Before exploring WWII and the Normandy invasion, we took a morning stroll through Rouen, France. My first thought was that this is exactly the little French village depicted in the Disney film, “Beauty and the Beast.” With every turn on the cobblestone streets, the half-timbered homes and quaint French signage I expected Gaston and Belle to be singing and dancing from the rooftops. The shining star of the city is the cathedral. Construction of the church has had numerous additions during the past 1000 years, but it’s safe to say that by 1035 there was a permanent structure here. The cathedral contains the tomb of Richard the Lionheart which contained his heart. Also, the tomb of Rollo, an ancestor of Richard and first ruler of the Viking principality that later became known as Normandy is located in the church. Like other sacred spaces in Europe, the city has grown around the church and getting a view of the Gothic structure in all its glory is a challenge. We did discover a quiet garden on the side of the church which made for a nice spot to enjoy the cool morning.
We continued our morning stroll through the town by following Rick Steves’ walking tour of Rouen. One of the more unusual stops was the plague cemetery which is now an open courtyard in an artists’ school. We also stopped by the large village clock which puts the Prague astronomical clock to shame and enjoyed the unique architecture of a church dedicated to St Joan of Arc who was burned at the stake in an area just in front of the church.
Our afternoon goal was to visit the Mont St Michel abbey. Many of our friends insisted we make the time to drive out to the abbey which is located off the coast on an island. From miles away, the spires of the church appear to reach out of the water directly into heaven. The skies threatened rain while we drove out to the visitor’s center but it stayed dry during our visit and we had plenty of opportunity to take pictures and imagine what it must have been like for pilgrims to walk the tidal flats as water threatened to sweep them away.