This large Benedictine abbey on the western shores of the Cotentin was founded in c.1056 by Turstin Haldup, lord of La Haye-du-Puits, a foundation confirmed in 1080 by William the Conqueror.
The choir of the abbey church had already been built in 1098 when Eudes au Capel, son of the founder, was buried there. The nave was built in the first years of the 12th century.
On two occasions the building was almost completely destroyed: in 1356 by Charles the Bad during the war between France and Navarre, and in 1944 during the Liberation. Pierre le Roy, the future abbot of Mont-Saint-Michel, rebuilt it between 1385-1420, as did Yves-Marie Froidevaux in 1945-1957. The original layout has been fully respected and it is the monument with the purest Norman Romanesque style that can be visited today.
The " Benedictine" ground plan of the Latin cross is that of most of the great Norman abbeys: an east end with chapels in echelon built onto the side aisles and the transepts, and a long nave with aisles. On the outside, the general balance is provided by the arrangement of the various components: chapels, choir aisles, apse at the east end, transepts, and central tower topped by its pyramidal roof.
The interior elevation is that of the Romanesque church (pioneered at Bernay and Jumièges): large arcades, an intermediate gallery level, and clerestory. However, in the nave at Lessay, the structure of the arches, with their two steps, and the shape of their cruciform pillars is simplified; the intermediate level (triforium) is confined to small paired openings giving onto roof timbers intended to buttress the nave vaults.
Lessay is above all, however, innovative in introducing the revolutionary support of the vaults on ribs; here, at the end of the 11th century, is one of the first occurrences of their use, well before the restatement of the technique using the pointed arch by gothic architects.
The decoration of the capitals is parsimoniously reduced to simple crockets and flat leaves in order to enhance the unity, the regular rhythm of the pillars and arches, the vertical aspect of the bays, the purity of order, and the majesty of the whole.
- Musset, Lucien. " Lessay ", in Normandie
Romane, t.1 ; Editions du Zodiaque, La Pierre-qui-Vire, 1967
- Melot, Michel. " Lessay ", in Dictionnaire des Eglises de France, IVB Normandie, Robert Laffont, 1968