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Visiting Steenvoorde, France, with its church of Saint-Pierre: 43 metre, landmark steeple

Updated on January 30, 2012
Flag of France
Flag of France | Source
Mont-des-Cats, seen from Steenvoorde, France
Mont-des-Cats, seen from Steenvoorde, France | Source
Source
Map location of Steenvorde, in Dunkirk 'arronsdissement'.
Map location of Steenvorde, in Dunkirk 'arronsdissement'. | Source

Tall steeple, long history

In 1891, a 42 metre steeple was added to the Medieval church of Saint-Pierre, Steenvoorde.

Some history and features

This 19th century addition to the structure gave the church building a total height of 92 metres. In the largely flat, Flemish landscape of this part of France's Nord department, the almost doubled height of the building cause it to stand out as a major landmark. In the district, the skyline is otherwise only broken by the Mont-des-Cats, a hill with a cheese-producing monastery at its brow (1).

The original church building dates from 11th century. Stone from Mont Cassel or the Monts de Flandre is thought to have been employed for this structure. The building's distinctive three naves, giving it a particularly wide appearance, date from the 15th century. This style of structure was not uncommon in Flanders.

In the 1566, a wave of Protestant iconoclasm, which spread across Flanders, began in Steenvoorde. This was the result of intense discussions regarding the theological appropriateness of images with church buildings. A few years later, the church was reduced to ruins, following armed conflict between the Dukes of Parma and Alençon.

However, a local tax on bier and wine resulted in money which paid for thorough repairs to the church. (Just consider: scrutiny of indirect taxes and their multifarious purposes is hardly a preserve of 21st century consumer groups! This offers somewhat of a window on a different era, when the value framework of the 'consumers' of the day was deemed to include some kind of spiritual, as well as material, element!)

World Wars 1 and 2 were the occasions of further damage to the building. (Did the addition of the conspicuous spire in the late 19th century render the building more susceptible to soldiers seek to engage in target practice?)

Steenvoorde also has an attractive, gabled Town Hall and an old windmill known as the Noordmeulen . dating from the 16th century. The municipality is situated in the arrondissement of Dunkirk (French: Dunkerque ), in the Nord department of France. Although French is the sole official language, Steenvoorde has been known to possess enthusiasts for the Dutch language, or a local, Flemish variety of it.

Note

(1) This monastery at Mont des Cats (Dutch: Katsberg), close to the Belgian border, features in the 1936 novel L'Elu (The Elect) by French writer Maxence vander Meersch (1907-1951), for whom Flanders is a strong presence in many of his works.

Also worth seeing

Abeele (distance: 7.3 kilometres) is an unusual Franco-Belgian village, divided by an international border.

Steenwerck (distance: 22 kilometres) has a distinctive, Neo-Byzantine church.

...

How to get there: A number of North American airlines fly to Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport (distance to Steenvoorde: 238 kilometres) from where car hire is available, and the French SNCF railroad links Paris with nearby Hazebrouck. But the nearest large international airport is Brussels Airport (Brussel Nationaal / Bruxelles-National : distance to Steenvoorde: 173 kilometres), from where car hire is available. The Belgian SNCB railroad links Brussels and nearby Poperinge. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. You are advised to refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

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

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