DSCN0564Our trip on the Queen Mary 2 made an unusual stop during its transatlantic crossing. We stopped in Le Havre, a coastal city in Normandy celebrating its 500th anniversary. Now the second largest port in France, the city was founded by King Francis I of France in 1517.

Le Havre played a unique role during the Second World War. It was a critical stronghold for the Germans and was to be defended to the last man, per Hitler’s instructions. Needless to say with heavy fortifications in the north and impenetrable  seas from the other three directions, Operation Astonia by the Allies began with heavy bombing. While the World Heritage Site’s rendition of events is more favorable than sited above, the result was the destruction of Le Havre. On July 18, 1959, the city was awarded the Legion of Honor and the War Cross for its sacrifices.


The city was largely rebuilt by Auguste Perret‘s firm after WWII. Perret had a hand in designing the Church of St. Joseph. High above the rest of the skyline, it is easy to make out St. Joseph’s tower, shining like a beacon. Perhaps it was the gloomy day we were there, but JJ and I felt the unfinished concrete within gave a raw feeling–almost like scar tissue–that the residents of Le Havre must have felt in having to rebuild from scratch after the war. The separated tiny pieces of stained glass seemed like tiny shards of hope that did not let in much light.


The contrast was Notre Dame Cathedral Le Havre a few blocks away. While the first church on this site was from the Middle Ages, most of the current standing version was built in 1575. Damaged during sieges by the English and then plundered during the French Revolution, it was reopened in 1801. Located near the city center, it is no surprise that the stained glass was destroyed in 1941 with destructive bombings in June and September 1944 decimating five spans of the nave. The rebuilding was complete in 1974. Compared to St. Joseph’s it was remarkably open, airy and bright. I’d never seen another high altar with only Mary as the main image.

With much of the city rebuilt in the “modern style,” it is little wonder that the celebration marking the 500th anniversary centered around modernism. The modernism is also why Le Havre is considered a World Heritage Site.


All photos (c) Pharr 2017