Bayeux is a small, pleasant city in Normandy, France. I visited it in 2010, using it as a base for exploring the D-Day beaches and Mont-Saint-Michel. Although not on my radar prior to my visit, I was particularly impressed with Bayeux Cathedral (Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Bayeux…herein referred to by its English name to avoid confusion with the many other Notre-Dames in France).
The cathedral has evolved over the course of nearly a millennium into the impressive building it is today. It is a place steeped in history, a sacred spot since time immemorial. According to Antoine Verney, author of The City of Bayeux, construction on the present structure began in the mid-11th century, replacing a Carolingian era church.
At the cathedral’s location in 1065, Harold Godwinson reportedly swore fealty to William the Conqueror, providing the pretext for the Norman invasion of England when Harold ostensibly broke his oath in 1066. The cathedral was consecrated in July 1077 by William’s half brother, Bishop Odo. According to Verney, this event is probably the first time the famous Bayeux Tapestry was displayed.
The cathedral has evolved a great deal over the centuries. I would like to elaborate further, but frankly I find the building’s architectural history rather complex and confusing. At any rate, the website Mapping Gothic France does this job better than I ever could. As I understand it, the west side of the building and the crypt are the oldest elements of the cathedral. The twin towers at the west entrance to the cathedral were constructed between 1070 and 1090, but have been modified somewhat since then.
As best as I can tell from my references, the Gothic elements of the cathedral’s structure were constructed circa 1220-1280. Finally, the central tower was built from 1477 to 1479, with a Gothic Revival second stage completed in 1866.
I was surprised to find no definitive source recording the central tower’s height. Verney’s book vaguely gives “a height of over 80 metres” (262′). On the other hand, an article on the cathedral by Henk Bekker for European Traveler gives a height of 95 m (312′). Finally, Wikipedia’s article List of tallest church buildings in the world gives a figure of “105.0 m (344 ft)” but notes that the figure is an estimate!
Bayeux Cathedral has weathered a great deal over the centuries. It was damaged by fires in 1105 and again in 1160. The cathedral also suffered damage during France’s religious wars in 1562-3. Fortunately, the cathedral and the city of Bayeux managed to avoid the destruction other nearby cities suffered in the crossfire between Allied and German armies during the Battle of Normandy in 1944.
During my visit to Bayeux, I stayed at the Hôtel Reine Mathilde, which is located just down the street from the cathedral. Between excursions to the beaches and Mont-Saint-Michel, I was able to see and photograph the cathedral in a wide variety of lightning conditions. Perhaps my favorite photo opportunity occurred early one morning, when a thin layer of fog shrouded the central tower but not the rest of the building.
One final treat: Taking advantage of the peculiarities of this blog’s layout, I present another “nearly endless vertical panorama” stitched from a few individual photographs.