Visiting the Church of Saint-Vaast, Hondschoote, France: 82-metre, 16th century building in French Flanders
A gigantic landmark
Saint- Vaast church, in Honschoote, France, has a massive, 82-metre tower, dating from the 16th and 17th centuries. The very flat, surrounding countriside of French Flanders, near the Belgian border (1), only serves to emphasize the height of the tower.
The building is constructed in thoroughgoing, Gothic style. As befits this style, we thus see the following features: pinnacles, including an enormous spire (rebuilt in 1848); pointed, arched windows, some of them with ornate tracery; huge, flying buttresses, some of which contribute to the structure of the massive tower. Indeed, the tower is so tall, that the vertically extending segments of the flying buttresses seem to project telescopically.
In the late 16th century, the tower was badly damaged in a fire, but restored in the 17th century.
The building is executed in white brick, which has led to the name La Tour blanche (The White Tower) being used locally (2). The relatively small community of Honschoote is truly dominated by this proportionately outsized feature, The White Tower.
In the interior of the building, the pulpit dates from 1755. There are commemorations of local guilds, such as for weavers and archers, both of which were prominent in the town's history.
In the year 2000 occurred the installation of a carillon of 60 bells was in the tower (3).
While the building is often open in daytime, guided tours are sometimes available by advance reservation (03.28.62.53.00).
Honschoote's local language was traditionally Flemish (or Dutch), although French has been the sole official language here for centuries; its modern Dutch spelling is Hondschote. Using its French spelling, Hondschoote is situated in the Dunkirk (French: Dunkerque) arrondissement of France's Nord department.
Today, Hondschoote seems to be a quiet town which lies off the main commercial and tourist routes. Centuries back, however, it was a prosperous town (4), its wealth reflected in the sheer size of this building which continues to dominate the skyline. In some ways, buildings such as the Church of Saint-Vaast in Hondschoote remind me of England's East Anglia, with its many villages containing huge, parish churches, some of them dating from times of prosperity when Flemish weavers settled in the region (5).
March 2, 2015
(1) Indeed, the Downtown area of Hondschoote is located within walking distance of the border with the Belgian province of West Flanders (Dutch: West-Vlaanderen; French: Flandre-Occidentale).
(2) Its Dutch equivalent is De Witte Torre.
(3) Interestingly, this carillon is able to play no less than 140 different tunes. See also: http://www.theotherside.co.uk/tm-heritage/towns/hondschoote.htm
(4) Indeed, the local area is still known as Le Pays du Lin (The Land of Linen).
(4) A distinction between church buildings in Flanders and East Anglia, however, seems to be, while they often share size and tall towers, and a past dating from the prosperous weaving industry, flint has often been the preferred building material in East Anglia.
Also worth seeing
In Hondschoote itself, there is a striking, 16th century Town Hall in Gothic style; the town also has a restored, old windmill dating from the 12th century.
Bergues (distance: 12 kilometres) has some well preserved fortifications, a belfry and a striking town hall.
How to get there: A number of North American airlines fly to Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, where car rental is available, and the French SNCF railroad company maintains a service from Paris to Dunkirk. (The distance between Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport and Hondschoote: 256 kilometres). But the nearest large international airport is Brussels Airport (Brussel-Nationaal / Bruxelles-National ), where car rental is available (distance between Brussels Airport and Hondschoote: 165 kilometres). Please note that some facilities may be withdrawn without notice. You are advised to 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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