In the 6th century the Gaulish town of Briovère (meaning "Bridge on the Vire River") took the name of its lord, the Bishop of Coutances. In 1944 it acquired the sad title of Capital of Ruins – it was the administrative center (préfecture) of La Manche; on July 19th, the day the town was liberated, only the battered towers of the collegiate church and a few houses in the suburbs remained standing. Since then St-Lô has recovered to become a modern city, proud of its ancient heritage.
St-Lô, a vital communications center, was destined to play a strategic role in the Battle of Normandy. Owing to its position at a crossroads, the town underwent heavy bombing from June 6th aimed at dispersing the enemy forces. The battle for St-Lô began early in July in the middle of the War of the Hedgerows to capture the Lessay-St-Lô road, the base for Operation Cobra.
The town, which was the center of German resistance, fell on July 19th. A monument, erected in memory of Major Thomas D. Howie of the American Army, recalls a moving episode in the town’s liberation. Major Howie had wanted to be one of the first to enter St-Lô but he was killed on the 18th of July; in order to fulfill his wish, the first Allied troops to enter St-Lô carried his coffin in with them and sat it down in the ruins of the belfry of Sainte-Croix church. A week later, after an unprecedented aerial bombardment, the German front broke in the west and the Avranches Breakthrough was launched.
From the ruins, a new town has arisen, planned so that one can now clearly see the outline of the rocky spur, ringed by ramparts and towers that have become landmarks of the city. The oldest district, the Enclos, in the upper part of the town includes the Préfecture and administrative buildings, which make an interesting post-war architectural group. I had to go to the Préfecture office today to renew my carte-de-sejour. The weather was bright and sunny but ever so cold! The temperature was -7°C !!!
Saint-Lô also has remains of its medieval line of walls and towers. They include: Tour des Beaux Regards ("Tower of Beautiful Glances"), commanding the steepest part of the spur of the town (with an amazing view of the Vire Valley and the bocage),
and the Tour de la Poudrière ("Tower of the Gunpowder Store"), the last relic of the old citadel.
Opposite the Place du Général-de-Gaulle is the former prison porch, now a memorial to Resistance fighters and the victims of Nazism.
The west front of Église Notre-Dame (13th – 17th century) and the two towers have been shored up but otherwise left as they were in 1944 as a witness to the ferocity of the bombardment. The church was partially restored after the war with the facade rebuilt as a plain green schist wall.