Skip to primary navigation Skip to content Skip to footer
Back to Blog


a large clock tower in front of a tall building with Rouen Cathedral in the background

The Cathedral of Rouen, built in the gothic architectural tradition, was started in 1030 and finished in 1506.  Rouen was once one of the largest and most prosperous cities of medieval Europe. It was one of the capitals of the Anglo-Norman dynasties, which ruled both England and large parts of modern France from the 11th to the 15th century. Rouen and Normandy became French in 1204, under the reign of Philippe August. Rouen remained the second most powerful city of the kingdom until the 16th century.

The impressive size of the cathedral shows the high rank of the Archbishop of Rouen. Indeed, the city was the capital of the former Duchy of Normandy and for a long time the second most powerful city of the French kingdom. With its 144 m long, and 151 m high, it dominates the city with it beautiful cast iron spire. This spire was built by the architect Antoine Alavoine in the early 19th century, making the cathedral the highest building in the world for four years (1876-1880). Even today, it is the highest church of France.

The architecture of the cathedral is not homogenous because of the many construction campaigns running for centuries. But before this Gothic cathedral, another was built, at the late Roman occupation. We know that the city already had an Archbishop in the 6th century. All that remains is the foundations, discovered in the 90s. Today it is the oldest Christian monument in Normandy.

The real masters of the cathedral were the canons. Among 50, they defined the works to be performed in the cathedral. They sang every day in the choir, and occupied the building – more than the archbishops. The canons also organized religious celebrations in the city, like processions.

The cathedral that you can admire today, and painted 40 times by Claude Monet from 1892 to 1894, dates from the 12th century. The cast iron spire dates from the 19th century.

Inside, the choir still protects the lying figures of 3 dukes of Normandy: Rollo, the Viking chief, the sword William the Long, son of Rollo, and Richard the Lion heart, great military leader and warrior, King of England, Duke of Normandy, Aquitaine and Gascony. His heart is there too, after his vow.

Part of its architecture has an ‘interesting’ name, as the Butter tower. Why this name? Some would say that it is because of the stones color, but: no. The reason is quite different.

The tower was funded by Lenten indulgences. It means that the rich paid the clergy to be allowed to eat butter, cream and cheese during Lent. The first stone was laid in 1485.

The architecture of the tower inspired the Tribune Tower in Chicago, built in 1923-1925. The Second World War did not spare the monument. On 9 June 1940, the German entered in the city. A tanks battle started a fire in the monument. The roof is destroyed.

Then arrived the « Red week” From May 30 to June 5 1944, Rouen was bombed and the fire again damaged the cathedral. The bell tower collapsed on the vault. The fire is so high that the only way to stop it was to make a human chain with buckets of water. The renovations took years…

Today, this old lady is still one of the major Gothic constructions in Europe, a very moving and wonderful place to visit for its history and architecture!

  • Posted in: