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Rouen Cathedral Light Show You Shouldn’t Miss

If you are in Normandy in the summertime one activity you must do is to attend the Rouen Cathedral light show. The son et lumière takes place at Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen and it has run every summer from June to September (exact dates and times are below) for the past 11 years. During the Rouen Armada, it ran every night. After seeing the show, you’ll be even more intrigued to see the cathedral in the daytime, inside and out. The architecture of this Gothic church is truly magnificent.

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A. Rouen Cathedral Light Show

1. Atmosphere At The Cathedral Notre-Dame

Crowd in front of Cathedral Notre-Dame de Rouen before the show started

When I was in Rouen in June, I attended the Rouen Armada, where tall ships from all over the world gather and sail down the Seine River. The days were packed from early morning to late at night as there were activities such as taking tours of the tall ships, cruises on the Seine, and fireworks each night; however, I really had to see this sound and light show at Cathedral Notre-Dame. So after dinner, I took a nap and got up again at 10:00 so I could be at Place de la Cathédrale for the 11:00 show.

When I arrived at 10:45 there was already a crowd (adults and children) in the pedestrian square, with many spectators sitting on the ground in front of this magnificent and impressive 12th-century Gothic church. The cathedral has endured much damage over the past 900 years and thanks to repeated restorations, it has stood the test of time. All the images, animations, and illuminations are projected on the west façade and two towers: Tour de Beurre and Tour Saint-Romain. No construction or scaffolding obstructed the view as the renovations are being done inside.

2. Themes At The Cathedral of Light Shows

Cathedral of light show-Rouen
Rouen Cathedral light show
Rouen Cathedral light show

(a) Past Themes

The magic began at 11:00 with an announcement about what we would see. There are always themes. Since the Cathedral of Light shows began in Rouen in 2012, there have been shows about Impressionism, Joan of Arc, the Vikings, and William the Conqueror with stories told about their journeys. This year there were two shows (one running right after the other) with the themes:

Surface of the moon projected onto Cathedral Notre-Dame de Rouen

(b) This Year’s Themes

New Worlds (Les Nouveaux Mondes)-this was about maritime conquests with explorations in the sea, on land, and even on the moon. One segment that stood out was Neil Armstrong landing on the moon. Images of his landing were part of the animations, including imprints of the astronaut’s boots on the surface of the moon all over the façade of the cathedral (see photo). 135 singers from 4 choirs and the Rouen Conservatory provided the background music for this part of the show.

Rendezvous With Light– this presentation invited the audience to use their smartphones to interact with the projections. The audience basically creates the show by waving their smartphones or placing a virtual candle on the church’s façade. It happened so fast that I couldn’t get the QR code that was projected on the church, but you could see others were successful.

According to the information provided, actual Rouen citizens’ images are incorporated with the animations in the show.  It was a really weird (in a good way) experience and show. The show was similar to the “Dame de Coeur” sound and light show I saw at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris in 2018 but this was on a smaller scale. The show in Paris took place just 6 months before the massive fire that ravaged the church in April 2019. You can read about the event in my post about Notre-Dame’s beauty.

My experience in Rouen was part of my 37th trip to France. For more information, check out my itinerary here: Trip #37 To France: 18 Days In Normandy, Burgundy, And Back To Normandy.

B. 5 Interesting Facts About The Rouen Cathedral

Cathedral Notre-Dame de Rouen

I would be remiss if I didn’t say something about Cathédral Notre-Dame de Rouen, which has an incredible history and is equally impressive outside as it is inside. Let me leave you 5 interesting facts about the church:

1. Tallest Cathedral And Tallest Spire In France

Rouen’s Cathedral is the tallest in France thanks to the centre spire (flèche) on the Lantern Tower. The tower stands at 151 metres.  In comparison, the spire on top of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris only rose to 96 metres before it collapsed and was destroyed in the 2019 fire.

2. Various Architectural Styles Over The Past 900+ Years

Nave-Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Rouen
Escalier de la Librairie-Cathedral Notre-Dame de Rouen
Stained glass-Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Rouen

Cathedral Notre-Dame de Rouen is incredibly old. It was consecrated in 1063 in the presence of William the Conquerer and over the 900+ years, I couldn’t believe how many times the church has been damaged. A lot of bad luck?

