Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 10
Angels flank St. Maclou crucifix
Church 'one of the ultimate and purest manifestations of the Gothic art'
St. Maclou -- Feast Day -- November 15
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
One of the most spectacular architectural jewels of that city of architectural delights, Rouen, the Church of St-Maclou is visited by thousands of tourists each year. With Notre-Dame Cathedral and St-Ouen Church, it's the most spectacular of the historic city's famed trio of houses of worship.
Said to be "one of the ultimate and purest manifestations of the Gothic art," St. Maclou is featured in most Normandy guidebooks and is a "must" stop in any travel itinerary that includes Rouen.
It represents the end product in Gothic evolution, with its pointed arches, vast expanses of glass and flying buttresses. Called "flamboyant" because of the intricate flame-like d‚cor on vertical faces, its details are bewilderingly complex and almost too much to absorb.
St-Maclou, seventh century missionary bishop, greets visitors off the aisle inside the spectacular right-hand porch entrance to the Church. He is a centuries-old, timeworn, almost-faceless wooden effigy clad in the brown of a monk.
Also known as St-Malo, he was born in present-day Wales, became a disciple of famed seafaring Irish St. Brendan and followed his mentor to France.
There, Malo founded Aleth Abbey on the Brittany coast. As bishop, he gained a reputation as a rugged individual who worked at protecting the weak from oppressive rulers, built churches and made many converts.
Controversy caused him to sail away with his monks but he was later begged to return by his parishioners. Stories about the saint have him undertaking amazing Brendan-like sea voyages and, for example, spending Easter on a whale's back!
In 1152, 500 years after Malo's death, the bishopric was moved to a nearby islet and renamed St-Malo-de-l'Isle, later to become the important port of St. Malo.
After the 15th century 100 Years War, Rouen became the centre of progressive Gothic design, the flamboyant, that included in addition to the tracery, ornate additions and pinnacles on towers on towers. And in the city, the apogee of this trend was reached in Eglise St-Maclou, begun in 1436 under English occupation and consecrated in 1521.
The church survived attempts to burn Rouen to impede the Allied advance during the Second World War but was damaged by an air raid, which destroyed the choir and blew out most of the historic windows. It was not until 1980 that restoration permitted the church to re-open to the public.
Old buildings crowded around the church make it difficult to get a good overview of the entire fa‡ade and tower. With its "flaming" tracery the fa‡ade is overwhelming as is the one-of-a-kind five-porch west front of St-Maclou.
The building remains faithful to its original design centred on the transept crossing despite being almost 100 years under construction. The only really "new" part is the 19th century spire above the lantern at the crossing.
Inside, a huge Gloria suspended above the main altar features a crucifix flanked by two angels. Dominating the choir, it's visible from all parts of the church.
Radiating chapels that surround the chevet have been restored after near-destruction in the June 4, 1944 air raid.
Many historic sites surround the ancient church. Popular is the Aitre St-Maclou, a medieval, half-timbered charnel house noted for its macabre carvings.
Or visitors can dine on fresh Normandy mussels in Waldheims Restaurant across from the church chevet where, to their astonishment, the street-side view is that of an old stone fountain, attached to the church wall, which features two imps relieving themselves.