The western part of the chancel and the eastern part of the nave are the oldest parts of Herslev Church dating from the Romanesque period. The chancel and the nave were extended in the late Middle Ages, when the porch was presumably also built. When the chancel was extended, a vault was erected.
The church was restored in 1881: the porch was rebuilt, the large windows were put in and a wall was put round a belfry at the west end of the church. In 1977 this belfry was removed and today the bell hangs in the bell frame on the preserved burial mound in the western part of the churchyard. The older and cracked bell placed near the entrance to the west end of the church is highly effective.
On the comparatively new altar stands a very fine triptych dating from the early 16th century. On the altarpiece's lower right-hand corner is painted the years 1736 and 1919, both referring to restorations. The piece has been thoroughly restored in 2013. The piece shows the Lord and the crucified Christ accompanied by Mary with the Child and St Michael the dragon-slayer, who again are surrounded by the twelve apostles. The attractive baptismal basin in the Romanesque font is late 16th century, and the decoration in the middle represents the Annunciation.References:
The Abbey of Saint-Etienne, also known as Abbaye aux Hommes ('Men"s Abbey'), is a former monastery dedicated to Saint Stephen (Saint Étienne). It is considered, along with the neighbouring Abbaye aux Dames ('Ladies" Abbey'), to be one of the most notable Romanesque buildings in Normandy. Like all the major abbeys in Normandy, it was Benedictine.
Lanfranc, before being an Archbishop of Canterbury, was abbot of Saint-Etienne. Built in Caen stone during the 11th century, the two semi-completed churches stood for many decades in competition. An important feature added to both churches in about 1120 was the ribbed vault, used for the first time in France. The two abbey churches are considered forerunners of the Gothic architecture. The original Romanesque apse was replaced in 1166 by an early Gothic chevet, complete with rosette windows and flying buttresses. Nine towers and spires were added in the 13th century. The interior vaulting shows a similar progression, beginning with early sexpartite vaulting (using circular ribs) in the nave and progressing to quadipartite vaults (using pointed ribs) in the sanctuary.
The two monasteries were finally donated by William the Conqueror and his wife, Matilda of Flanders, as penalty for their marriage against the Pope"s ruling. William was buried here; Matilda was buried in the Abbaye aux Dames. Unfortunately William"s original tombstone of black marble, the same kind as Matilda"s in the Abbaye aux Dames, was destroyed by the Calvinist iconoclasts in the 16th century and his bones scattered.
As a consequence of the Wars of Religion, the high lantern tower in the middle of the church collapsed and was never rebuilt. The Benedictine abbey was suppressed during the French Revolution and the abbey church became a parish church. From 1804 to 1961, the abbey buildings accommodated a prestigious high school, the Lycée Malherbe. During the Normandy Landings in 1944, inhabitants of Caen found refuge in the church; on the rooftop there was a red cross, made with blood on a sheet, to show that it was a hospital (to avoid bombings).