The great Notre Dame Cathedral in Tournai is considered the best example of the evolution of medieval religious architecture in Belgium. In it you can see how the forms changed over the centuries, but unlike many other temples that underwent similar changes, in the case of the cathedral of this city in southern Belgium, very close to the border with France, you can very clearly distinguish the Romanesque from the Gothic, which merge but retain an extraordinary purity of lines that distinguishes them. For this reason, it should not surprise us that we are facing a construction that has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Aerial view of the Tournai Cathedral complex
The origins of this religious space must be sought in the sixth century. Although only vestiges of archaeological status remain, since in the 9th century a church with a basilica plan was built, which is the seed of the current Romanesque cathedral. However, its most emblematic elements such as the trefoil apse are from the very beginning of the 12th century. And in fact throughout that century work continued on the building as it was not consecrated until 1171.
And later, the influence of the Gothic from France (Amiens or Reims are very close) led to the construction of a Gothic choir in the 13th century, whose referentUndoubtedly it is the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris.
The portico of its main façade is also Gothic, with irregular arches loaded with sculptures. However, that is not the most striking thing about this facade. The most interesting thing is how it is a facade of horizontal inspiration and not vertical. All of it is organized into two horizontal stripes and is crowned by an austere tympanum flanked by cylindrical turrets. By the way, the large rose window that occupies an important part of the current façade is not medieval, since it was opened in the 19th century in the neo-Gothic spirit of the time.
Main Facade of Tournai Cathedral
When we talked about purity of lines we meant that it is easy to distinguish the moment of construction of the facade of the harmonious Romanesque transept and the transept that recalls the Rhenish architecture of the Cathedral of Speyer.
And it is in that crossing and transept that the most charismatic aspect of this construction stands. They are the five towers built between the 12th and 13th centuries, being of very similar heights, although the most powerful of them is also the oldest, the one that starts from the transept itself.
And all this refers to the architecture itself, but the Cathedral of Tournai is an immense jewelery box that treasures a great artistic repertoire in the form of sculptures, reliefs, paintings, gold work, stained glass windows, etc… that make it one of the most impressive monuments in all of Belgium.