19 June 2013
Jeanne d'Arc, Rouen
The church of St Joan of Arc, completed in 1979, stands on the site of the Place du Vieux-Marché, Rouen, where ritual humiliations and executions were undertaken in the name of religion. Jeanne d'Arc was burned alive here in 1431 for 'heresy' - a cross outside the church supposedly marks the exact spot. It is speculated by some that Joan may have suffered from what we now know as severe migraine auras.
Louis Arretche designed the church to echo the shapes of a flaming pyre. Many early Christian churches were formed in the shape of an upturned boat, and Arretche's design reflects this too. The naval form chosen is that of a ship of the Vikings, who overran Rouen in the ninth century. The overlapping maritime and Christian theme is carried through to the nearby market halls, which resemble small overturned boats and gaping fish.
The exterior has overtones of Le Corbusier's Notre Dame du Haut, Ronchamp, completed in 1954, with flourishes worthy of Antoni Gaudí. The glorious stained glass is from the church of St Vincent, largely destroyed during WWII, and the remains of which stand a few hundred yards away. The windows had been removed for safe-keeping.