When visiting Normandy, Honfleur is obviously on your list! Visit the church of Sainte Catherine, the largest wooden church in France with its separate bell tower. Located in Honfleur, a small port in Normandy with a postcard setting sung by Jacques Brel, this church with its magnificent architectural details has been classified as a “historic monument” since 1879.
Find in this article all our advice to prepare your visit!
This opinion is completely independent, based on our experiences. We visited the area anonymously, making our own choices, and paying all our bills in full.
Why visit the church of Sainte Catherine in Honfleur?
Is the church of Sainte Catherine in Honfleur worth it? Our opinion:
Completely! If you plan a stay in Honfleur, a visit to the church of Saint Catherine is a must. We never tire of admiring this refined work every time we walk around Honfleur. Visiting Saint Catherine’s church is also part of our 21 best things to do in Honfleur.
You’ll really get a taste for it:
- First, the exterior of the monument with all the architectural details on the bell tower and the façade.
- But also inside the church of St. Catherine, we were overwhelmed by the detail of the wood carvings on each side of the two naves.
Why is the church of Saint Catherine in Honfleur famous?
The church of Saint Catherine in Honfleur is the largest church in France built of wood with a bell tower separated from the rest of the building. Classified as a historical monument in 1879, several historians and archaeologists have been interested in the history and architecture of this monument.
Located in the shopping district of the same name, the church of Saint Catherine is located in Honfleur, Normandy, which welcomes nearly 5 million tourists each year. Therefore, a must-see if you visit the region!
A little history
Destroyed during the Hundred Years’ War, the church of Honfleur, initially in stone, was rebuilt on the Place Sainte Catherine in the 15th century by the maritime workers, also called “gens de mer”. This material being less expensive and less complicated to obtain, the building was built in wood from the Touques forest, today called Saint-Gatien wood in Normandy.
The seafarers, builders and inhabitants of Honfleur, were thus able to put their shipbuilding know-how to good use in the service of this religious monument as early as 1460. This is also what makes the architectural originality of the place when you look up.
Inside and out, this church is built like a market hall with a ceiling that looks like an overturned ship’s hull! The construction of the second nave was intended to accommodate a larger congregation with the development of the surrounding towns.
From the pedestrian street, you will notice another specificity of St. Catherine’s church: the bell tower is completely detached from the rest of the building.
From the 19th century onwards, major restoration work began to preserve this wooden architectural jewel, classified as a “historic monument”.
Useful tips and map – Sainte Catherine Church, Honfleur, France
Where is the church of Saint Catherine in Honfleur?
The Sainte-Catherine church is located in Honfleur on the Place Sainte Catherine. The building is in the heart of the shopping and pedestrian district of the same name.
Go around the harbor called Vieux-Bassin along the Quai Sainte Catherine and head west up Rue du Puits on your left. Immediately to the right, you will reach the Place Sainte Catherine and the church near the market of Honfleur.
How to get to the church of Saint Catherine in Honfleur?
The city of Honfleur is not easily accessible by public transportation. The easiest way to get around is by car and to park at the entrance of the city, there are several parking lots in Honfleur.
- Driving time from Paris: 2h20.
- Driving time from Deauville: 25min.
- Driving time from Le Havre: 35min.
- Driving time from Rouen: 1 hour.
- Driving time from Lisieux: 35min.
- Driving time from Caen: 1 hour.
OUR ADVICE FOR RENTING A CAR IN Normandy
- Compare prices on our preferred platform: DiscoverCars – one of the best rated sites.
- Choose a car that is comfortable enough (distances can be long) but compact (some parking lots and villages are narrow).
- Think of thecomplete insurance (some roads are tortuous and narrow).
- There is a lot of demand, book it early.
There is no train station in Honfleur but you can reach one of the main cities in Normandy by train and then take a bus to Honfleur – see prices and timetable.
Would you like to take a tour from Paris to discover Normandy through Honfleur? Don’t wait any longer and reserve your slot now!
Honfleur has 4 parking lots. We advise you to park at the entrance of the city. Indeed, there is only one main road, which is not very practical if you are traveling during busy periods.
