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  TOURNAI: Our Lady's Cathedral
 
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Attention : because of necessary renovation works, a large part of
the cathedral will be closed to visitors for a long time !

 

 


 

 


 

If ever one has time to only visit one cathedral in Belgium, then it should be Our Lady's Cathedral in Tournai. This impressive medieval construction is a showpiece of the two most important architectural styles in medieval Europe: the Romanesque style (the nave and the central part with the towers) and the Gothic style (the choir). Furthermore, the cathedral is home to one of the most important and beautiful art treasures in Belgium : the Shrine of Our Lady by Nicholas Verdun.

An important construction such as this cathedral was, of course, not built during one generation. The building lasted from approximately 1146 until 1325, with additions in later centuries.

A small church built in the 4th century had been replaced a few times by larger prayer houses on the same site. It was during the first half of the 12th century (1141) that a Romanesque cathedral was built because Tournai had been proclaimed seat of a bishopry. This building was finished in 1171. The main nave of the present cathedral was built during that period. Originally the roof was flat. Later, in the 19th century, this roof was transformed and a rosette window was incorporated in the original western facade. On the outside of the church a lot of important Romanesque sculptures can still be admired.

During a second construction stage the transepts were built. Here the architects were already influenced by the then new gothic style. Around 1198 the vaults were added and here one can see already the transition in the style. This was based mainly on the example of the churches in the Rhine land. Above the transepts 5 towers were constructed. Also here the transition from Romanesque to Gothic style is obvious.

In 1242 the hardly finished eastern absis of the church is demolished again and replaced by a pure Gothic choir with extraordinary dimensions. It is 58 m long and 47 m high (14 m higher than the Romanesque nave.) The construction lasted 80 years, from 1242 until 1325. The cathedrals of Amiens, Cologne and Soissons served as examples. Inside, the choir consists of 3 naves, 7 bays and 5 chapels.

It is in one of the side-chapels of the Gothic choir that the art treasures of the cathedral can be admired. The two most important ones are the Shrine of Saint Eleutherius and the above-mentioned
Shrine of Our Lady.

Among the other important art treasures inside the church are several paintings by some of the most important artists of the Low Countries : 'The life of Mary' by Maarten de Vos, and paintings by Pieter Pourbus the elder, Quinten Metsijs, Lancelot Blondeel, Jacob Jordaens and even a 'Purgatory' supposed to be painted by Rubens. In the transepts several Romanesque wall paintings can be seen. Right in the middle of the cathedral a splendid renaissance rood loft, made by Cornelis Floris de Vriendt in 1572, separates the Romanesque nave from the Gothic choir.


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