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Livre d'Or


église Saint-Pierre

église Saint-Nicolas

autres thèmes :
les chapelles,
les cloches
la gravure de Bichue
les sculptures,
les évêques de Coutances,
 Le plan de la cathédrale

La cathédrale est ouverte tous les jours de 9h à 19h (18h l'hiver)

Horaires des messes
Masses of daylight

Samedi : 18h30 à
l'église Saint-Pierre
Dimanche : 11h00
à la cathédrale

Saturday : 18:30
into the church of
Sunday : 11:00
into the cathedral





(from "French Cathedrals, Coutances", written by Jocelyn Perkins, edited by The Sheldon Press)

(1) one-aisled basilica
built by St Ereptiole
(by Pigeon)


Bichue'sprint in 1747


Coutances cathedral from the south

The name of COUTANCES and much of its importance is derived from Imperial Rome. Originally the capital of a tribe known as the Unelles, and called Cosedia, it fell a victim to one of Julius Cæsar's lieutenants in 58 B.C. Subsequently its name was changed to Constantia in honour of the Emperor Constantius Chlorus ; and with its castle, forum, temple, and fortifications, to say nothing of its splendid strategic position, it became a pIace of great importance.
Christianity was brought to Constantia in the fifth century by St. Ereptiole, who became its first Bishop, and erected a one-aisled basilica(1) on the site of the pagan temple, where the Cathedral now stands.
Coutances, as it must now be called, suffered terribly at the hands of the Scandinavians - first the Danes, and then the Northmen. The great promontory known as the Cotentin was ravaged by Hasting in 837, while thirty years later the Northmen did such terrible damage to the city that the Bishop and his Chapter had to fly to St. Lo, subsequently migrating to far-distant Rouen. Here they remained for one hundred and sixty years, and their Cathedral city must have been left desolate and bare. The formation of the Duchy of Normandy, and the adhesion of Rollon to Christianity, brought relief to this distracted region; but not until the time of Duke Richard the Fearless, in the first half of the eleventh century, was any attempt made to restore Coutances to its original splendour.
In 1030 a capable man, Bishop Robert, put on end to the long exile of the Bishops of Coutances at Rouen, and with the help of Gonnor, the widow of Duke Richard, set about the building of a new Romanesque Cathedral.
An even more remarkable man appeared eighteen years later, Geoffroi de Montbray, who occupied the See of Coutances for nearly half a century. He became one of the most trusted of all William the Conqueror's lieutenants. He was present at the Battle of Hastings, and a few weeks later took part, tcgether with Ealdred, Archbishop of York, in the coronation of the Duke in Westminster Abbey.
Afamily named Tancred, cousins of Bishop Geoffroi. lived within a short distance of Coutances. lt fell to the lot of this impecunious family of adventurers to found dynasties, protect a Pope, and defeat both the Holy Roman Emperor and his comrade at Constantinople. Devoted sons of the Church, these monarchs of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies were as generous as they were courageous. They lavished their wealth upon their episcopal cousin at Coutances, and, thanks to this timely aid, Geoffroi had the joy of consecrating the nave of his Cathedral in the presence of Duke William just ten years before the two men set forth upon their English adventures. Later on, Geoffroi succeeded in adding two massive towers at the west end, which rose to the height of nearly 100 feet. Eastward he erected an equally striking central tower, surmounted by a celebrated gilded cock. When he passed away in 1093, old and well stricken in years, he had the satisfaction of knowing that his task was done, and that his Cathedral stood complete in all the massive splendour of its Romanesque architecture(2).
The twelfth century is a blank, so far as Coutances Cathedral is concerned ; but in 1204 when the Duchy of Normandy fell into the hands of Philip Augustus, King of France, art generally flourished everywhere, not least at Coutances.
At this time, another great Bishop, Hugh de Morville, carried out an amazing transformation of his church. He encased the old Romanesque nave of Geoffroi de Montbray, with new stone, completely converting its original features. Thus, the great church has come to bear the stamp of the thirteenth century from end to end. The eleventh-century building still exists, but if the visitor wishes to discover the original work, he must go into the two western towers, and enter the passages above the side aisles of the nave(3), .
Later on in the same century appeared the choir, the transept, and the two western spires, an immense piece of work, which must be attributed to Jean d'Essey, who was Bishop from1248 to 1274. A cloister which has now disappeared followed on the north side of the nave, and before the end of thirteenth century another Bishop, Robert d'Harcourt, built walls around the Cathedral.
During the Hundred Years' War both city and Cathedral suffered severely. The place suffered a terrible siege, and was just saved from falling by the timely arrival of a French army - a fate it failed to escape however later on after the Battle of Agincourt.
In 1364, as a result of the damage done on this former occasion, Charles V ordered the city to be surrounded by walls, so as to give a greater measure of protection.