For example, the stained-glass windows have been replaced numerous times throughout the centuries. And as a result of the ongoing damage and repairs, the architectural style of the Rouen Cathedral has changed over the centuries. Today, renovations continue in the cathedral.

1100s-early Gothic
15th century-late Gothic (also known as Flamboyant)
16th century-Renaissance

The various styles are particularly evident when you examine the towers where new styles were added onto older styles. There are three towers: the tallest is the Tour Lanterne in the middle reaching a height of 151 metres. The Tour Saint-Romain is on the left (82 metres high), and the Tour de Beurre is on the right (75 metres high).

3. Constant Damage To The Church Over The Centuries

Check out some notable events from the past and ask yourself, was it bad luck or just something to be expected for a church that has remained standing over the past 9 centuries?

  • 1200-fire destroys part of the church that was still being constructed
  • 1514-the Gothic spire, “La Grête” burns and falls
  • 1500s-damaged during the French Wars of Religion
  • 1625-struck by lightning
  • 1642-struck by lightning
  • 1683-damaged by a hurricane
  • 1822-lightning destroyed the central tower’s spire
  • April 1944-During World War II, British bombs damaged parts of the church and two windows
  • June 1944-the Saint-Romain tower was set ablaze by American bombs
  • December 1999-During Cyclone Lothar, a 26-ton turret fell off the tower and into the church. The choir area was damaged.

4. Claude Monet’s Paintings Of The Cathédrale de Rouen

Tourist office opposite Cathedral Notre-Dame de Rouen

French impressionist, Claude Monet produced a series of more than 30 paintings of the Rouen Cathedral. He spent 2 years (1892–1893) illustrating the church, moving from canvas to canvas throughout the day. He wanted to see the church’s western façade from different angles, at different times of day, and in different weather conditions because he was intrigued by the ever-changing light.

In addition to painting in the square, Monet also painted from a first-floor studio located across the square and facing the cathedral. Today the building is the Bureau des Finances de Rouen which now houses one of the Rouen tourist offices. In 1894, Monet returned to Giverny to finish the paintings.

Today, Monet’s paintings of the Rouen Cathedral can be found in public museums such as Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen and Musée d’Orsay in Paris.

5. Richard the Lionheart’s Heart

Richard The Lionheart-Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Rouen

Richard I was a warrior King of England and more commonly known as Richard “The Lionheart” or “Coeur de Lion” (1157-1199). He spent little time in England and much more time in France. Successful, but at times cruel, Richard I was a military leader known for commanding the Third Crusade, which sought to recapture Jerusalem, the Holy Land.

While Richard The Lionheart’s body is buried in Fontevraud Abbey, his heart was embalmed and buried in Notre Dame Cathedral in Rouen.  In the 1800s, it was found in a small lead box. Rumour had it that he was killed by a crossbow bolt or arrow, coated in poison but it was likely the wound just got infected.

C. Getting To Rouen

It is very easy to get to Rouen from Paris. The trains leave from Gare Saint Lazare and arrive at Rouen Rive Droite. The journey is only 1 hour 15 minutes and my Friday ticket was only 7.7 Euros while my Sunday ticket was 17.6 €. The price really depends on the time and day that you choose. Check out the Trainline website for the best train prices to/from Rouen.

Rouen Cathedral Light Show

  • Location: Place de la Cathédrale, Rouen
  • Admission: free and suitable for all ages
  • Dates: every night from June 2-September 17, 2023; last two weekends of September
  • Time: 11:00 (but be sure to check with the tourist office to confirm the time)
    • June 30 through July 31 at 11:00 pm
    • August 1 through August 15 at 10:30 pm
    • August 16 through August 31 at 10:00 pm
    • September 1 through September 17 at 9:30 pm
    • September 22 & 23 at 9:30 pm
    • September 29 & 30 at 9:30 pm

Travel Resources

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VRBO: is super for booking apartments and houses. 
AutoEurope: is the only car rental supplier that I will use--with the best prices, and they will refund the difference if the price goes down. 
Trainline: offers an easy way to book train tickets.
Get Your Guide and Viator: Both offer tours, city cards, tickets, airport pickups, and so many other things you'll need at your destination.
Orange SIM Card-this is the company I use when I want a physical SIM card
Orange e-SIM and Airalo e-SIM-both companies offer e-SIMS and get great reviews

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