The abbey to which the church belongs was created in the first decade of the 11th century by Judith of Brittany who devoted part of the marriage settlement from her husband, Richard II, Duke of Normandy, to its construction. The latter entrusted the completion of the abbey to the Italian, William of Volpiano ( died 1028), who reformed the monastery of Fécamp to which he had been called in 1001. After a period of delay in the work, it appears that completion was to be the work of Vital of Creully (appointed in c. 1060, died 1082), the first abbot of the abbey when it became self-governing, and for whom its completion was to enable him to gain the considerable privilege of becoming Abbot of Westminster in 1076, in consideration of the fact that he "had built up the abbey of Bernay from very
The chronology of the course of the construction work and of its different parts is a very complex and controversial issue, but most of the building dates from the first three quarters of the 11th century. Despite a very chequered history and some irreversible mutilations to the structure (especially to the façade and the apse), this church, hitherto largely unknown, has retained much of exceptional interest, in particular the innovative features which were to become typical of the Romanesque Anglo-Norman architectural style :
1. The east end in echelon of the Benedictine type (in place of the ambulatory or simple flat east end) which, except for Lonlay, was unique in Normandy in c. 1020, and probably shows the influence of William of Volpiano. This model was to be taken up later by the abbeys of Caen
2. composite piers which also appeared at the same time (c. 1030), at Auxerre, Nevers, and St Benoist sur Loire
3. The passage in the thickness of the wall at the upper level of the east wall of the transepts, an influence from St Bénigne in Dijon.
The decoration is still abundant, varied and of high quality. Three workshops of sculptors can be identified: one drawing its inspiration in the art of the Valley of the Rhone and of Burgundy (capitals with palmettes and interlace on the openings of the second level of the choir and transepts; bases with interlace), a second with Ottonian influence (vegetation and delicate animals) and a third, in the nave (corinthian-style capitals).
- Baylé, Maylis. " L’ancienne abbatiale de
Bernay ", Congrès archéologique de France, 138e session, 1980
, p. 119-162
- Baylé, Maylis. Les origines et les premiers développements de la sculpture romane en Normandie, Art de Basse-Normandie, n°100 bis, 1992, spécialement p. 58-70 (voir également l’index p. 447)
- Baylé, Maylis. - L’architecture normande au Moyen Age. 2. Les étapes de la création, Caen, 1997, p. 27-31 (bibliographie p. 350)
- Grodecki, Louis. " Les débuts de la sculpture romane en Normandie. Les chapiteaux de Bernay ", dans Bulletin monumental, 1951, p. 7 à 61
- Guillaume le Conquérant et son temps, Art de Basse-Normandie, n° 97, Hiver 1987-1988, p. 113
- Musset, Lucien. - Normandie romane, 2. Haute-Normandie, La Pierre-qui-Vire, 1974, p. 45-57 et pl. 1-23 (plan p. 52)
- Les siècles romans en Basse-Normandie, Art de Basse-Normandie, n° 92, Printemps 1985, p. 92