Coutances Cathedral

Coutances, France

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.

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Details

Founded: 1210-1274
Category: Religious sites in France
Historical period: Late Capetians (France)

Rating

4.5/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Duncan Potter (2 years ago)
An amazing cathedral, wonderful feeling inside and some great architecture.
Lucia Palmer (2 years ago)
What a enormous cathedral. Very pleased we went inside to look round .there was even a wheel chair entrance.
Rene Waksberg (2 years ago)
Such a beautiful cathedral in the middle of a not-so-touristy town, on the road between Bayeux and Mont Saint Michel.
Alan Pembshaw (4 years ago)
A magnificent cathedral with 2 spires and a large, ornate central tower. Many beautiful stained glass windows in a variety of styles and also terrific murals and painted columns and walls (see my photos attached). I also highly recommend reading through the website listed as it is very informative and well-presented.
Richard McCulloch (5 years ago)
An astonishing granite building of surprising height. Started in the C11 and reconstructed in in the C12 in Gothic style. It has an unusual galleried central tower with fan vault supports. The ancient stained and painted glass is all original because it survived the allied bombing in June 1944 intact. Many religious paintings add to the atmosphere. A must-see iconic cathedral. Free to get in.
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