February 2006
In this Issue:
Rouen, the city of 100 steeples
Rouen, the city of 100 steeples, France
The Harelle Revolt
King Charles VI, known as Charles “the Mad”, succeeded his father to the throne ...
The Belfry, Symbol of Regained Freedom
The army entered Rouen with the young king and his uncles at its head. . . .
“Le Gros Horloge”, or The Big Clock

"la Rouvel" had finally assumed its place back in the tower . . .

The Cathedral
Like Notre Dame in Paris, it is a shining example of French gothic art and architecture . . .
The Joan of Arc Tower
It reminds us of Joan of Arc’s terrible martyrdom, her imprisonment and her torture . . .
a tiny medieval street, France

Rouen, the city of 100 steeples, France onjour!
This month we will cover a city in Normandy that is absolutely splendid. “The city of 100 steeples”, as Victor Hugo described Rouen in one of his poems, is definitely worth the detour for anyone who likes to go back in history. Rouen is located 87 miles from Paris, a highway drive of about an hour and a half. But before continuing, please remember that you can access and read all the newsletters already published at http://www.francemonthly.com/
St Catherine Hill
St Catherine hill is the edge of the high land that drops down into the open valley where Rouen resides, and is a very pleasant way to discover this city. 525 steps will take you to its 460 ft high “summit”.
View of Rouen from St Catherine Hill, France
  View of Rouen from St Catherine Hill
(Click photo to enlarge)
Now that may not seem that high, but the panorama is dramatic just the same: the city fully presents itself at the foot of the hill, where the river Seine curls into a very large meander. The viewpoint is magnificent. A 10th century abbey and its priory were once used on this hill as a stopover for passengers coming from Paris. At the time, the road did not follow the Seine valley floor and it was very difficult to reach the city. Legend has it that a monk named Simeon, who had come from the Sinai desert, traveled through Rouen towards the year 1027, carrying a relic with him: one of the young martyr St Catherine’s fingers. He supposedly left behind a fragment of it that possessed many curative properties. The abbey’s strategic position also turned this hill into a key post for the defense of the city in the Middle-Ages. Today, the abbey is long gone, the great walls have all collapsed, and the miracles have been forgotten, but St Catherine hill remains nonetheless a magical place to go for a walk.
The Birth of Normandy

It was towards the year 795 that the first Viking fleets, driven by famine and cold weather, landed on the coasts of the English Channel and traveled the river Seine up to Paris, pillaging and devastating everything in their wake. The "Normans", as the local population called these men who came from the north, committed numerous atrocities in the region for more than a century. It was an uneven fight. France was then made up of many rival feudal landowners who were easy targets as they couldn’t seem to unite to fight a common enemy. Rouen was systematically sacked. With so much destruction over the years, the loot of these pillaging barbarians began to dwindle, just as the population was getting organized at last. They started resisting more effectively and rendered these attacks more difficult, but they were still unable to push the Vikings back for good. No one was really getting anywhere. Finally, King Charles III “the Simple” decided to negotiate with Rollo, the Viking leader. He offered him the city and the surrounding land in exchange for which Rollo promised to protect the region from any future invasions. The treaty was signed in St-Clair-sur-Epte, in 911. And so came into being the Duchy of Normandy, with Rouen as its capital city.

Rouen, the city of 100 steeples, France
Recipe for February 2006  
Normandy Chicken
Easy and Delicious
Preparation and cooking time: 60 minutes
6 servings
Click here to read the Normandy Chicken recipe in English.
Click here to read the Normandy Chicken recipe in French.
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The Harelle Revolt
  King Charles VI, known as Charles “the Mad”, succeeded his father to the throne when he was only 12 years old. His uncles, who acted as regents, were quick to re-establish a very unpopular tax on staples that Charles V had abolished. The reaction was a swift one: Parisians rebelled, as did the inhabitants of Rouen. In May 1382, bourgeois and workers alike took to the streets. A few furious men rushed to the belfry and sounded the alarm. A frenzied crowd joined the group, shouting and chanting "Haro!", the war cry of the dukes of Normandy that was an appeal for help and
The Cathedral of Rouen, France at Night
The Cathedral of Rouen at Night
(Click photo to enlarge)

