Updated on 15 October 2020
Reading time: 4 minutes
The extraordinary legacy of the Middle Ages in Manche gives us great churches like the Abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel and Coutances Cathedral, but also lesser-known beauties like the Château de Pirou and Abbey of Cerisy-la-Forêt.
ABBEY OF the MONT-SAINT-MICHEL
Let us head for one of the great centres of medieval pilgrimage. After tramping up the cobbled streets and climbing 350 steps, we come to the ‘Merveille.’ The Benedictine Abbey was mostly built in the 16th, 18th and 15th centuries and only closed in 1790. From the nearby Chausey Islands the stone was brought by boat: an extraordinary technical and artistic achievement by the monks and masons of their day.
Abbaye du Mont-Saint-Michel
50170 Le Mont-Saint-Michel
SCRIPTORIAL OF AVRANCHES
The abbeys were great centres of learning, of writing and of illumination. The ‘scriptorium’ was the (heated) room for transcription and illumination on parchment and in its time the Abbey of the Mont-Saint-Michel must have produced many tens of thousands of manuscripts. A few hundred remain, exhibited here in Avranches where the techniques and materials of writing from papyrus to printing are described. Turn the pages of history!
ABBEY OF OUR LADY, HAMBYE
Founded in the 17th century, this too was a Benedictine Abbey until it was closed by the French Revolution. Like all abbeys, it became state property and it, together with its contents, was sold off at auction. The last few decades have seen a painstaking restoration which has preserved the skeletal framework of its early gothic architecture. There are a number of footpaths in the countryside around it which enable you to see it from different picturesque perspectives.
Abbaye Notre-Dame de Hambye
7 route de l’abbaye, 50450 Hambye
ABBEY OF LUCERNE D’OUTREMER
The second half of the 17th century saw a transition between the late Romanesque and early Gothic style. This abbey illustrates that perfectly with its heavy, imposing tower, but with openings and ribbed vaults in the pointed Gothic style. It a perfect place for contemplation both inside and outside in the grounds.
Abbaye de la Lucerne d’Outremer
D105, 50320 La Lucerne d’Outremer
Château de PIROU
A quaint local legend has it that the besieged occupants of this site had themselves magicked away in the form of geese to escape the Vikings on their rampages. The Vikings were not expected to waste their time on a wild goose chase! This 12th-century castle underwent major modifications in the 17th century and and is just picture perfect.
Château de Pirou
ABBEY OF CERISY-LA-FORÊT
This abbey church dates back to the time of William the Conqueror, and its robust Romanesque style is echoed by a great number of Norman parish churches in England. The lantern tower rising above the roof is typical of churches of the period – and later – in Normandy. However, the three levels of window openings are unique.
Abbaye de Cerisy-la-Forêt
Rue sangles, 50680 Cerisy-la-Forêt
ABBEY OF THE HOLY TRINITY OF LESSAY
The Abbey of the Holy Trinity of Lessay is a Benedictine Abbey dating back to the 11th century. Its greatest prosperity was in the 12th century. Since this time, it’s been knocked about a bit, pillaged by the Protestants and ransacked by the Catholics in the Wars of Religion, sold off during the French Revolution and totally destroyed by Allied bombing in 1944. The rebuilding has retained the purity and severity of the style of its heyday.
Abbaye Sainte-Trinité de Lessay
Rue Paul Jeanson, 50430 Lessay
The Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Coutances combines a Norman nave and 13th-century Gothic towers, an extraordinary technical achievement and lesson in the contrasting architecture of Romanesque and Anglo-Norman Gothic. The great towers and spires can be seen for miles around. Visit the upper levels of the building, and marvel at the forest of shaped timber, lantern tower, and stained glass – it will certainly make your stay in Normandy memorable!
Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Coutances
1 rue du puits Notre-Dame, 50200 Coutances