Tournai Cathedral

The Cathedral of Our Lady (Cathédrale Notre-Dame) in Tournai, Belgium is one of the most striking examples of Romanesque architecture in Europe and a UNESCO World Heritage site. UNESCO granted the cathedral of Tournai the honor because it is "distinguished by a Romanesque nave of extraordinary dimensions, a wealth of sculpture on its capitals and a transept topped by five towers, all precursors of the Gothic style."

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History of Tournai Cathedral

Today's magnificent five-towered cathedral is one of many places of worship that have stood on this spot. There was a church here as early as 761 AD, and it's thought there was a pagan temple before that. The 8th-century church was replaced by another in 850, which Viking raiders burned to the ground in 881.

After fire again destroyed the replacement church in 1060, it was rebuilt by 1089 and became a place of refuge for a plague-stricken population. From 1141 to 1171, a Romanesque cathedral was built because Tournai had became the seat of a bishop. Though later additions were made, it is this Romanesque cathedral that still stands today.

On September 14, 1090, after the dreaded disease had abated, the bishop led a great procession through the cathedral to honor Our Lady, who was credited with miraculous cures of sick pilgrims who had poured into the cathedral to pray before her statue. Since then, the Procession of Tournai has taken place every year, except in 1559 when Calvinists violently interrupted the tradition.

In the 13th century, a Tournai bishop oversaw a stylistic face-lift to the cathedral to keep up with the Gothicarchitecture popping up all over Europe. He ordered stained-glass windows and had the Romanesque choir replaced by a Gothic one. Before the money ran out, he had created a soaring, graceful choir, modeled on the cathedrals of Amiens, Cologne and Soissons. The long, low Romanesque nave never did got its Gothic face-lift, but amazingly, the result is not disharmony but a rather compatible marriage of the two styles.

In August 1999, the city and cathedral Tournai suffered damage from a major tornado. The damage to Tournai Cathedral also revealed underlying structural problems, and renovation work has been carried out on-and-off ever since.

What to See at Tournai Cathedral

Paintings by Rubens and Jordaens adorn the interior, along with 700-year-old murals, a Renaissance pulpit, and a "rose window" of stained glass.

But even these wonders pale before the display in the Trésor (Treasury), which houses a vast collection of priceless religious relics and antiquities.

The centerpiece of the Treasury is La Chasse de Notre-Dame (The Shrine of Our Lady), a reliquary with a beautiful gold-sculpted covering created by Nicholas of Verdun in 1205; this object takes the place of honor in the Procession of Tournai. The original relics are no longer inside; they were probably destroyed during the Iconoclasm of 1566.

Other treasures include 15th-century tapestries (one 72 feet long!), a jewel-encrusted 10th-century Byzantine cross, and a 14th-century ivory statue of the Virgin.

Quick Facts on Tournai Cathedral

Site Information
Names:Tournai Cathedral
Country:Belgium
Categories:cathedrals; World Heritage Sites
Styles:Romanesque
Dedication: Virgin Mary
Dates:1141-71
Status: active
Visitor and Contact Information
Coordinates:50.606652° N, 3.388617° E
Address:Place de l'Evêché
Tournai, Belgium
Phone:069/22-31-91
Email:tourisme@tournai.be
Website:www.cathedraledetournai.be
Hours:Cathedral: Apr-Oct daily 9:15am-noon and 2-6pm; Nov-Mar 9:15am-noon and 2-5pm
Treasury: Apr-Oct: 9:30am-noon and 2-6pm; Nov-Mar: daily 9:30am-noon and 2-5pm; closed Sat mornings, Sun mornings, and public holiday mornings
Lodging:View hotels near Tournai Cathedral
Note: This information was accurate when first published and we do our best to keep it updated, but details such as opening hours and prices can change without notice. To avoid disappointment, please check with the site directly before making a special trip.

References

  1. Personal visit (July 25, 2008).
  2. La Cathédrale de Tournai - official website
  3. Frommer's Belgium.

More Information

View of south towers from the Grand Place. © Holly Hayes
West front. © Holly Hayes
South transept. © Holly Hayes
Nave looking southeast. © Holly Hayes
West rose window. © Holly Hayes

Map of Tournai Cathedral

Below is a location map and aerial view of Tournai Cathedral. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.