There Are Places We’ll Remember All Our Lives: Rouen

Posted on December 14, 2013 by

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August 2013. Time for a France Fix. Time to hit the cathedrals, with a chateau or two thrown in although we did the chateaux last time.

Begin with Rouen Cathedral where Edward IV was christened. Rouen, the capital of Normandy, is of course where Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake in 1431.

Where Edward was conceived is quite another matter. His brothers George and Richard said that after Edward’s death, their mother told them he was illegitimate. She wasn’t the only one. Dr Michael Jones unearthed a document in the cathedral indicating that Richard, Duke of York, and his wife Cecily Neville were a hundred miles apart when Edward was conceived.

See Britain’s Real Monarch CH4 UK

Edward ordered the death of George, duke of Clarence who was, according to legend, tipped head first in a barrel of Madeira wine which, as deaths go, could have been worse. He is buried in Tewkesbury Abbey, Richard III of course ended up under a car park in Leicester.

I went to Rouen many years ago. Wonderful. The colours Monet used for his iconic paintings of the cathedral – pink, yellow, blue – at different times of the day, at dawn, in the evening, in sunlight and in rain were projected on to the floodlit facade. Monet painted them on the spot and worked on them later in his studio across the road. He applied paint layer on layer so that the texture of the surface on the canvas echoes the masonry of the Cathedral facade. He chose twenty for his dealer’s gallery in Paris and sold eight before the exhibition ended. Pissarro and Cézanne expressed their admiration. To be judged good by your peers and equals is praise indeed. Monet could not have known that one day, because of his masterpieces, people in all corners of the earth know Rouen Cathedral. As he completed more than thirty, many galleries all over the world own one.

Getting to the hotel practically next door to the cathedral was not without incident. The SatNav does not work in the old quarter, dense as it is with tall buildings. We had to ask an ambulance driver for directions. Still no joy. Round and round the one way system we went until the street name was eventually spotted. Turn right HERE a demented scream went up to Long Suffering who, in our right hand drive car, was regretting not taking his high blood pressure tablets. Turn right he did only to be confronted with those massive steel bollards which go up and down in the middle of the road. Correction. They go up and down for tradesmen. Not for tourists. Our way to the hotel was well and truly barred. So near yet so far. We could see it from the alleyway. Nothing for it. Desperate times call for desperate measures and all that. Yours Truly jumped out of said car, pressed the Help button and lo and behold down went the bollards. Himself was guided by Yours Truly over cobbles barely wide enough for a cart. Cafe diners stared in disbelief as I moved chairs and tables until we reached our destination. Reception, seeing us arrive via a No Entry street, was nonplussed. We explained about the button and the bollards. If you were French, he said, you would have been arrested. Gendarmes would have swooped on you. You are very lucky. Ah. Memories. One to savour. AND our room had a view of the cathedral. Bliss.

Euphoria dissipated when we saw the Cathedral. Oh dear, moans Yours Truly, look at all this ugly scaffolding obscuring the magnificent front. What a pity. We’ve come at the wrong time. We had not. On closer inspection the obscenity was permanent; it housed some of the Son et Lumière equipment. Gone were the unobtrusive floodlights in front of the cathedral which no-one could ever take exception to, enter Hi Tech and not for the better. It is true that jammed like sardines that evening Himself holding camera aloft, one hand in the air to capture a shot, we agreed the show was spectacular but not so spectacular as to ruin the view Monet had. Poor chap must be turning in his grave. Thank goodness for his paintings.

Inside the awesome Cathedral, the tomb of Richard I -aka The Lion Heart – contains his heart. His body, however, is at Fontevraud Abbey.

After ooohing and aahing over a spectacular exhibition of over a hundred Impressionist painters – we will never see so many Monets together again – then it was on to Le Mans… 

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