Visiting the Saint-Christophe church, Tourcoing, France: partly Medieval, with an 80-metre tower
Reaching for the skies
This fine looking church building, with its pronounced neo-Gothic features, is really an amalgam of Medieval and 19th century architectural developments, and 16th century brickwork.
Here we see pointed window arching on the tower and a profusion of pinnacles, in a manner beloved by architects who favoured Gothic features.
I have supplied a drawing (see right) of Saint-Christophe church which dates from the early 19th century: a period prior to the redeisgned neo-Gothic features added later in that century. In the drawing, its tall tower and flying buttresses are clearly visible, but the well crafted window arching and pointed stonemasonry has yet to be added.
Then came the restoration project. It is good to remember that in the 19th century what was often billed as a restoration project could actually mean something rather different from what the primary sense of the word is taken to mean today.; Often, in the 19th century, architects would interpret their remit as meaning rebuilding and creating an almost totally different building from the original one which they were supposed to be 'restoring'. Indeed, the great 19th cenury French architect Viollet-Le Duc practically said as much. Many an architect in the 19th century, while claiming to restore a Medieval building, would actually create an idealized structure which they would readily admit had never existed previously.
The prevailing view seems to have been, with regard to restoring older buildings, What does strict accuracy to a previous architectural state matter, if in the process of 'restoration', something memorably opulent can thereby be created?
Thus it is good to remember this background when one is speaking of a building puportedly 'restored' in the 19th century.
So it was when French architect Charles Leroy (1816-1879)(1) was given the commission to restore the Church of Saint-Christophe (2), he undoubtedly interpreted his remit as including a far more radical rebuilding than would be understood in such a restoration project today. He carried his work between 1857 and 1865, during the Second Empire, when especially opulent styling was in vogue; he is also known for particularly favouring Neo-Gothic.
So if this church is to be described as Medieval, then strictly it is Medieval-looking, rather than representing in its present state exactly what it looked like in the Middle Ages.
A further, restoration project was undertaken in the early 21st century, and this time its scope was undoubtedly far less innovative and radical than under Charles Leroy!
The interior of the building contains some fine wood carvings and a magnificent organ, in addition to striking stained glass windows.
November 25, 2013
(1) Another project for which Arhcitect Leroy was responsible was Cathedral Basilica of Notre-Dame-de-la-Treille, Lille.
(2) The somewhat opulent, Neo-Gothic embellisments at Saint-Christophe were begun at a time of rapid, urban expansion in the city of Tourcoing in the second half of the 19th century, when the textile industry was bringing great prosperity to the wider district. The Downtown area of the city is situated just a few kilometres from the border with Belgium, which itself experienced great economic growth in the 19th century, as it became heavily industrialized.
Reaching for the skies
In Tourcoing itself, situated close to the church of Saint-Christophe, the former chamber of commerce has an interesting belfy; thus the immediate, built environment is characterized by two, very noticeable, towers. Also nearby is Tourcoing's ornate city hall, dating from the second half of the 19th century. The Havre hospice dates from the 12th century. The railroad station is in a striking design, dating from 1905.
Mouscron / Moeskroen, Belgium (distance: 6.3 kilometres); has a striking neo-Gothic City Hall and a castle dating from the 14th and 15th centuries.
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 Tourcoing (distance: 117 kilometres). Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. 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