If you are coming from the Pont de Normandie, we recommend that you enter one of the first two parking lots. The first one is located a little further away but costs less, however it is not so far to walk to the old town of Honfleur.
There are a few places to park near St. Catherine’s church, you can try your luck but the spaces are rare and fill up as soon as they are released!
However, the free parking is on the other side of town, near the Naturospace attraction, a 15-minute walk from the old center. But you may lose time trying to drive across town to get to this parking lot if there is traffic.
Best time to visit the church of Saint Catherine in Honfleur
The church of Saint Catherine in Honfleur welcomes visitors all year round (its bell tower is not open to visitors from November 1 to April 15 and every Tuesday). If you prefer to avoid the crowds, the crowds are average in April and December. On the other hand, the crowds are really high from May to October.
How long to visit this monument and main difficulties
Allow 1 to 2 hours if you wish to take the time to see the finishing touches and the meticulous carpentry work inside and out, to admire the organ, the stained glass windows or the bell tower. You also have the possibility to stroll in the Saint Catherine shopping district after your visit, filled with charming small stores.
Be aware that Honfleur is a small old town, with cobbled and sometimes narrow streets. We always bring good shoes and comfortable clothes to visit the city and its church.
St. Catherine’s Church is accessible on the same level from the outside, and the reception area is also easily accessible from the inside. Finally, there is sufficient passage width in the building for people with reduced mobility.
Visiting the city with a person with reduced mobility? Find more information on the official website of the Honfleur Tourist Office.
The church of Sainte Catherine in Honfleur with children
You can visit St. Catherine’s Church with children, in a stroller, on foot or in a baby carrier as you wish! If your children are walking with you in the city, make sure they are well shod so they don’t get their feet stuck in the cobblestones.
Is it possible to visit the church of Saint Catherine in Honfleur with a pet?
Every year, in October, the blessing of the animals takes place in the church of Saint Catherine in Honfleur. Since 2014, parishioners and their pets have been coming to this successful ceremony. Outside of this particular event, animals are not allowed in the churches.
Schedules and prices
- The church is open every day from 9am to 8:30pm.
- Opening of the church tower, annex of the Eugène-Boudin museum, at the same time as the museum from 10am to 12pm and from 2:30pm to 5:30pm. The bell tower is closed to the public from November 1 to April 15 and every Tuesday.
- The entrance to the church of Saint Catherine in Honfleur is free.
- However, if you wish to visit the bell tower of the church, you can enter by presenting your entrance ticket to the Eugène-Boudin museum.
You can also opt for a visit to St. Catherine’s Church during your guided tour of the city – see availability, rates and conditions.
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Visit the largest wooden church in France
As you approach the church, the wooden frame is already clearly visible from the outside. The monument was built in the Norman tradition, on the model of the half-timbered houses of the region.
Take the time to distinguish the ornaments of the windows of the church of Saint Catherine. These moldings are characteristic of the Renaissance period in the second half of the 15th century. A sumptuous marriage of materials and forms before you even enter the building!
The wood carvings are visible from the façade, more precisely on the columns that support the building. Small angels are carved there, do you see them?
The bell tower of the church, annex of the Eugène-Boudin museum
In the 15th century, the inhabitants of the city built the bell tower of the church of Saint Catherine, just after the first nave. Bell towers can, even today, attract lightning. For this reason, the builders of the church chose to separate it from the rest of the building, which was built mainly of wood, more prone to fire.
You’ll see the slender flag spire up there on the bell tower!
The belfry is square in shape with a frame, the essente covers its roof. In addition, the bell tower stands out completely from the rest of the church, a historical architectural feature. At the beginning of the 18th century, the architects placed crutches to support the bell tower.
Moreover, the bell tower of the Sainte-Catherine church is also the annex of the Eugène-Boudin museum, this painter born in Honfleur and pioneer of the impressionist movement. The museum, which was inaugurated in 1959, exhibits religious works: sculptures, souvenirs of the Charities and the Chapel of Our Lady of Grace. You have the possibility to visit it, find the schedules and conditions above in this article.
After admiring the exterior beauty of this architectural jewel, enter the church of Saint Catherine to discover its two wooden naves. It is one of the few monuments of French religious heritage to have two naves.
