Located in Rouen, France, this abbey was a Benedictine monastery of great antiquity dating back to the early Merovingian period. Its foundation has been variously credited, among others, to Clothair I and to St. Clothilda, but no sufficient evidence to settle the question is forthcoming. It was dedicated at first to St. Peter when the body of St. Ouen , Archbishop of Rouen (d. 678), was buried there; the name of St. Peter and St. Ouen became common and finally St. Ouen only. The history of the abbey, on record from A.D. 1000, presents nothing of an exceptional nature. The list of abbots is in "Gallia Christiana" XI, 140. In 1660 the monastery was united to the Congregation of St. Maur, and when suppressed, in 1794, the community numbered twenty-four.
The chief interest of Saint-Ouen lies in its glorious church, which surpasses the Cathedral of Rouen in size and beauty, and is one of the few among the greater French churches completely finished. The present building, the third or fourth on the same site, was begun in 1318 by Abbot Jean Roussel, who had completed the choir with its chapels in the Decorated style, and a large portion of the transepts, by his death, twenty-one years later. The nave and central tower, more flamboyant in design, were finished early in the sixteenth century after the original plan. Unhappily the west façade, which had been planned on a unique and most beautiful scheme, was left unfinished. Although nothing could have been simpler than to execute the original designs still existing, the whole of the old work was swept away about the middle of the last century and an ugly pretentious modern design put up instead. Internally the church is 416 feet long, 83 feet wide, and 104 feet high, the central tower, crowned with an exquisite octagonal lantern, being 285 feet in height. Within, the effect is remarkably light and graceful, "the windows seem to have absorbed all the solid wall", and the roof rests simply on the pillars and buttresses, the intervening spaces being huge masses of glass. Fortunately most of the old glass has been preserved, and its silvery white and jewels of color give the final touch to one of the finest interiors in the world.
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