But, however unattractive Bayeux may be in other respects, so long as the cathedral is suffered to stand, the city will never want interest. It is supposed that the first church erected here was built by St. Exuperius otherwise called St. Suspirius, or St. Spirius, who, according to the distich subjoined to his portrait, formerly painted on one of the windows of the nave, was not only the earliest bishop of the diocese, but claimed the merit of having introduced the Christian faith into Normandy,—
“Primitus hic pastor templi
fuit hujus et auctor,
Catholicamque fidem Normannis attulit idem.”
St. Exuperius lived in the third century, and his efforts towards the propagation of the gospel were attended with so great success, that his successor, St. Regnobert, was obliged to take down the edifice thus recently raised, and to re-construct it on a more enlarged scale, for the purpose of accommodating the increasing congregation. Regnobert is likewise reported to have built the celebrated chapel on the sea-coast, dedicated to our Lady de la Delivrande; and the people believe that a portion at least, of both the one and the other of these original edifices, exists to the present day. The Abbe Beziers, however, in his History of Bayeux, maintains, and with truth, that St. Regnobert’s cathedral was destroyed by the Normans; and he adds that, immediately after the conversion of Rollo, another was raised in its stead on the same spot, and that this latter was one of those which the chieftain most enriched by his endowments at the period of his baptism.
A dreadful fire, in the year 1046, reduced the Norman cathedral to ashes; but the episcopal throne was then filled by a prelate who wanted neither disposition nor abilities to repair the damage. Hugh, the third bishop of that name, son to Ralph, Count of the Bessin, who, by the mother’s side, was brother to Duke Richard Ist, presided at that time over the see of Bayeux. Jealous for the honor of his diocese, the prelate instantly applied himself to rebuild the cathedral; but he lived to see only a small progress made in his work. It was finished by a prelate of still greater, though evil celebrity, the unruly Odo, brother to the Conqueror, who, for more than fifty years, continued bishop of this see, and by his unbounded liberality and munificence in the discharge of his high office, proved himself worthy of his princely descent. The Conqueror and his queen, attended by their sons, Robert and William, and by the archbishops of Canterbury and York, as well as by the various bishops and barons of the province, were present at the dedication of the church, which was performed in 1077, by John, Archbishop of Rouen. Odo, on the occasion, enriched his church with various gifts, one of which has been particularly recorded. It was a crown of wood and copper, sixteen feet high and thirty-eight feet in diameter, covered with silver plates, and diversified with other crowns in the shape of towers; the whole made to support an immense number of tapers, that were lighted on high festivals. This crown was suspended in the nave, opposite the great crucifix; and it continued to hang there till it was destroyed by the Huguenots, in 1562.