Coutances Cathedral (Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Coutances) is a Gothic Roman Catholic cathedral constructed from 1210 to 1274. It incorporated the remains of an earlier Norman cathedral. Standing 80 metres tall, it dominates the town and can be seen from as far away as the island of Jersey. It is a classic example of the Gothic style of Normandy in its use of long, straight, vertical lines.
The construction of the first church or cathedral in Coutances in the 5th century is credited to Saint Ereptiolus, traditionally also the first bishop. This cathedral was destroyed during the invasion of the Normans in the 9th century. The site laid in ruins for about 150 years but, in the mid-11th century, Robert, bishop of Coutances, undertook the rebuilding of the cathedral in the Romanesque or Norman style, starting with the nave. Robert died shortly afterward, but the work was carried forward by Geoffrey de Montbray, his successor as bishop, appointed in 1048. Geoffrey was on good terms with William, Duke of Normandy (later known as the Conqueror), who attended the consecration of the new cathedral in 1056. The bishop subsequently accompanied William on the conquest of England. The cathedral benefited greatly from the enormous profits of this conquest.
The Romanesque cathedral suffered later from a serious fire. In 1210 Bishop Hugues de Morville started to build the present Gothic cathedral, retaining the dimensions and much of the fabric of the Romanesque building. Substantial remains of it underlie many of the walls and towers of the present cathedral. The new cathedral was completed in 1274 and has remained basically unaltered since. The twin towers rise to almost 80m, and its octagonal lantern tower stands over 57m high.
Some damage was done in the Wars of Religion in 1562 but this was repaired soon after. The roodscreen was removed in the 17th century. In 1794 during the French Revolution much superficial damage was done: statues were removed from their niches whilst others were slashed with swords. The cathedral was used successively as a theatre, a grain store and a Temple of Reason, but despite the losses and damage, survived with its structure intact.
During World War II, although much damage was done to the town of Coutances, the cathedral again escaped almost unscathed.
Over the entrance is a modern window showing the figures of the cathedral founders of 1048 and 1218 (bishops Geoffroy de Montbray and Hugues de Morville); in the centre is the figure of Saint Ereptiole, believed to have built the first church in Coutances.
The south ambulatory contains the Chapel of Saint Joseph, with a wall painting of 1381 that depicts the Holy Trinity of God the Father, Christ on the Cross, and the Holy Spirit as a dove.The Chapel of Saint Laud, also in the south ambulatory, is one of the oldest parts of the cathedral, dating from the 13th century. The north ambulatory contains the Chapel of Saint Marcouf, with a window showing scenes from the saint's life. The north ambulatory also holds the holy oils (chrism) used during the sacraments of baptism and extreme unction, confirmation, and at the ordination of priests. The north transept displays a 13th-century stained-glass window showing scenes from the lives of the saints Thomas Becket, George and Blaise. The floor of the north aisle is laid with medieval tiles decorated with the fleur-de-lys, or lily, the emblem of the French royal family (and a symbol associated with the Virgin Mary). Other tiles show the arms of Castile, next to the fleur-de-lys of France. The baptismal font is located in the north aisle.
The cathedral has had an organ since before 1468. The current organ was built in 1728 and has four keyboards or manuals, 51 stops and a pedal board. The west window is partially hidden by the organ.References:
The Broch of Gurness is an Iron Age broch village. Settlement here began sometime between 500 and 200 BC. At the centre of the settlement is a stone tower or broch, which once probably reached a height of around 10 metres. Its interior is divided into sections by upright slabs. The tower features two skins of drystone walls, with stone-floored galleries in between. These are accessed by steps. Stone ledges suggest that there was once an upper storey with a timber floor. The roof would have been thatched, surrounded by a wall walk linked by stairs to the ground floor. The broch features two hearths and a subterranean stone cistern with steps leading down into it. It is thought to have some religious significance, relating to an Iron Age cult of the underground.
The remains of the central tower are up to 3.6 metres high, and the stone walls are up to 4.1 metres thick. The tower was likely inhabited by the principal family or clan of the area but also served as a last resort for the village in case of an attack.
The broch continued to be inhabited while it began to collapse and the original structures were altered. The cistern was filled in and the interior was repartitioned. The ruin visible today reflects this secondary phase of the broch's use.
The site is surrounded by three ditches cut out of the rock with stone ramparts, encircling an area of around 45 metres diameter. The remains of numerous small stone dwellings with small yards and sheds can be found between the inner ditch and the tower. These were built after the tower, but were a part of the settlement's initial conception. A 'main street' connects the outer entrance to the broch. The settlement is the best-preserved of all broch villages.
Pieces of a Roman amphora dating to before 60 AD were found here, lending weight to the record that a 'King of Orkney' submitted to Emperor Claudius at Colchester in 43 AD.
At some point after 100 AD the broch was abandoned and the ditches filled in. It is thought that settlement at the broch continued into the 5th century AD, the period known as Pictish times. By that time the broch was not used anymore and some of its stones were reused to build smaller dwellings on top of the earlier buildings. Until about the 8th century, the site was just a single farmstead.
In the 9th century, a Norse woman was buried at the site in a stone-lined grave with two bronze brooches and a sickle and knife made from iron. Other finds suggest that Norse men were buried here too.