COUTANCES, a town of north-western France, capital of an arrondissement of the department of Manche, 7 m. E. of the English Channel and 58 m. S. of Cherbourg on the Western railway. Pop. (1906) 6089. Coutances is beautifully situated on the right bank of the Soulle on a granitic eminence crowned by the celebrated cathedral of Notre-Dame. The date of this church has been much disputed, but while traces of Romanesque architecture survive, the building is, in the main, Gothic in style and dates from the first half of the 13th century. The slender turrets massed round the western towers and the octagonal central tower, which forms a lantern within, are conspicuous features of the church. In the interior, which comprises the nave with aisles, transept and choir with ambulatory and side chapels, there are fine rose-windows with stained glass of the 14th century, and other works of art. Of the other buildings of Coutances the church of St Pierre, in which Renaissance architecture is mingled with Gothic, and that of St Nicolas, of the 16th and 17th centuries, demand mention. There is an aqueduct of the 14th century to the west of the town. Coutances is a quiet town with winding streets and pleasant boulevards bordering it on the east; on the western slope of the hill there is a public garden. The town is the seat of a bishop, a court of assizes and a sub-prefect; it has tribunals of first instance and of commerce, a lycée for boys, a communal college and a training college for girls, and an ecclesiastical seminary. Leather-dressing and wool-spinning are carried on and there is trade in live-stock, in agricultural produce, especially eggs, and in marble.
Coutances is the ancient Cosedia, which before the Roman conquest was one of the chief towns in the country of the Unelli. Towards the end of the 3rd century its name was changed to Constantia, in honour of the emperor Constantius Chlorus, who fortified it. It became the capital of the pagus Constantinus (Cotentin), and in the middle ages was the seat of a viscount. It has been an episcopal see since the 5th century. In the 17th century it was the centre of the revolt of the Nu-pieds, caused by the imposition of the salt-tax (gabelle).
A good bibliography of general works and monographs on the archaeology and the history of the town and diocese of Coutances is given in U. Chevalier, Répertoire des sources, etc., Topo-Bibliographie (Montbéliard, 1894-1899), s.v.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)