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Visiting Boulogne-sur-Mer, France: with its Cathedral a looming presence over land and sea

Updated on March 8, 2016
Flag of France
Flag of France | Source
Cathedral, Boulogne-sur-Mer, France
Cathedral, Boulogne-sur-Mer, France | Source
Portrait of Benoit Agathon Haffreingue
Portrait of Benoit Agathon Haffreingue | Source
Map location of Boulogne-sur-Mer 'arrondissement'
Map location of Boulogne-sur-Mer 'arrondissement' | Source

Domed magnificence

The Cathedral at Boulogne-sur-Mer, situated in the Pas de Calais department of northern France, is a monumental, looming presence over the city itself. But, with its huge dome and with the cliff that characterize the locality's sea-front, it can also be seen from a long distance out to sea (as I saw it, while travelling by sea to the port of Boulogne-sur-Mer)(1).

An original church building is said to have been founded in 1090; it was subsequently enlarged. This structure did not survive the French Revolutionary period.

In 1827 work began on a new Cathedral building. This was formally completed and inaugurated in 1866. A striking feature of this edifice is the large cupola which towers above the city.

The moving spirit behind this enormous, 19th century building was self-taught architect Monsignor Benoît-Agathon Haffreingue (1785-1871). The design was based on St. Peter's Basilica, Rome and St Paul's Cathedral, London, England.

The Cathedral has the status of a basilica. It is particularly noted for the size of its crypt.

Linguistic observations

Interestingly, many centuries ago, the local inhabitants of the Boulogne-sur-Mer area spoke an early form of Dutch, rather than Medieval French. In the course of the Middle Ages, however, the Romance (i.e., Latin-based) / Germanic language boundary moved gradually eastward. The Dutch name for 'Boulogne' is 'Bonen'.

In France, the words '-sur-Mer' are added to the place name 'Boulogne' in order to differentiate the northern French city from Boulogne, situated near Paris, itself often referred to as 'Boulogne-Billancourt', for the same reason.


(1) Indeed, the cathedral's builder is said to have wished for the structure to be visible on a clear day from England.

Also worth seeing

In Boulogne-sur-Mer itself, other, noted buildings include its 11th century belfry; a Medieval castle, the foundations of which date from Roman times; a large, public aquarium also attracts many visitors.

The cliffs at Cap Gris-Nez (distance: 25 kilometres) and nearby Cap Blanc Nez are major geological features and landmarks.


How to get there: United Airlines flies from New York Newark to Paris (Aéroport Paris-Charles de Gaulle ), from where car rental is available (distance from Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport to Boulogne-sur-Mer : 253 kilometres). The French railroad company SNCF maintains a service between Paris (Gare du Nord) and Boulogne-sur-Mer. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.


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