Sées has been the seat of an episcopal see since St-Lautin converted the region to Christianity in 440 and became the first bishop. The quiet cathedral town has some of the finest examples of 13th and 14th century Norman Gothic architecture. This was my second stop on my weekend trip around the Orne Department. After parking the car, I tried finding one of the first places noted in my guidebook, the Ancienne Abbaye St-Martin. Instead, I got hopelessly lost and found myself even farther from the center of town where the famous Saturday market was in full swing. Much to my delight, I came across a restored medieval lavoir along the river Orne. From there I had a splendid view of la cathédrale de Notre Dame de Sées with its 70 meter high towers visible from all around. This cathedral was built between 1210 and 1310. The west front is pierced by a large porch which is unfortunately disfigured by heavy buttresses; they were added in the 16 century when the west front began to lean alarmingly, owing to poor foundations on unstable ground. Inside, the great arches of the nave are separated by cornerstones adorned with fretted roses. The nave sided with aisles, has seven bays among which the first one, near the towers, was walled up to strengthen the building. This bay supports the organ loft and houses the great organ by famous 18th century organ maker Claude Parisot. The well was discovered in 1880, during the restoration of the pavement of the aisles. The architect, Victor Ruprich-Robert, repaired it and decorated the stone in a Romanesque style. Such wells could often be seen in churches during the Middle Ages. In addition to the symbolic explanation of water as a source of life, it can’t be doubted that this also helped in the building of the cathedral. It also helped those who, using the right of sanctuary of the House of God, needed water. In the southern transept, one should admire the statue of the Virgin, Our Lady of Sées. This marble statue miraculously escaped all the plunderings of the cathedral since the 14 century. One can admire the graceful movement of the Virgin. As for the child, in his hand, he is holding the world as small as an apple. He seems to be playing with his mother’s veil while smiling gently to her. Opposite the statue is a fine marble bust of Christ teaching, carved in the 18th century by Jacques Caffieri. Built into the wall is an original 14th century stone altar of polychrome featuring the Deposition of Christ. There are five apsidal chapels : the Saint Mary Magdalene Chapel, the Saint Augustine Chapel, the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament (Our Lady’s Chapel), Saint Nicolas Chapel and the Saint Godegrand Chapel. In this last chapel, one can find stained-glass windows that were remade after the fire of 1375. One particular window features the Drapers of Sées offering a stained-glass window to the church. Before leaving the cathedral, take another look at the choir. How amazing to think that in 1880, it was in such a dangerous state that it had to be completely taken apart and rebuilt stone by stone ! This gigantic work lasted for 15 years, but it was such a success that even before it was restored the well-known architect Eugène Violet-Leduc said, “Thanks to the purity of its lines and its lightness, the choir of Sées is perhaps the masterpiece of the 13th century French architecture.” The Palace of Argentré (also known as the Ancien évêché) is a former episcopal palace, built in 1778 for Monseigneur d’Argentré, who was both a bishop and the elected mayor of Sées. It is the work of the architect Joseph Brousseau and one of the most beautiful specimens of neo-classical architecture in Normandy. It boasts a walled-in northern garden and a southern garden (currently undergoing a major restoration) along which the river Orne flows. In front of the Hôtel de ville (which also houses the tourist office) is a bust of Nicolas-Jacques Conté, one of the city’s most famous residents. Did you know that he was the inventor of the modern pencil ? Near the early afternoon, I purchased a baguette for lunch and rested on the steps of la halle aux grains to prepare for my next stop later in the day to Alençon. La halle aux grains is an unusual covered market having a rotunda with a peristyle (columned porch). The timber-work roof is supported by columns of stone and dates from the early 19th century.