are profusely sculptured, and are flanked by five open towers.

The interior of the cathedral — 435 feet in length and 90 feet high-is grandly proportioned; but the general effect is marred by a smaller tier of arches above the main arches opening into the aisles. In the nave are two altars, one of which, the Altar of the

[graphic]

TOMB OF LOUIS DE BRÉZÉ.

Vow, recalls the procession that came hither with intercessory offerings at the time of a terrible visitation of the plague in 1637. In the nave and in each transept there is a large and richly-decorated rose-window. The five-and-twenty chapels contain fine stained-glass windows dating from the thirteenth century and others added in the Renaissance period, as well as many interesting monuments. In the Chapel of Petit St. Romain, in the south aisle, is the tomb of Rollo, first Duke of Normandy, described on the tomb as “the first Duke and founder and father of Normandy, of which he was at first the terror and scourge, but afterwards the restorer.” In the opposite chapel is the tomb of the second Duke, William Longue Epée, who, at the siege of Rouen in 930, successfully repulsed the invading army, and slew their leader, the Count de Colentin, with his own hand. He was afterwards assassinated by Arnulph, Count of Flanders. In the choir, separated from the nave by a modern screen, are eighty-five elaborately carved stails; the carvings are a strange medley of sacred and profane subjects, and many of them could scarcely have been conducive to devotional feelings in the minds of the occupants of the stalls.

Near the choir-screen is the long-lost monument of Richard Cæur de Lion, who, when he died, bequeathed his body to Fontevrault and his heart to Rouen. The “Lion-heart” was discovered some years ago in a small casket, and transferred for safe-keeping to the Museum of Antiquities. A small tablet in the pavement marks the spot where it was originally interred. The monument is a roughly-hewn and much-mutilated limestone effigy of the king, six and a half feet in length. His crowned head reposes on a square cushion, and his feet rest against a couchant lion. This monument, as well as that of John, Duke of Bedford, Regent of France under Henry VI., was very roughly handled by the Huguenots in 1562, and was for a long time buried out of sight. There are some other monuments, which have experienced the same vicissitudes.

The finest tombs in the cathedral are in the Lady Chapel, behind the high altar. Some of these cover the remains of archbishops of little more than local celebrity. One monument, stripped of its sculptures, is in memory of the famous general, Peter de Brézé, and his wife, Jeanne du Bec Crespin. The general was Grand Seneschal of Anjou, Poitou, and Normandy, and was the first to enter Rouen when Charles III. drove out the English. He was killed at the battle of Montlhéry in 1465. Close by is the tomb of Louis de Brézé, brother of the foregoing, and likewise Grand Seneschal of Normandy, the husband of the famous Diana of Poitiers, the favourite of Henry II. and others. Upon a sarcophagus of black marble lies stretched the white marble effigy of the dead seneschal—a realistic representation of a wasted corpse. At its head sits the disconsolate widow. In a recess above is a white marble statue of the seneschal on horseback. The inscription below testifies to the widow's grief, and records her vow to be buried by her husband's side. This vow was not kept; and indeed the keeping of vows of any sort does not seem to have been the fair Diana's forte.

But the most elaborate monument in this chapel, and indeed in the whole cathedral, is that constructed in memory of the Archbishop Georges d’Amboise and his nephew by Roullant Leroux, the designer of the western porch. Beneath a rich gilt canopy are the kneeling figures of the two cardinals, marvellously life-like in their aspect of calm devotion. The twelve apostles above and the six cardinal virtues below, the bas-reliefs, rich arabesques,

[ocr errors]

Rouen.)

THE CHURCH OF ST. QUEN.

39

and pilasters, are all exquisite in design and execution. The bodies were taken from the tomb in 1793, and the lead coffins were melted down and utilised by the Revolutionary zealots.

Although, as a matter of course, we have given the place of honour to the Cathedral, yet in point of fact that edifice is surpassed in size and grandeur, as well as in purity of style, by the Church of St. Ouen. This church represents the chapel of the Abbey of St. Peter, built by Clotaire I. in 558, but received its present name when the ashes of St. Ouen, who was Archbishop of Rouen in 678, were brought here for sepulture. In May, 841, the abbey was burned down by the Norman invaders, but was restored when Rollo became a convert to Christianity. His successors followed his example, and under their fostering care the abbey increased and Aourished. In the time of Richard the Fearless its fame had spread far and wide, and the Emperor Otho applied for a safe-conduct, that he might go and pay his devotions at the abbey shrines. A new church, commenced in 1046, was eighty years in course of construction; ten years after its completion it was destroyed by fire in a single day. The Empress Matilda and her son, Henry II., gave the monks substantial aid in rebuilding their church, but in 1248 it was again burned down. The first stone of the present edifice, which is the fifth that has occupied the site, was laid in 1318, when the celebrated Jean Roussel Marc d'Argent was abbot. Before the close of the century the nave, transepts, and tower had been completed on one uniform plan, and with strict harmony of detail. The western front was added about forty years ago. In addition to scriptural subjects, the sculptures show a swarm of Norman princes and prelates, forming an epitome of local history. The southern entrance, the Portail des Marmousets, so named from its curious delineations of animal life, is a splendid example of Gothic work.

Above the intersection of the nave and transept rises the elegant central tower to a height of 285 feet. Its aspect of delicate grace is singularly striking, whether beheld from a distance or inspected close at hand. It consists of an octagon of open arches and tracery, throwing out flying buttresses to the richly-crocketed pinnacles in the angles. It is surmounted by a crown of fleurs-de-lis, and affords a splendid view from its summit.

The interior of St. Ouen impresses every beholder with its wonderful beauty. It is the purest specimen of the Pointed style in all France. The dimensions are-length, 443 feet; width, 83 feet; and height, 104 feet. The nave is a long vista of slender columns supporting pointed arches, and then rising past the ample clerestory to the roof. The windows-125 in number, besides the three large rose-windows-occupy so much space that the roof seems to be kept in its place, not by solid walls, but by pillars and buttresses only. The abundant windows fill the church with light and brightness well suited for the display of the delicate grace of the architecture. Each of the four columns beneath the central tower is a sheaf of twenty-four slender shafts, displaying an unrivalled union of grace and strength.

In connection with the two large rose-windows in the transept, a tragic story is told. It is said that the master-mason, Alexander Berneval, devoted his whole attention to the window in the south transept, and gave over the north transept window entirely to his apprentice. When the work was finished, it was obvious that “the apprentice's window”

« PreviousContinue »