To placify the pope, who had opposed the marriage of William the Conqueror to his cousin, Mathilde, two Benedictine abbeys were built - the Abbaye aux Hommes in the west, and the Abbaye aux Dames in the east The abbey church of St. Etienne is to the right of the photo - it was started in 1066, but the spires at the back date from the 13. Century.
Entry to the church is free, but the actual monastery buildings (much restored in the 18th. Century) serves, since 1965, as the Hotel de Ville (Town Hall). It has also been, from 1804, a lycée. Tours of the Hotel de Ville take place four times a day, and cost about 1.50 Euro.
Much publicity is given to the fact that William the Conqueror’s tomb is in the Abbaye des Hommes, but not the fact that, due to desecration from Hugenots and French revolutionaries, he is not actually there any more. Some sort of mysticism surrounds that fact that the Abbaye des Hommes survived the bombing of July 1944 which destroyed about 75% of the town (while sheltering large numbers of the town’s inhabitants). It is probably more likely that the Maquis knew about the attack beforehand and had painted markings on the roof to ward off Allied aircraft (Nevertheless, a crashing aircraft claimed the church over the road, as a victim - the ruins are still there today).
The Abbaye aux Hommes was founded in 1063 was consecrated in 1077.
St Étienne is an important example of Romanesque styling that would be repeated at Durham and other sites in England.