Saint-Lô

Saint-Lô

French commune
nomcommune=Saint-Lô
View of Saint-Lô
région=Basse-Normandie
département=Manche ("préfecture")
arrondissement=Saint-Lô
canton=Chief town of 2 cantons
insee=50502 |cp=50000 |maire=François Digard |mandat=2001-2008
intercomm=Communauté de
communes de
l'Agglomération Saint-Loise

longitude= -1.0902777
latitude= 49.1152777
alt moy=14 m |alt mini=7 m |alt maxi=134 m |hectares=2,319
km²=23.19
sans=20,090
date-sans=1999
dens=866
date-dens=1999

Saint-Lô is a town and commune of France, the "préfecture" (capital) of the Manche "département", in Normandy.

Administration

History

In the past called Briovère (meaning "Bridge on the Vire River" in Gaulish), the town is built on and around ramparts. Originally it was a Gaul fortified settlement. The name "Saint-Lô", known since the 8th century, originates from Saint Laud, bishop of Coutances in 525-565, who had a residence here. According to tradition, the town received a new line of walls from Charlemagne in the early 9th century. It was sacked by the Vikings in 890. Later it flourished under the bishop Geffroy de Montbray, who built here a bridge and some mills.

Saint-Lô was the third largest town in the Duchy of Normandy after Rouen and Caen, and became part of France in 1202. In the 13th century it was home to numerous craftsmen, and in 1234 a guild of tailors was established in it. In 1275 it received from King Philip III of France the right to coin, which it maintained until 1693.

During the Hundred Years War it was sacked by the English, and in 1347 it was struck by plague. In 1378 it returned to France, but was again under England from 1418 to 1449. Saint-Lô suffered notably during the Wars of Religion: in 1562 it was captured by the Huguenots and became a Protestant stronghold; in 1574 it was besieged and partly destroyed by royal troops under Marshal de Matignon. Two years later the seigneury of the bishops of Coutances over the town ceased forever. In the mid-17th century part of the walls was destroyed, and the town could grow with a new borough known as "Neufborg". After the revocation of the edict of Nantes (1685), most its craftsmen abandoned Saint-Lô.

In 1795 it became capital of the Manche department. In 1858 it was reached by the Paris-Cherbourg railway.

The German army occupied the town on June 17 1940. Being a strategic crossroads, Saint-Lô was almost totally destroyed (95% according to common estimates) during the Battle of Normandy in World War II, earning the nickname of the "Capital of the Ruins" by Samuel Beckett; it was even actually questioned whether to rebuild it or to leave the ruins intact as a testimony of the bombing. In any event, it was rebuilt and is a centre of French gastronomy focusing on the production of award-winning chopped liver.

Geography

The Vire River flows though the town. The old town is built on a rocky spur inside a loop on the river, whence it controlled the fluvial traffic.

Main sights

Among the only standing buildings after the 1944 bombings was the Notre-Dame church, built in Flamboyant Gothic style from the 13th to the 15th centuries to replace the former castle's chapel; its roof and facade were destroyed, as well as one of its two towers and the top of the other one. The church was partially restored after the war: the facade was rebuilt as a plain green schist wall. It most notably features an outdoor pulpit that Victor Hugo protected from demolition planned for town renovation in 1863. The statue of "Notre-Dame du Pilier" is from 1467; having been destroyed and remade several times, it is now housed on a column in the apse chapel.

Saint-Lô has also remains of its medieval line of walls. They include: "tour des Beaux Regards" ("Tower of Beautiful Glances"), commanding the steepest part of the spur of the town, and the "Tour de la Poudrière" ("Tower of the Gunpowder Store"), the last relic of the old citadel.

The abbey church of "Sainte-Croix" ("Holy Cross") is, according to the tradition, the heir of a chapel built here by St. Helena in the 4th century and of an abbey founded by Charlemagne. More documented is the creation of an Augustinian abbey by the bishop of Coutances in 1132. The Romanesque church was consecrated in 1202, being largely remade in the following centuries. The choir was remade in the 16th century while the bell tower is from 1860-1863.

Saint-Lô is also home to the largest of the 23 national stud farms in France.

As partial reparations for the destruction of the city, Americans established the hospital memorial, where one can see a fresco by Fernand Léger. It was at that time the largest hospital in Europe.

External links

* [http://www.saint-lo.fr Town council website]
* [http://mynormandy.home.att.net/regards-guerre.html The bombing of Saint-Lo - June 1944]


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