Cathedral of Ouen, Rouen

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Cathedral of Ouen, Rouen
Cathedral of Ouen, Rouen postcard
Cathedral of Ouen, Rouen side view

The Church of St. Ouen is the fourth church built on this site, the earliest built in 558 by Clotaire II, then king of France. The current Gothic church was begun in 1318 and completed in 1549. Saint Ouen was born in 609 and appointed bishop of Roen in 641 by Clovis II, he died in 683. The cathedral is famous for both its architecture and its large, unaltered CavailléColl organ, which Charles-Marie Widor described as “a Michelangelo of an organ”. Built on a similar scale to nearby Rouen Cathedral, it is, along with church of Saint Maclou, one of the principal Gothic monuments of Rouen. The church is currently empty, so we had unfettered access to the cathedral.

The Benedictine Abbaye St-Ouen was founded in the 7th century, but the present church is mostly late Gothic. The nave of the abbey church dates from the 15th century, its choir from the 14th (with 18th-century railings), and its stained glass from the 14th to the 16th centuries.


Rouen town hall
Cathedral of Ouen, Rouen

Next to the cathedral is the old Abby, which in 1800 was made the town hall (seen in the photo above, with a statue of Napolean I in front). In 1150, Rouen received its founding charter, which permitted self-government and the city grew so quickly, it outgrew the previous town hall. The Abby, which numbered 24 at the time of suppression in 1794, during the French revolution, was subsequently vacated and made the town hall. As far as I can see, the church and Abby were built as a sort of power struggle between the powerful Benedictine order and the town of Rouen. The Benedictines lost but built an outsized cathedral almost as big as Notre Dame Rouen. Today the Cathedral stands empty, what a waste.

Cathedral of Ouen, Rouen central nave

The well-preserved stained glass is predominantly from the 14th century, featuring jewel tones among panels of clear and frosted white glass, and leading to a brighter interior than is usual with Gothic churches as you can see in the picture to the right. The interior does not have the spooky twilight effect I have seen in other Gothic churches, like Notre Dame, Paris. I would maintain however, that the interior has clean lines and a sense of modernity which would lend itself to other uses of the space. On the floor, in the picture to the right, you can see one of the “art” installations, consisting of 5 black balls and a circle of buckets.

Cathedral of Ouen, Rouen alter

The altar with a few chairs.

Cathedral of Ouen, Rouen alter

A close-up of the altar.

Cathedral of Ouen, Rouen organ

The photograph above shows the church’s famous organ – a large, unaltered four-manual Cavaillé-Coll organ built in 1890, which Charles-Marie Widor described as a “Michaelangelo of an organ”.

The term “buffet d’orgue” refers primarily to the decorative exterior of the organ which not only hides the internal workings but also provides resonance for the organ pipes. Buffets were often retained when the organ interior was updated.

In fact Aristide Cavaillé-Coll (1811-1899) created the present organ using the existing buffet which dates back to 1630, as well as older pipework from the former Daublaine and Callinet organ.

The St.-Ouen organ is the last in a great series of masterpieces from a man whom many would regard as a genius in the field of organ design and building.

Cathedral of Ouen, Rouen pulpit

The pulpit is another gothic wooden pulpit with ornate carving.

Cathedral of Ouen, Rouen stained glass
Cathedral of Ouen, Rouen stained glass
Cathedral of Ouen, Rouen stained glass

The stained glass windows, dating from the 14th to 16th centuries, are the most spectacular features of the spare interior. Notice how bright they are, leading to the brightness in the interior of the cathedral.