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Les Stalles de la Cathédrale de Rouen

C. Elaine Block
Frédéric Billiet

Sommaire en anglais

The Choir Stalls in the Archbishop’s Palace

Elaine C. Block

Texte intégral

1In 1944, during the Second World War, when Rouen was bombed, the cathedral was severely damaged A number of choir stalls with their misericords were also damaged. Some of these carvings were never replaced in the choir since the stalls were rearranged and there was no room for them. These carvings may have been part of the return stalls, which did exist at one time; now there are just two double rows of stalls facing each other on the north and south sides of the choir. There are no dorsal panels or canopy; these elements were lost long before the twentieth century, probably during the French Revolution or shortly thereafter to make the choir visible to the congregation.

2The ten choir stalls that were not replaced in the choir were stored in the archbishop's Palace at least from the time they were restored in the 1950s. They are listed in the only book devoted entirely to the Rouen choir stalls, by Eustche-Hyacinthe Langlois. It is illustrated, by his daughter, with drawings of each misericord. While the drawings do not indicate each detail of the carvings it is easy to match the archbishop’s stalls with the Langlois sketches.

3One document among the thousands of cost estimates involved with the cathedral describes these carvings and indicates which parts were restored. This document was signed by Henri Villettes and dated the 20th of March 1957. Other documents, which included cost estimates but no mention of which parts were restored, date mainly from the 1950s.

4The following are description of the misericords in question and the parts that were restored. The numbers were in the docket and refer to the numbers of the drawings in the Langlois book. They do not refer to their placement in the choir stalls.


Man with hat in hand kneels and salutes another man (or woman) who is seated.
Restoration: Head of the seated person.


Two men settled at a table by a sideboard.
Restoration: parts not specified.


Winged chimera holding a serpent.
Restoration: Head of the creature, part of the wing, and parts of drapery at the right.


Sculptor carving a misericord.
Restoration: Replace bottom of table, sculptor’s foot, part of the ground and close a large hole.


Man crawling on all fours.
Restoration: unspecified.


Man and woman with basket of fruit, probably a vintage scene.
Restoration: Lower part of the woman.


Chimera with ape head holding in one hand a broken lance and in the other a shield.
Restoration: Replace part of the ground, a rear paw and close a large hole.


Two men seated near a platform.
Restoration: Unspecified.


Two servants wash dishes.
Restoration: Repair of the draperies.

5The other damaged misericords are not in this record and must have been restored at another time. Why these carvings were not returned to the choir along with the others is nowhere indicated. Some, but not all, are in poorer state than those in the choir. Some are similar to those that were replaced in the choir. For example, a pair of women fill a basket of fruit between them that is similar to the vintage couple in the archbishop’s palace. Since a carver was already on a misericord in the choir; perhaps it was deemed unimportant to include a second carver.

6However, the kneeling man with the hat is unique and there is no similar carving in the choir. There is however, a carving with similar iconography that is a courting scene, although difficult to interpret. Here, (SH-07) a man kneels before a seated woman and places his hand under her foot. This illustrates a contemporary proverb “prendre le pied” (to grab the foot). The hand and the shoe are sexual symbols and the search is for marital compatibility. Perhaps the archbishop’s carving is a similar statement. The seated figure is not necessarily a man and we may see here a different type of courtship where the man is approaching the lady in a less sexual way.

7The Villettes document is interesting since it is one of the few iconographic records of a restoration. Usually a restoration document is limited to the cost and the name of the restoration workshop, which is recorded. While the element that is restored is usually obvious, the data here makes it certain. Also, we notice that there are duplicates or near duplicates iconographically and the iconographic program my have been far more ore obvious before other choir stalls were lost.

© Presses universitaires de Rouen et du Havre, 2003

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