This picturesquely situated city of the Cotentin, St. Lo, is so named from the Bishop St. Laud, who lived in the neighbourhood in the sixth century. Later, it became a Huguenot stronghold, and was ably, though unsuc cessfully, defended by Colombiers. It forms, with its former Cathedral of Notre Dame crowning its height, another of those ensembles which will always linger in the memory of the traveller who first comes upon it clad in spring and summer verdure. The rippling Vire at its very feet gives at once the note; it not only binds and enwraps it like the setting of a precious stone, but adds that one feature which, lacking, would be a chord misplaced. Perhaps no other cathedral in all France, with regard to its bijou setting, certainly no other so accessible to the English tourist, has more dainty charm than this not very grand, but graceful, church at St. Lo. Its towers, though not uniform as to size, are of apparently the same gradual proportions, and, if not the most impressive, are at least the most beautiful in Normandy. They rise high above the wooded crest which encircles their base in true picture-book fashion. The attraction of the river, here, is unusual, in that it presents no accustomed ” slummy ” picturesqueness, but winds slowly, amid its green, to the very base of the cliff which upholds the chief portion of the town and its cathedral.
The facade presents a melange of the work of at least three epochs, a not unusual feature in some of the smaller cathedrals. It has a mean little house built into its northwest corner, a crude and ugly clock-face stuck unmeaningly on its facade, and a general air of dilapidation, with respect to the statues originally contained in its archivolts and niches, which, to say the least, is not creditable to those who have been responsible for its care. It would seem that so lively and important a centre of local activity might have devoted a little more thought and care to the maintenance of this charming building.
Built up from a foundation of which but little, if any portion, visibly remains, Notre Dame shows a debasement of design and decoration of its facade which is not only not admirable, but is, in addition, sadly disfigured. The one detail, for the most part good in style, is a not unduly florid arcade, which plainly indicates its superiority over the rest of the building.
On the north side is an open-air pulpit of stone overhung with a canopy, a highly interesting detail, though, of course, not a unique one. Unable to command admiration as an absolute novelty, it is assuredly a charming feature, and is delicately and profusely sculptured. It suggests much in conjunction with the busy life of the rather squalid neighbouring market-place, whose only picturesque attribute is when it is crowded with the gaiety of a market or a fete day. By far the most compelling interest in the building, after an inspection of its interior, is the view to be had from a distance.
The nave is late Gothic, and widens out in curious fashion toward the east; otherwise the interior arrangements are not remarkable. One bulbous chapel on the south side supplants the usual transept.
There is no triforium either in choir or nave, the lighting principally being effected by the large windows of the aisles.
It is pertinent to recall here that one of Charlemagne’s own foundations of the ninth century, destroyed by the barbarians, was situated near by, the famous Abbey of St. Croix.