Coutances, Cathédrale Notre-Dame


    Bishop William Tournebu (1179-99) who probably initiated work on the nave had been dean of Bayeux Cathedral. Bishop Hugh de Morville (1208-1238) presided over most of the Gothic construction: he was buried in the choir. An interegnum followed his death; in 1245 Gislanus became bishop,


    Begun ca. 1190


    This is an expansive plan: the aisled seven-bay nave dilates into deep lateral chapels; there is a projecting transept and the choir has double aisles extending into a double ambulatory around a seven-segment hemicycle. The deeper axial chapel was rebuilt in the 14th century


    The nave has three stories of roughly equal height: the arcade is supported on compound piers; the middle level looks like a gallery each bay with two smaler arches occupting a major arch and a lower balustrade. It is, in fact, a triforium. The clerestory has a passage. The main vaults are quadripartite rib vaults. The choir has a pyramidal elevation like Bourges Cathedral with tall ambulatory surrounded by a lower outer space. The main piers support a thick arcade wall organized in a double order; this doubling is reflected in twin columns in the hemicycle. The main vessel has only two stories: the upper level is a tall clerestory with a passage shielded by balustrade. The intermediary supports are slender columns; the choir ambulatory has its own triforium and clerestory Above the crossing space rises an extraordinary lantern tower.


    There is no documentation for the construction of the new nave, probably begun at the end of the twelfth century. The choir and transept arms, sometimes dated in the mid-13th century were probably begun under Bishop Hugh and finished by around 1235. The life of Bishop Hugh is documented by Lindy Grant, who, noting his foundation of six chapels in the cathedral and his burial in the choir, suggests that he was a building bishop


    The forms of the nave make direct references to Fécamp; work at Coutances parallels that at S-Laurent of Eu. Work on the Coutances nave probably came soon after the nave of Bayeux. Similarities of form in early Norman Gothic -- often looking back to S-Etienne of Caen-- reflect a network of connections amongst Norman prelates who tended to be conservative and to have strong local roots. Grant, hailing the choir of Coutances as "the most beautiful Gothic structure in Normandy," proposed a Norman architect with a background in the choir of S-Etienne of Caen (particularly in relation to the linked spaces of the radiating chapels). Exterior massing in the two chevets is very similar. There are also strong links with the cloister of Mont-Saint-Michel and Hambye.

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