The first wooden nave was built in the 15th century after the destruction of the stone church during the Hundred Years War, which the church of Saint Catherine replaced. Also, the know-how in shipbuilding of the shipwrights of the city of Honfleur is felt in the architecture of the monument. Indeed, look up at the ceiling, you really feel like you’re in an overturned boat hull!
Secondly, about four decades later, the second nave covered with chestnut wood was built to accommodate a larger assembly. The growth of the surrounding towns favored the influx of parishioners in the church of Saint Catherine. Thus, the two naves of St. Catherine’s Church joined together to form two large vessels, on the model of a market hall.
The art of wood that adorns the church of Saint Catherine
Note that the wood, the raw material used to build the church of St. Catherine, comes from the forest of Touques, today’s Saint-Gatien wood. This forest is located in Calvados in Normandy. Remember that it was shipwrights who built St. Catherine’s Church. Therefore, working with wood and ensuring its resistance to time was at the heart of their profession.
The wooden beams that support the church are visible on both sides of the two naves. Take for example the spiral or winding staircase inside and all those patterns worked vertically. Woodcarving is a true work of art!
When we looked up, we were still amazed! Take the refinement of the balcony with its various figures that probably required hours or even days of work by the master sculptors.
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Let’s continue with one of the masterpieces of St. Catherine’s church: its organ. Of classical style dating from the 18th century, its sideboard is carved in oak wood. This organ comes from the parish of Saint-Vincent in the city of Rouen.
This imposing and sumptuous organ is located at the bottom of the main nave. The detail of the wood carvings can even be found on the ends of this keyboard and wind instrument.
The stained glass windows of the church
Let’s continue to observe the multiple ornaments of this monument: the stained glass windows of the church of Saint Catherine. These stained glass windows were installed later after the construction of the church, as they date from the 19th century.
On the east side of the church, you can see from the inside the sumptuous colors of the stained glass windows that display religious scenes. If the sun shines through and illuminates the stained glass windows, you will witness a beautiful spectacle!
A tribute to the soldiers who died for the country during the Great War
The parish of Honfleur has decided to pay tribute to the soldiers who gave their lives for France in the First World War. Their names are posted inside St. Catherine’s Church. Indeed, as November 11 approaches, hymns of the time are sung, but candles are also lit to commemorate the “Poilus” and the “Gueules cassées”.
Lodgings in the vicinity
WHERE TO STAY IN Honfleur
Choose a historic house near the old port.
- Hotel Absinthe – see prices, photos and availability
Choose a hotel higher up for more peace and quiet while remaining close.
- Hotel La Maison de Lucie – see prices, pictures and availability
A bit of luxury in the surrounding countryside.
- the magnificent Saint-Siméon Farm – see prices, photos and availability
The offer of restaurants is very large and really good in Honfleur! Starred restaurant, fish restaurant, establishment where to eat with children… To find your happiness, read our article on the 15 best restaurants in Honfleur.
Enjoy your meal!
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Frequently asked questions
Why is Honfleur called Honfleur?
The cities whose names end with “flower” in Normandy are of Viking origin. “Hornfloth” means “mouth of the turn” in old Norse. This name refers to the estuary of the river Seine which widens at the level of the city of Honfleur before flowing into the English Channel. The Honfleurais and Honfleuraises are the inhabitants of Honfleur.
How did Saint Catherine of Alexandria, the dedicatee of this church, die?
St. Catherine is celebrated every November 25, she represents young unmarried women at the age of 25. In fact, her real name is Catherine of Alexandria. She was born in Egypt in the third century A.D. A learned woman, she devoted herself to Jesus all her life and tried to convert the Roman emperor Maximian to Christianity. After refusing his offer of marriage, Saint Catherine was tortured on a wheel with sharp points. Emperor Maximian eventually had her beheaded. The tomb of St. Catherine is located in the monastery of St. Catherine at the foot of Mount Sinai in Egypt.
Are there masses at the Sainte Catherine church in Honfleur?
Yes, masses are held at the church of Sainte Catherine in Honfleur every Sunday at 10:30 am.