As Coutances is near to my parents home we have visited it many times, so I thought it would be good to tell you about it in my series on Normandy.
The Cathedral itself dominates the skyline as you approach Coutances and is, of course, called Notre Dame.
It’s found in the square at the centre of Coutances, and you approach it through the winding streets of the town which has little boutique shops.
I love the square itself and can never resist going back there, despite having grumpy service at times! There’s just something about the quintessential Frenchness of the bistro that draws me in, along with the typical Hotel de Ville. You can’t help but imagine what it would have been like under the occupation 70+ years ago (although I never mention these thoughts to my French cousins of course).
The cathedral isn’t the only place of worship though within the town as it had an active seminary. The coldness in the Cathedral has led to church services held in the smaller Centre D’Accuiel Diocéssain (C.A.D building) after Christmas as it’s easier to heat.
Those of you dedicated to The Sacred Heart of Jesus may be interested to know that the cathedral was the first to have an alter dedicated to the Sacred Heart as a result of the efforts of the venerable Père Eudes.
Eudes founded The SISTERS OF OUR LADY OF CHARITY at Caen, Normandy, under the title of Our Lady of Refuge. Moved by pity for abandoned women who had turned to prostitution and other means to survive he soon became convinced that the only way of helping them was to found a congregation of holy women, who would bind themselves by vow to work to aid them in the means of leaving their lives of pain behind.
The Sisters of Our Lady of Charity do not limit their work to helping current prostitutes, but young women who are in a position that could lead them into this life, therefore preserving them from future pain. These sisters now have house in England (Bartestree, Waterlooville, Monmouth, Southampton, Northfield (near Birmingham), and Mold), Ireland, The United States, Canada, Mexico, Italy, Spain and Austria.
As you stare up at the gothic cathedral, built between 1210 – 1274, you can’t help but be awed. It reminds me of Peter Hitchens comment that many people believe that people in these periods of history were ignorant, hence their belief in God. He points out that these people built these soaring cathedrals without the use of heavy machinery as we do now – what a testamony!
One of the stained glass windows depicts The Last Judgment….
In a period where the majority of the congregation would have been illiterate these windows weren’t just there to inspire them, but to teach as well. Many Catholic churches have themes in their windows, such as Mary being told by the prophetess Anna that a sword would pierce her heart coupled with a window depicting the death of Jesus with Mary at the bottom of the cross. However I couldn’t see this amongst the windows of the cathedral.
The lantern tower in the centre is designed to provide an intense source of light in the centre of the cathedral, representing Heaven.
Near to the alter is a depiction of St Michael, defending us in the day of battle…
Behind the principal altar stand six pairs of pillars supporting the roof, which are said to stand for the Twelve Apostles. The windows date from the 15th century.
The south ambulatory contains the Chapel of Saint Joseph, with a wall painting of 1381 that depicts the Holy Trinity of God the Father, Christ on the Cross, and the Holy Spirit as a dove.
The north transept displays a 13th-century stained-glass window showing scenes from the lives of the saints Thomas Becket, George and Blaise.
Mary’s chapel is a the rear of the church and is decorated beautifully…
Mary is also outside the chapel for Eucharistic adoration….
Unfortunately we didn’t get to take pictures within the chapel itself due to respect for worshippers.