It was on the exact spot that a Gallo-Roman temple was to be built that Saint Ereptiolus, an evangelist of the local pagan people, had a supposedly wooden, basilica-type church with a single nave built around the year 430.
He was its first bishop, later to be followed by Saint Laud, who, at age 22, became the youngest bishop of Coutances.
However, following the destruction of this basilica around 866 by the Normans, the bishops, who succeeded one another for a century, lived in Rouen, thus abandoning Coutances until 1030. This is when the ex-bishop of Lisieux undertook the construction of a nave in the purest Romanesque style. His successor, Geoffroy de Montbray, saw that construction on the cathedral continued. It was finally completed in the second half of the 11th century and consecrated on 8 December, 1057.
After a prosperous period for the diocese of Coutances, a violent earthquake in December 1091 caused damage to the construction (the choir and transept were the worst hit but were restored in 1093).
The building, as we can see it today, barely resembles the one that existed at the time of Geoffroy de Montbray.
Indeed, studies have shown that the Romanesque cathedral was not damaged by a fire but was modified at the beginning of the 13th century. The overall shape of the cathedral was conserved but was made over in the Gothic, or so-called, new, style.
The western façade, which would eventually include the Romanesque towers and be decorated with the famous 'rose gallery', was erected between 1251 and 1274.
Although it is possible to see some traces of the Romanesque style within the Gothic architecture, there are absolutely none left in the choir or transept.
For more information:
Pays d'art et d'histoire Tourist Information Office:
Tourism and Culture in the Coutances Region - Place Georges Leclerc - 50200 Coutances.
Tel.: +33 (0)2 47 42 08 90.
Visits, available daily from 11:00am to 3:00pm, must be booked in advance (except for Saturdays and Sunday mornings).
Full price: £5.40.
For children under 18: £4.60.