April 1944, could undoubtable be seen as one of Rouen’s darkest hours. In 2020, we celebrated the 76th anniversary of the bombardment of Rouen by the allies; Rouen under the stronghold of the Germans broke as 6000 shells rained down from the sky. In total, 600 tons of explosive crashed into the city, leaving more than 1,200 dead and thousands injured. As one survivor stated; “The whole city was on fire. The smell of sulphur was everywhere.” The survivors evacuated the city with the few belongings they could selvage trying to evacuate and find shelter.
A capital city
We can say without doubt that the Notre Dame of Rouen is one of the cities’ most precious assets, but the Second World War almost reduced this architectural masterpiece and its medieval city to pure rubble.
On the night of 17 to 18 April 1944, 7 shells pierced the cathedral, of which one passed through the vault and finish in the choir -fortunately it did not explode – the aisles of the nave and south aisle chapels. All but one chapel were destroyed, that of St. Catherine, that managed to keep this Gothic masterpiece from completely collapsing.
In addition, one of the four pillars supporting the transept and the 151 meters lantern tower were severely damaged. The pillar was quickly strengthened and supported to prevent the tower from complete collapse.
This was not the only monument that suffered; indeed, the Parliament of Normandy was badly damaged twice in 1944 in the bombing of 19 April, the Gothic wing was destroyed and on August 26 the central Gothic-Renaissance part was shelled, all but the neo-Gothic parties escaped destruction.
It took Rouen many years to rebuild itself to its former glory, after the terrifying and destructive forces rained down on the city. To remind future generations of these atrocities of war, a place was dedicated to this event. The artist Dominique Denry was commissioned to create a statue that will celebrate and bring homage to the victims and those who have fled the city. In 1995 the piece was unveiled, representing a family of 4 that rises out of the water. “At the end of the wandering” depicts a family leaving the ruins. The father is looking into the distance. He knows that the reconstruction will be long, his teenager seems to emulate him. The mother keeps an eye behind them. She is thinking of the past. She kisses her small child that she is carrying in her arms. This gives him courage and hope for a better future.