The Modernist Church of St. Joan of Arc in Rouen
Rouen, France has a beautiful medieval core with wood and plaster buildings slumped and crooked from centuries of settling. There are several beautiful medieval churches led of course by the grand Gothic Cathedral. But when it came time to commemorate Rouen’s most famous Saint, Joan of Arc, the city erected a thoroughly modern church – L’église sainte Jeanne d’Arc.
Joan of Arc was put on trial and eventually executed in Rouen in 1431. It was not until the 20th century that the city chose to commemorate her life constructing the Church of St. Joan of Arc in 1979. It replaces the former St. Vincent parish church which was irrevocably destroyed by World War II bombings. The design challenge for the new church was to incorporate stained glass windows from the former parish that had survived the war in storage. The architect also had to pay homage to the former medieval market that once occupied this square. Louis Arretche (1905-1991) won the commission with a design that incorporated the region’s very early Norman heritage, Christian symbols and a clean modern aesthetic.
The roof of the church is meant to resemble and overturned Viking ship. The delicate tiling definitely looks Nordic. It is hard overall to take in the shape of the church as it undulates and lays on itself. It’s definitely a building that has to be circled to view all the interesting contours of the multi-layered roof. A series of matching sheds nearby provide shelter for the farmer’s market today.
The interior of the church continues the overturned ship visuals with strong wooden beams that bend dramatically.
Eight fantastic sections of rescued 16th century windows color the otherwise mellow, natural hues of the church interior.
The back windows are shaped like fishes – a well-known Christian symbol. Their canvas shades looks like sails in this ship themed interior.
My favorite place in the church was the sanctuary of St. Joan of Arc. Here a statue of a faceless woman appears to be caught in flames. There is a very elegant candelabra beside her with red candle holders echoing the undulating lines of flame and smoke. Joan is not shown with her iconic armor but rather as an obedient martyr.
The Church of St. Joan of Arc is nice architectural pause from medieval Rouen.