a demand for immediate justice – which gave the uprising the name of "Harelle". Prisons were stormed and criminals unceremoniously set free. Then the crowd turned its attention to the Abbey of St Ouen and wrecked it. The abbot, in exchange for his life, was forced to renounce his rights to the city as well as all of his privileges. Tax collectors, on the other hand, were offered no such deals: they were executed without due process. The rage of the rebels was inflamed when they were driven away as they attempted to take over the castle. The alarm kept sounding tirelessly, inciting violence in a population avid for vengeance. It was a real massacre and a terrible offense to royal power. The bourgeois were about to pay dearly for disobeying their supreme ruler.
The Belfry, Symbol of Regained Freedom
    The army entered Rouen with the young king and his uncles at its head. The bourgeois were forced to surrender their arms as well as the chains they used to close off the streets at night, and consequently lost control of their city. They had to compensate the monks, and pay a hefty fine.
Half-timbered houses in Rouen, France
Half-timbered houses in Rouen
(Click photo to enlarge)
Much to their despair, the rebel bell that had sounded the alarm and warned the crowd was taken down from the tower which was immediately demolished. Seven years later, however, a weakening of royal power due to the King’s madness allowed them to recover their rights and reaffirm their position as wealthy and influential merchants. They took advantage of their renewed status to find the lost symbols of their freedom that were the belfry and its bell. They asked the King permission to build a tower to house the city’s clock. The subtle request was granted. Soon enough, plans for a clock tower became plans for a bell tower. It took about 10 years to rebuild this structure, due to lack of resources. In 1390, much to the joy of the inhabitants, Jehan de Felains was able to set in place the mechanism of the clock. It struck the hours for the first time, for Lent. He became the Governor of the Clock and his wife was assigned the very official duty of keeping an eye on it and rewinding it every week. However, it took a good 60 years before the bell, named "la Rouvel", was added back to the tower.
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“Le Gros Horloge”, or The Big Clock
  In time, all seemed to have fallen back in place: the merchant bourgeois continued to accumulate wealth, the new belfry stood proudly once again, "la Rouvel" had finally assumed its place back in the tower, and the clock went on striking the hours.
Rouen downtown: the Big Clock, France
The Big Clock in Rouen
(Click photo to enlarge)
Then, at the beginning of the 16th century, the Massacre Gate that was supporting the clock showed signs of structural failure. It was replaced with a magnificent Renaissance arch and the old clock was finally equipped with dials. Today, five centuries later, a lead dome has replaced the wooden spire at the top of the belfry, but it is still the same old clock that you can admire. It is one-handed, with just the hour hand, because there really was no need to burden oneself with minutes in the Middle-Ages, when it took five days to get from Rouen to Paris. A half-black, half-silver ball shows the moon phases, often ignored today but so important in the agricultural France of the time. At the bottom of the dial, you can make out divine representations of Antiquity, the Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn and Apollo, God of the Sun. It’s a week-to-a-page diary, very useful to pinpoint the days of the week back when a vast majority of the population didn’t know how to read. The Big Clock divides Rouen’s most famous street in two. It is a pleasure to stroll down this quaint street with so much old-world charm.
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  The cathedral  
  Originally, like all the others, the cathedral of Rouen was made up of a group of churches and adjoining buildings. Like Notre Dame in Paris, Reims, Chartres or Amiens, it is a shining example of French gothic art and architecture. But aside from the beauty they all have in common, the cathedral of Rouen is undeniably unique in many ways. There is infinite variety in its architecture, and its urban location on a relatively small square allows it to be nestled in the heart of the city, where it discreetly reveals itself to the passerby. It has lost none of its charm of yesteryear. The difference between the two towers is another unique feature. The left side St Roman Tower, of primitive Gothic style, is the oldest. On the right side is the Butter Tower, which owes its name to the fact that its construction was financed with mandatory donations from the local wealthy bourgeois. They were allowed to consume meat during Lent, as well as butter and milk, under the condition that they atone for this sin of gluttony with their contributions. Finally, the 495 ft height of the cast iron spire is also unique, and makes the cathedral in Rouen the tallest one in France. Unique and "magnifique"!
  The Joan of Arc Tower  
  This big and simple round tower is of course much more than the only remains of the fortified castle built by Philip Augustus in 1207, after having conquered the city of Rouen and added Normandy to the Kingdom of France. It reminds us of Joan of Arc’s terrible martyrdom, her imprisonment and her torture.
Rouen, the Joan of Arc Tower, France
The Joan of Arc Tower in Rouen
(Click photo to enlarge)
The inhabitants of Rouen were clearly divided when what would become the 100 Year War was declared between the English and the French in the 14th century. For decades, Rouen had been a prosperous city thanks to its geographical location and its trade across the English Channel. When Joan of Arc arrived in Rouen towards Christmas of 1430, most of the population had never even heard of the young girl. A travesty of justice took place in utmost secrecy inside the castle. Joan’s fate was sealed in advance of the trial. Her sentence was to be burned at the stake, like any other witch would be. On May 30, 1431, it was a horrified crowd that assembled on the Place du Vieux-Marché in Rouen and bore witness to the ignominy of such an execution. France changed after that day. The English were finally booted out of the country, and for the first time in French history a true feeling of patriotic unity developed. The young girl sacrificed herself for the love of a country that she believed in, and her prayers were heard. It was a long time ago and the English are now very welcome.
  An Invitation to Travel  
  One could say that Rouen has it all. A dynamic and prosperous city, it has also managed to preserve all the charm of years gone by. Some of the great authors were born there, such as Pierre Corneille, who was so poor that he had to travel to Paris on foot to have his tragedies known, and Gustave Flaubert, who was inspired by a local news item to write "Madame Bovary", a novel which caused a scandalous stir at the time. Others discovered the city and fell under its charm, such as Victor Hugo who wrote to his spouse: "I saw Rouen. Tell [Mr.] Boulanger that I saw Rouen. He will understand all that this word means (...). I saw everything". Others left their hearts there, some quite literally like Richard Lionhearted whose heart still rests in the cathedral. You will no doubt be moved as well, if indeed someday you are lucky enough to take a walk around the cathedral, pass under the arch of the "Gros Horloge", and stroll along the small streets that at times so narrow that the half-timbered houses seem to touch each other. It is all so captivating, you might well leave a piece of your soul there forever, in "the city with the old streets, the old towers (...) the city with the 100 steeples ringing out in the air", as Victor Hugo wrote.

Rouen, the city of 100 steeples, France

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