On September 30, PJ made a very short post on the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Coutances in Normandy, featuring me setting up for a vault shot on the altar. But the church deserves more than such a cursory mention, so we’re showing some more photos of this magnificent structure.
There is history about Notre Dame de Coutances, as there is with every cathedral and church in France. Coutances is in Normandy, about 35 miles from Utah Beach and 45 miles from Omaha Beach. It is the linchpin for the North-South roads on the west side of the Normandy peninsula. Because of its strategic position, the town received a great deal of attention from the Allied Air Forces before and during the Normandy invasion.
Although much damage was done to the town of Coutances, the cathedral miraculously escaped unscathed. This photo from the “8th Air Force Book June 44” shows the road junctions in the town being bombed, perilously close to Notre Dame de Coutances.
The battle of Normandy continued through August 1944 by which time Coutances was a complete wreck.
The fact that such damage was inflicted on Coutances and the cathedral was almost completely spared remind us that war is not always fought with complete barbarity. Even the German cathedral of Cologne was spared in that same war. Notice that the bridge, the railroad marshaling yards, and the road junctions are destroyed in every direction around the cathedral.
Fortunately for us, we can see that what was spared in Coutances is a Gothic marvel. The Gothic structure was completed in 1274 after a fire had damaged the existing Romanesque church (consecrated in 1056 in the presence of William, Duke of Normandy, afterwards “the Conqueror”). This shot of the nave shows the reliance on the elegant, unadorned vertical lines that characterize this Norman architecture.
The shot of the choir shows the soaring verticals, the hemicycle in the apse and the ambulatory openings at the east of the two transepts. Again, the lack of adornment of Norman architecture brings the eye to the elegance of the lines and perfection of the proportions.
This plan of Coutances from Viollet-le-Duc shows the plan view of the previous shot, giving just a hint of the beauty of the structure.
This detail of the north side aisle (looking west through the transept) again shows the reliance on the purity of lines to create the beautiful proportions that characterize the Cathedral.
If we turn around from the position of that last photo, we see the view captured by PJ in the next shot, the north aisle of the ambulatory.
PJ was doing some extraordinary work in the ambulatory which would require a post of its own to do justice. But here is one of my favorites, a view back toward the choir from the ambulatory chapel.
But the final extra bonus of our trip to Coutances was the opportunity to meet Vivian Blake, author of VivinFrance, another WordPress blog. She lives nearby and offered to meet us for “a cuppa” in the parvis of the Cathedral and we were delighted to spend about an hour with her before we regrettably had to return back to our hotel nearby. It was Viv who pointed out the fact that Coutances was almost completely rebuilt after World War II and had none of the characteristic charm of other towns in that region. She did point out one area to the northwest of the Cathedral that still had some of the old houses and from those remnants it was possible to see that Coutances was once the most charming of Norman towns. We follow Viv’s blog and her poetry and it was a delight to meet her in person. Next time we return to the region, we’ll make more time for a visit with our new friend.