The rabit piligrimin spent the morning in the centre of Rouen, taking some photos for a blogue article on Joan of Arc for the Catholicism Pure & Simple blogue, to be uploaded later today. The place of Joan of Arc’s martyrdom is marked by a tall cross and the modern church takes up most of the square in a design that looks like an upturned boat, which is also reflected in the interior, with roof beams that look like the structure of a ship.
I remember when I first saw this church in 1984, I thought it a stunning example of imaginative church architecture, but that was before I was even baptised as a Christian, let alone knowing anything about liturgy. Now, I look at it with different eyes, and I see a church which has removed the reserved sacrament to a side chapel to make the people its real centre. But more than that, I also notice how few people the seating can accommodate. It is a church for architects and a place where tourists come to admire the modern design, but it lacks mystery and prayerful presence.
In contrast, the cathedral in Rouen has all those elements og gothic harmony which lead the soul upwards to the heavens. The soaring gothic cross-arch vaulting is a testimony to the 13th century builders who echoed the scholasticism of the the time with a programme of statuary and stained glass (sadly destroyed by bombing in the war) that presented the Old and New Testaments to the people in a form that was readily intelligible.
The statue of St James dressed as a pilgrim used to be a hundred feet up on the facade of the cathedral, but it has now been taken down and replaced by a copy; due to the erosion of its details it must be preserved indoor now. English pilgrims in medieval times on route to Compostela would have seen it high up on the cathedral. Today the modern piligrimin on a velocipede can stand next to it face to face.
I will stay here another day in Rouen – maybe post again from here – and then head in the direction of Chartres.