The west front of Notre-Dame la Grande church adorned with statuary is recognised as a masterpiece of Romanesque religious art. The district was already populated in Roman times. The ancient vestiges of a brick and rectangular stone construction can be located near the gutter on the northern wall of the current church.
The church is mentioned in the 10th century, referring to the Romanesque church of the same name. Its position next to the Palace of the Counts of Poitou-Dukes of Aquitaine, is certainly significant as from the political point of view, the bishops of Poitiers were barons of Poitou. The whole of the building was rebuilt in the second half of the 11th century, in the period of High Romanesque, and inaugurated in 1086 by the future Pope Urban II.
The plan of the church is composed of a central nave with aisles according to a frequent plan in Romanesque architecture of Poitou. A deambulatory with radiating chapels developed around the church which preserved a part of its murals. A crypt of the 11th century, dug a posteriori under the choir, also preserves frescos of the time. The plan does not have transepts, for good reasons: buildings were in the north, and the principal street passes to the south. The Romanesque gate is preserved in part to the south. Cut down by this stage, one found there before the Revolution, an equestrian statue representing Constantine. This statue was the counterpart of another, older statue destroyed by the Huguenots in 1562. It is not known if the identity of the first rider had been the same. Behind this statue, on the ground, a small vault dedicated to Saint Katherine was referred to during the Middle Ages. The bell-tower dates from the 11th century. In the beginning it was much more obvious: the first level is concealed today by the roofs. Located at the site of the crossing, it presents a square base, then over it a circular level of a roof decorated with tiles. This type of roof, frequent in the south-west, was often copied by the architects of the 19th century, in particular Paul Abadie in Angoulême, Périgueux and Bordeaux.
During the second quarter of the 12th century, the old bell-tower-porch which was on the frontage was removed and the church was increased by two spans towards the west. In the south, the turret of a staircase marks the site of this enlargement. It is at that time that the celebrated frontage-screen was built.
In the north, there was a cloister in the 12th century. It was removed in 1857 for the construction of the metal markets. There remains the door (walled up). Three arches supported by columns duplicated with capitals with foliage were re-installed in the court of the university opposite, as was a pillar on the corner.
Private vaults were added to the Romanesque structure during the 15th and 16th centuries. Of Flamboyant Gothic style, they belonged to the middle-class families of the city, who had been merchants since the end of the Middle Ages. The largest was built in the south by Yvon the Insane, Grand Seneschal of Poitou in the 15th century. His tomb was placed there before the Revolution.
The church was refurnished after the Revolution. Thus, one finds there a Baroque pulpit carved from wood in the 17th century, coming from the convent, two bronze lecterns of the 16th century. The statue of Our Lady of the Keys dated from the end of the 16th or beginning of the 17th century. The tradition says that it is a copy of the miraculous statue, destroyed by the Huguenots in 1562. Its hieratic, foreign style in the taste of the end of the 16th century, recalls the Romanesque period. The whole of the stained glass dates from the 19th and 20th centuries. The choir organ is end of the 19th century, whereas the large organ is from 1996.References:
Château de Falaise is best known as a castle, where William the Conqueror, the son of Duke Robert of Normandy, was born in about 1028. William went on to conquer England and become king and possession of the castle descended through his heirs until the 13th century when it was captured by King Philip II of France. Possession of the castle changed hands several times during the Hundred Years' War. The castle was deserted during the 17th century. Since 1840 it has been protected as a monument historique.
The castle (12th–13th century), which overlooks the town from a high crag, was formerly the seat of the Dukes of Normandy. The construction was started on the site of an earlier castle in 1123 by Henry I of England, with the 'large keep' (grand donjon). Later was added the 'small keep' (petit donjon). The tower built in the first quarter of the 12th century contained a hall, chapel, and a room for the lord, but no small rooms for a complicated household arrangement; in this way, it was similar to towers at Corfe, Norwich, and Portchester, all in England. In 1202 Arthur I, Duke of Brittany was King John of England's nephew, was imprisoned in Falaise castle's keep. According to contemporaneous chronicler Ralph of Coggeshall, John ordered two of his servants to mutilate the duke. Hugh de Burgh was in charge of guarding Arthur and refused to let him be mutilated, but to demoralise Arthur's supporters was to announce his death. The circumstances of Arthur's death are unclear, though he probably died in 1203.
In about 1207, after having conquered Normandy, Philip II Augustus ordered the building of a new cylindrical keep. It was later named the Talbot Tower (Tour Talbot) after the English commander responsible for its repair during the Hundred Years' War. It is a tall round tower, similar design to the towers built at Gisors and the medieval Louvre.Possession of the castle changed hands several times during the Hundred Years' War. The castle was deserted during the 17th century. Since 1840, Château de Falaise has been recognised as a monument historique by the French Ministry of Culture.
A programme of restoration was carried out between 1870 and 1874. The castle suffered due to bombardment during the Second World War in the battle for the Falaise pocket in 1944, but the three keeps were unscathed.