The parish church of Bourg-l'Abbé is recorded for the first time in 1083 when construction work was probably completed. The monks of St Etienne had hoped for rapid economic and demographic growth of their suburb. This was, however, to be a long time in coming; only at the beginning of the 20th century in fact. The completion of the original narthex façade (also found in the abbey church of Mont-Saint-Michel and the church of the Trinité in Caen) was postponed until the end of the 11th century, and the church subsequently missed out on enlargements and restorations. Of the two towers which were to have framed the narthex, only the south tower was finally built, very much later, in the 15th century, and on a narrower base than originally planned.
The ground plan is that of the Benedictine abbeys (Latin cross, east end with chapels in echelon, long nave with side aisles) which was also that of St Etienne before the reconstruction of the gothic choir. The elevation retains the three traditional levels but superimposes, above the large arcades, an intermediate level with narrow openings giving only onto the roof timbers. The south transept still retains its gallery in imitation of St Etienne. The choir, which is not very long, in accordance with tradition, reproduces in its two southern bays the elevation of the nave, but on the middle level has four openings per bay, instead of two, set below round arches supported on small columns. As for the apse, this has two levels with large openings: those of the lower stage, which are deep, are carefully moulded with a triple roll, and those of the upper stage are accompanied by a Norman ambulatory gallery set in the thickness of the wall.
The church has been groin vaulted, not only in its side aisles but also in the choir, which constitutes an original feature given the width of the nave.
The decorative features of the building are of monastic sobriety (capitals with crockets and flat leaves) and it is probable that the abbot of St Etienne would have imposed this austerity.
- Baylé, Maylis. " Caen : église
Saint-Nicolas ", in L'Architecture normande au Moyen-Age, t. 2. Edit.
Corlet et Presses Universitaires de Caen, 1997
- Musset, Lucien. " Saint-Nicolas de Caen ", in Normandie Romane, t.1 ; Editions du Zodiaque, La Pierre-qui-Vire, 1967