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Visiting Tournai, Belgium and its amazing cathedral: Medieval monumentality run amok?

Updated on August 30, 2014
Flag of Belgium
Flag of Belgium | Source
Tournai Cathedral
Tournai Cathedral | Source
Nave, Tournai Cathedral
Nave, Tournai Cathedral | Source
Map location of Tournai, Hainaut, Belgium
Map location of Tournai, Hainaut, Belgium | Source

Five towers

This enormous Medieval cathedral (French: Cathédrale de Notre-Dame ) has not one, nor two, nor three, nor four, but five towers.

Records even show that two further towers were planned which were to be significantly higher than the others — as if the 83 metres of its tallest ones were not enough.

Moreover, as one gazes at these heavenward thrusting towers, they seem to keep going up and up. One can only suppose that the ecclesiastically-driven architect in the 12th century had exactly this purpose in mind, to fill the visitor with awe.

Be that as it may, the Cathedral is on the site of upon which a diocese was centred as early as the sixth century. An abbey was founded in 1092, which coincided with the end of a plague; this event is still commemorated locally. Until 1146, Tournai was linked in a special arrangement with the diocese of Noyon.

The current Cathedral building with its bell towers dates substantially from the 12th century, and combines Romanesque and Gothic elements. It has been suggested that Amiens Cathedral served to some extent as a model for some of Tournai Cathedral's features.

A rose window by Charles Benvignat was installed in the 19th century.

Made by P.-A Ducroquet, a large pipe organ was installed in 1854.

During World War Two, Tournai suffered from aerial bombing and a chapel next to the Cathedral's nave was destroyed.

The Cathedral was damaged by a storm in 1999 and has subsequently been the subject of extensive reparations. One only wonders at the sense of ecclesiastical security in the Middle Ages for a gigantic maintenance budget to have been contemplated as a possibility for such an enormous building.

Tournai is situated in the Hainaut province of Belgium's Walloon region (Région Wallonne ).

Also worth seeing

In Tournai itself, its Belfry dates in its original form from the 12th century. The Grand'Place contains a number of striking buildings. The large, 13th century Pont des Trous (Bridge of Holes) straddles the Scheldt River (Escaut ).

Antoing, Belgium (distance: 11 kilometres) has a striking castle hundreds of years old.

Saint-Amand-les-Eaux, France (distance: 20 kilometres) has some ornate ecclesiastical architecture.

Valenciennes, France (distance: 37 kilometres); its city hall frontage is impressive.

Mouscron, Belgium (distance: 27 kilometres); its Castle of the Counts dates from the Middle Ages.


How to get there: Brussels Airlines flies from New York to Brussels Airport (Brussel Nationaal / Bruxelles-National ), from where car rental is available. Brussels is the nearest large airport to Tournai (distance: 107 kilometres). The Belgian railroad company SNCB/NMBS maintains a service between Brussels and Tournai . Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Please 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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