I’ve been fascinated by European cathedrals since my years of art history studies at the Philadelphia Museum College of Art (now known as the University of the Arts). To me, the magnificent structures represent the best in human endeavor to attain the highest levels of religious achievement, architectural perfection and community spirit. On one of my recent journeys to France, I visited the Cathedral Saint-Pierre in Rennes, Brittany, a Catholic landmark dedicated to the memory of Saint Peter. The city is 217 miles east of Paris, a train ride of just over two hours. I spent a day in Rennes to tour the historic cathedral and the charming city surrounding it.
Visiting the cathedral
It’s located just a short walk from Gare de Rennes train station near the center of town, and open to visitors from 9:30 a.m. to noon and 3 to 6 p.m. I stood outside the cathedral in wonder at the gloriously soaring Gothic structure with towers stretching nearly 160 feet high. Each external level featured Baroque columns, decorative carvings, displaying statues of saints and Catholic church leaders through the centuries.
Inside, I walked through the ancient aisles to the nave and into the choir, while admiring the hundreds of paintings along the walls and ceilings. There’s a quiet peacefulness inside that makes a visitor forget the terror that happened outside during wartime. It was truly a stirring and spiritual experience.
I also enjoy visiting the cathedral at Rennes as it is a relatively new construction (opened in 1844) and represents a more modern interpretation of the Gothic form than Notre Dame in Paris or the cathedral at Chartres.
As with many religious sites in Europe, the location of the current Cathedral of Rennes has been a place of worship since Catholicism was established in France more than 15 centuries ago. Structures were built, demolished, expanded and improved through the years until most of the present neo-Gothic cathedral and surrounding grounds were completed in the mid-19th Century. In the 1940s, because of heavy World War II bombings and ground combat in Brittany, Rennes and the cathedral were badly damaged. Today, the city and historic structures are completely restored, and Rennes is a busy commercial center with a population of more than 200,000.
Getting to Rennes
Departing from the Paris Gare Montparnasse (rail station), one early morning I enjoyed the scenic, high-speed TGV Atlantique train ride to spend a delightful day in the cathedral city. First class train fares are about $100 each way and the journey takes just over two hours.
Where to eat
Rennes is a university town, so it has a great selection of interesting cafes and bars with atmospheres that resemble similar neighborhoods in Boston and Heidelberg. However, I was in town only long enough for a quick lunch. I found Le Café Breton (14 Rue Nantaise) , and had a nice lunch of frigousse, a chicken dish cooked with chestnuts, apples and Breton cider for about $20.
Ted Sherman has spent a lifetime traveling. With journeys to every continent, almost 100 cruises and multiple group tours, he enjoys sharing his travel experiences and knowledge with others. Follow Ted on Twitter, @travel4seniors and on his travel blog, travel4seniors.
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