The nave looking West

The nave looking East

southern ambulatory

southern transept

About the same time there appeared another of the great Bishops to whom Coutances owed so much, Sylvestre de la Cervelle, a relative of the famous Constable, Bertrand du Guesclin. He at once set about raising money, and during the sixteen years of his episcopate (1370-1386) accomplished an immense work of renovation. The choir and apse were almost entirely rebuilt, the easternmost chapel was added, and certain details altered in the decoration of the nave. Finally, the same energetic prelate constructed a number of the nave chapels, which, with their fascinating partition walls, form such a beautiful feature of Coutances Cathedral.
By this time this noble church was complete. No addition has been made to it since, nor any essential modification, save the outrageous destruction of the rood-screen in the eighteenth century. From end to end it does not, so far as its architecture is concerned, display the very slightest trace of either Flamboyant or Renaissance feeling.
It was however to suffer more damage. During the Wars of Religion it was shamelessly profaned by the Protestants, led first of all by Gabriel de Montgomery in 1561, and then by Colombières in 1566. Its furniture and artistic treasures were ruthlessly destroyed, but the actual fabric escaped comparatively lightly.
Since the sixteenth century the history of both city and Cathedral has been uneventful, save for the horrors of the French Revolution, during which time the Cathedral was used as a storehouse for grain, a temple of Reason, and a temple of the Supreme Being. Statues were ruthlessly smashed, and the Cathedral was stripped of its stalls and other woodwork, its iron grilles, and a number of the altars in the chapels. Later on, Iead was removed from the roof for the purpose of making ammunition. Whatever the Protestants had spared two centuries before was now handled mercilessly; indeed, the Cathedral itself was only saved from ruin by the bold and friendly intervention of M. Duchamel, the representative of the Government in this region.
A certain amount of drastic restoration took place during the nineteenth century, but, apart from this, it is clear that Coutances Cathedral has undergone no alteration since the fourteenth century.

marvellous lantern

Total length.......................................................

306 feet

Breadth of the transept..................................... 101   "
Height of the choir vaults.................................. 73   "
Height of the lantern......................................... 188   "
Height of the western spires............................ 254   "

view from 2nd floor
of central tower


circa 430
 Building of the first Cathedral by St.Ereptiole on the site of a pagan temple
 Clovis becomes King of the Franks.
 The Cotentin ravaged by the Danish leaders, Brier and Hasting.
 Coutances besieged by the Normans and the Cathedral destroyed.
The Bishop and Chapter fled to St. Lo, and nine years later to Rouen.
 Treaty of St. Clair-sur-Epte between Charles the Simple and Rollon constituting the Duchy of Normandy.
 Death of Rollon.
 Hugh Capet becomes King of France.
circa 1030
 Bishop Robert commences building a new Romanesque Cathedral.
 Consecration of the nave by Bishop Geoffroi de Montbray in the presence of Duke William.
 Union of England and Normandy.
 Completion of the Romanesque Cathedral.
Death of Geoffroi de Montbray.
 Accession of Philip Augustus.
 Expulsion of the English from Normandy.
 Bishop Hugh de Morville began to transform the Romanesque nave into one of Gothic form; the work was completed some time before 1250.
 The choir, transept and western spires built by Bishop Jean d'Essey.
 The city of Coutances fortified by Bishop Robert d'Harcourt.
 Removal of the Papacy from Rome to Avignon.
 Beginning of the Hundred Years' War.
 Coutances attacked by Geoffroi d'Harcourt and much damage done to the Cathedral.
 Battle of Crecy.
 Coutances again besieged.
 Construction of the nave chapels and the lady chapel by Bishop Sylvestre de la Cervelle; the choir and apse rebuilt.
 Battle of Agincourt.
 Coutances captured by Henry V.
 Martyrdom of Joan of Arc.
 Coutances regained by the French.
 Expulsion of the English from Normandy.
 Visit of Francis 1. to Coutances.
 Capture of Calais.
 Beginning of the Wars of Religion.
Coutances and the Catlhedral sacked by the Huguenots under Gabriel de Montgomery.
 Coutances again sacked, this time by Colombières.
 The Protestants expelled from this part of France.
 Coutances joins the League.
 Normandy conquered for Henri IV. by Le Maréchal de Biron.
 The Edict of Nantes secured toleration for the Protestants.
 Assassination of Henri IV.
 Accession of Louis XIV.
 Outbreak of the Fronde Civil War.
 Revocation of the Edict of Nantes.
 Peace of Utrecht.
 Death of Louis XIV.
 Meeting of the States-General at Versailles.
 The Civil Constitution of the Clergy passed, but condemned by the Papacy in the following year.
 The Terror.
Separation of Church and State.
Outbreak in Normandy and Brittany of the revolt known as the Chouannerie.
 The Concordat and Reunion of Church and State.
 The Bourbon Restoration.
 The Revolution of July.
 The Second Republic.
 The Second Empire.
Outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War.
The Third Republic.
 Separation of Church and State.


Photo TCPC
The beautiful grouping of the towers as seen from different points in the neighbourhood of Coutances.

By night


The west front and the extremely graceful proportions of the two towers and spires.
The central tower or Iantern, known locally as the Plomb. When Vauban, the famous French engineer, visited Coutances, he is said to have exclaimed that the man who built it must have been an "inspired fool"! The Island of Jersey can be seen from this tower.

the central tower or "le plomb"
The Romanesque work of Bishop Geoffroi de Montbray. In order to admire it, It is necessary to visit the interior of the western towers and the roof over the nave aisles. For many years the actual date of the building of the nave remained a query, but the existence of this hidden Romanesque work indicates that the thirteenth - century builders must altered and recased the earlier work, without destroying it.

western Romanesque tower

southern transept:
the last judgement
The side chapels of the nave, the work of Bishop Sylvestre de la Cervelle, are one of the chief glories of Coutances Cathedral. The delicate traceries of the partition walls and also their piscinas should be carefully studied. Some interesting tiles may be seen on the floors of some of those on the north side.

chapels of south


The stained glass in the two great windows of the transepts and in the clerestory of the choir and apse.

stained-glass window of St Lo
The high-altar, which, though not of special merit, for it is only of eighteenth-century origin, is interesting in that it has survived the Revolution.

Our Lady of Coutances
(XIVè s.)
The sculptured bas-relief in the chapel of St. Francis, a work of remarkable beauty.

the roundabout of ambulatory
The double ambulatory round the choir and apse.
The lady chapel.  
The frescoes in the chapel of St.Joseph  
The chapel of the Relics and the well in the south transept.


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