Notre-Dame Cathedral in Tournai
Notre-Dame Cathedral In Tournai
Cultural Belgium Europe And North America Province Of Hainaut, Wallonia Region

Notre-Dame Cathedral in Tournai bears witness to a considerable exchange of influence between the architecture of the Île de France, the Rhineland and Normandy during the short period at the beginning of the 12th century that preceded the flowering of Gothic architecture. In the case of the nave and transept, the early date of the elevation to four levels and its subsequent widespread extension meets the criterion of considerable influence and is further reinforced in the transept by the masterly integration of a 'corridor triforium' and by the unusual composition of volumes. The early 12th-century construction in the nave of a 'viaduct' structure on a four-storey elevation is unique in a period where church builders limited themselves to three levels.

In its imposing dimensions, the cathedral is an outstanding example of the great edifices of the school of the north of the Seine, precursors of the vastness of the Gothic cathedrals. The nave and the transept meet the criterion of unique testimony, in the light of their outstanding state of conservation in a region that has lost virtually all its great basilicas of the Romanesque or pre-Chartres Gothic periods. This is particularly true of the sculpted decoration of the nave. Archaeological sources of exemplary value serve to put the environment of the cathedral into perspective.

In the 1st century BC, Tournai was already an important Roman administrative and military centre (Turnacum), on the river Escaut at the crossroads of an extensive network of roads. Christianity was brought to Tournai in the late 3rd or early 4th centuries by St Piat, but it was not until the 5th century that the bishopric was created, probably in the reign of Childeric, King of the Franks.

The cathedral was built in the first half of the 12th century after fire had destroyed the episcopal ensemble in the mid-9th century. The great 11th-century basilica, part of which still remains, owes its construction to the growing importance of the Marian cult, which attracted many pilgrims in the wake of the plague of 1089. The cathedral lies at the heart of the old town, not far from the left bank of the Escaut. In architectural terms, it is the product of three design periods that can still easily be distinguished: it offers the contrast of a Romanesque nave and a Gothic choir linked by a transept in a transitional style featuring an impressive group of five bell towers.

On the exterior a Gothic porch shelters the double portal in the west front. The lower ranges of the front are decorated with sculptures dating from different periods (14th, 16th and 17th centuries) depicting Old Testament scenes, episodes from the city's history and saints. Above them runs a row of bays surmounted by a great neo-Romanesque rose window and, finally, a gable end flanked by two circular turrets decorated with two rows of columns. The choir, rebuilt in the 13th century, is in the pure Gothic style.

In the interior the Romanesque nave, divided into nine spans over a length of 48 m, is flanked by side-aisles and it is distinctive for its rise to four levels, separated by continuous horizontal cable designs. Two Romanesque vaulted rooms, probably chapels, were added shortly after the construction of the nave, one to the north and the other to the south, at the turn of the western galleries over the side-aisles against the arms of the transept. The transept is vaulted in its entirety and its two arms each culminate in an apse with a narrow ambulatory framed by two towers. The rectangular crossing is topped by a lantern, two floors of which are visible above a Gothic arch. The elevation of the nave extends into the arms, with the adjustments necessary to incorporate the ogival vaulting and smooth the transition to the elevation of the apses. The choir extends over seven spans surmounted by ogival vaulting along the longer side and ends in a semi-decagonal apse topped with an octagonal vault. The chapels open off the ambulatory include six three-sided radiant chapels in the apse.