Saint-Maclou Church is arguably one of the most striking churches in Rouen and a Flamboyant specimen of its period in France. It stands in the heart of the old town of Rouen, surrounded by picturesque old Norman half-timbered houses.
Saint-Maclou Church: A bit of History
The church is dedicated to Saint-Maclou (c.520-621), one of the seven founder saints of Brittany. He gave its name to the city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and is also known as Saint-Malo or Maclovious.
As early of the 10th century there was an oratory on the site of the church. When Rouen became a larger city, the Dukes of Normandy decided to build a church in one of the busiest part of town. Under the reign of Saint-Louis, Saint-Maclou became a parish church.
When part of the sanctuary collapsed in the 13th century it was decided to rebuild the church. The construction work was led by Pierre Robin between 1436 and 1517. Inaugurated on the 25th June 1521 by Cardinal Georges II of Ambroise, archbishop of Rouen, it was one of the finest examples of Flamboyant Gothic style in the kingdom.
In 1530, the lantern tower built at the crossing of the transept was crowned by a 37 metre tall wooden spire covered with gilded lead. The structure was partially destroyed in 1706 by a storm and definitely taken out in 1791.
During the French Revolution, the church was closed in 1793 and welcomed a weapon factory. It became a religious sanctuary again in 1802.
The present-day spire was added between 1868 and 1870 by architect Jacques-Eugène Barthélémy. Surmounted by a rooster, the neo-Gothic structure set on the lantern tower reaches a height of 83 metres.
The church was greatly damaged during World War Two particularly in the choir. The restoration works lasted from the 1950s to 1965. The church suffered from the degradations of humidity, frost and pollution which led to a second period of restoration from 1975 to 1980. The lantern tower was restored from 2002 to 2005 and the western façade from 2011 to 2013.
The Saint-Maclou church was listed as a historic monument in 1840.
Exterior of Saint-Maclou
The West front stands on a picturesque square named after the architect who added the stone spire of the lantern tower in the 1860s: Place Barthélémy. The North side of Saint-Maclou is bordered by the rue de Martainville with picturesque old Norman half-timbered houses.
The West Front
The West front of the church does not have towers as it is tradition in Gothic architecture. Instead, it terminates in a fine porch of pentagonal form: five gabled porches are arranged in a semi-circle under a rose window and a pyramid-like succession of triangular lines.
The beautiful doors date from the Renaissance era (16th century) and represent the Baptism of Jesus (main porch), the Good Shepherd (right porch) and the Virgin Mary (left porch).
The tympanum of the main porch depicts the Last Judgement.
The tympanum of the main porch depicts the Last Judgement.
The Lantern Tower
The lantern tower surmounted by a 19th century spire is in accordance with the Norman tradition of having a lantern tower at the crossing of the transept between the nave and the choir.
The chevet of Saint-Maclou seen from the rue de Martainville and rue Eugène Dutuit.
The Renaissance Fountain
A fountain dating from the Renaissance era has been set up against the wall of the church at the corner of the Place Barthélémy and the Rue Martainville. It is bears some resemblance with another famous fountain: the Manneken Pis in Brussels.
My book recommendation!
Its name? Simply:
Gothic: Architecture, Sculpture, Painting by Rolf Toman, Publisher: Ullmann
This book has been for me a great resource that helped me better understand the Gothic movement in art from the 12th century to the Renaissance. An architectural style that first originated from France and spread all over Europe.
Over 500 pages it focuses on the development of Gothic architecture with many illustrations and photographs, but not only. I’ve also found interesting the in-depth discussion of the most diverse art forms, including painting, sculpture, metalwork and even book illumination! It also includes specific coverage of the Cathars’ Heresy and the Papal Palace in Avignon. And, of course, it mentions the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Rouen!
This is definitely the book I recommend if – like me – you love everything about Gothic such as churches, gargoyles, stained glass, flying buttresses and so much more.
Interior of Saint-Maclou
The sober inside of the church is surprising compared to the extravagance of the Flamboyant style outside. This is due to the inside being designed to receive the maximum of light.
The nave has three bays and is 23 metre high. It features the classic three-storey elevation of an arcade, triforium, and clerestory. The vaults are 23 metres above the ground floor.
The church shows a simplistic centred plan with a non-salient transept beside the side chapels.
The choir of the church:
The ambulatory does not have a main central chapel but opens onto four radial chapels. The chancel:
The lantern tower at the crossing of the transept offers a source of light to the inside of the sanctuary.
The Flamboyant spiral staircase leading to the Renaissance organ case once belonged to the rood screen.
Other interesting features inside the church include the arch of glory, the confessionals from the 18th century, and the 15th century stained-glass windows.
The sacristy to the East is a neo-Renaissance pastiche whose marble columns are authentic and originate from Italy.
Views of Saint-Maclou Church
The church of Saint-Maclou can be seen from various parts of the old town of Rouen:
The Place Barthélémy reveals the western façade, surrounded by picturesque Norman half-timbered houses:
The Rue de Saint-Romain coming from the Cathedral gives a fair view of the spire:
The Rue Martainville with its old half-timbered houses reveals the northern side of the church including the chevet:
The panoramic view of the Côte Sainte-Catherine outside the city offers a fine view of the whole church overlooking its neighbourhood: