Tournai Notre Dame Cathedral (Wallonia - Belgium)

There are 2 UNESCO sites in Tournai. 23 Belfries all over France and Belgium where brought under the wings of UNESCO in 1999 CE. One of the 23 is here in Tournai. The other is the Notre Dame Cathedral. Let’s begin with the Cathedral! 
To begin with, it is under restoration (like my luck at Pisa Cathedral, Sagrada Familia, Florence Duomo etc)!!! However the restoration here has been happening since 1999 and not going to finish any time soon…. Reason: out of bluemoon, or rather, much much more rarer than bluemoon, a tornado struck Tournai in 1999… So bad that one of the towers of the Cathedral, moved by 80cm!!! Since then, till now restoration is on in parts, to protect the cathedral from collapsing!!! Hopes are to finish the restoration by 2026…

The origins of this church is from 5th C CE. However the major construction happened in 12th - 13th C CE. In 12th C, when King Philippe Augustus became the self-appointed king, he ruled the then French country with Tournai as capital, thus making Tournai, effectively, the birthplace of France!!! This site being in the crossroads of England, Champagne and Normandy, was then an extremely important site, so much that holding on to Pont des Trous bridge across river Scheldt was such an important defence point. Today it’s just 10km from French border! 
The architecture is very unique as it kept improving over the years! The nave is Romanesque, the altar is Gothic and the transcepts are a beautiful mix of the 2 styles! The humongous 4 tiered nave was just majestic!!! Ages ago, the upper floors were used to invite important religious persons who kept pouring in here, all the time, including mass hours! 

The rounded arches with rounded pillars of the Roman style and the pointed arches and octagonal pillars (the early stages of what Duomo di Milano is the peak!) of the Gothic style can be very well observed when you’re standing half way through, outside! It’s just intriguing! Originally the whole Cathedral was Romanesque styled. However by 14th C CE, Gothic vaults and columns were added to improve the strength and stability of the building which was really massive and way too tall in terms of the era! 
On either sides of the cathedral are the monastery, school and hospital that were operated by the clergy. Today they aren’t functional except for the bishop who lives here! The bishop when  King Philippe Augustus ruled,  made a pathway across the street to connect the cathedral from the monastery, so he could walk to the cathedral without stepping onto the street which belonged to the municipality!!!!! Why?? I'll tell about it in the next post!!!

As soon as you enter the church the first wow moment is the portal sculptures! The most important is of Saint Eleutherius of Tournai, who is seen holding the cathedral itself in his palm! Another important sculpture is of Saint Piatus of Tournai who’s seen holding Bible and the top of his skull as well!!! Well, he was martyred of slicing a top of him skull off by the Roman emperor, Maximian. These sculptures belong to multiple era from 14th C CE onwards. 
Another series of sculptures is the entire scene describing the power of clergy to increase and collect tax (which was later discovered to be a sham with a fake seal altogether)!!! Also depicted is about the major plague epidemic of 11th C CE that killed many. A grand procession across the town, under Radbad II, the then Bishop happened and soon after that the epidemic ended. Coincidence or divine intervention - you decide. Till date the procession happens annually. This year, its on 10th September for the 925th time!!! 
Once through the main door, on the left are the still visible remains of the early (since 5th C CE) foundation and architecture of the church, including 11th C CE pipes, baptism font etc! The grey lime stone pillars are indigenous to Tournai, called Tournai stone. The cornices of the pillars have some basic sculptural detail. The Romanesque Church was filled with stunning frescoes as well everywhere incl these pillars and this being a very rich church, the background of the frescoes were blue of lapis lazuli!!! However by 17th C CE, it was completely whitewashed. Some murals are said to still survive which can only be seen after the restoration is over.

The fa├žade stained glass was much more elaborate, which is today transferred inside the church and replaced with the rose window! Portions of the cathedral were destroyed in WWII but most survived. However the molten lead of some of the tombstones are standing proof of the heat that was generated!!! 
In front of the choir is the Cathedra - the seat of the bishop. From the choir there was nothing to see, as it was all covered for restoration. The stone screen designed by Corneille de Vriendt was just stunning thought with relief sculptures depicting scenes from both old and new testaments. 
The keystone of the transcepts was so high at 50m! Behind this is the treasury / museum where photography isn’t allowed. This is filled with so many stunning pieces of art and key pieces of history including Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket’s cape etc! The roofing is all grey slate since Gothic era. However the Romanesque church seems to have had colorful tiles (something similar to Basel Munster). Restoration is underway to make it colorful as before. This can be seen from atop the Belfry! Coming back soon about the Belfry, Bishop and more!!!

To Get There:
On Google Maps: Notre-dame Cathedral
To Tournai from Brussels: 90km (intercity trains are available and takes about 1 hr)
From Tournai Railway station to Cathedral: 1km

Cathedral - 9:00AM to 6:00PM (Mon-Fri); 9:00 AM to 12:00noon & 1:30PM to 6:00PM (Sat, Sun)
Treasury - 10:00AM to 6:00PM (Mon-Fri); Mon morning holiday; 1:30PM to 6:00PM (Sat, Sun)

Entry Fee: Free for Cathedral; 2.5 for Treasury
1 hr Guided Tour (incl Belfry) is available on Sundays for €5 per head at 2:30pm in Dutch; 3:30pm in English; 4:30pm in French. Tickets can be bought at the Tourist Office.
Grand Procession & Carillon Concert in 2017 is on Sept 9th & 10th. 

P.S: I was invited by VisitTournai to experience the city for review purposes, however the opinions are my own and this post does not to advertise the product/service.

Bhushavali N

An ardent traveler by passion. I am a wanderlust.. Read more about me here.


  1. Amazing Cathedral, Beautiful pics.

  2. Whoa, the sculptures in the church look beautiful and detailed. There's even a story behind the arrangements of the people. Very artistic.

  3. Truly, a great masterpiece. I love seeing those kinds of architectures. They are truly mind blowing. It is actually one of my priorities whenever I travel.

  4. Gothic Cathedrals set at strategic crossroads.... How quintessentially northern Europe is that? It seems like a lot of sites are undergoing renovation these days. I wonder if it's because there is finally sufficient tourist money to plan for their longevity or it's the tourist pressure itself that is causing some of the degradation.

  5. Another beautiful cathedral! If I find myself in Wallonia, I will visit this place. However, are there still Masses being held there and how is the attendance of the faithful during these masses? Or is this more of a tourist destination only now?

  6. All of these European cathedrals are truly architectural feats! The level of detail is amazing. Your photos definitely provide a glimpse into its marvelous beauty!

  7. There's so many Notre Dame cathedrals around the world. I often visit monuments when they are under going maintenance, it's not good for my photography. There's so much detail on this UNESCO world heritage site. I must add Tournai to my places to visit in Belgium.

  8. Wow what a stunning cathedral. Always reminds me of the classic Disney film... I had no idea that it was a UNESCO site, or that a tornado had hit it- what bad luck! Whenever I go to cathedrals they are always under maintenance or construction, quite frustrating with all the scaffolding around but it has to be done!

  9. Having lived in Europe so long, I have become desensitised to the beauty that exists here. These old cathedrals are stunning and are deffo worth the visit.

  10. I really like this type of architecture... With so many details and colorful windows. Definitely a place to visit, admire, reflect, and take beautiful pictues.

  11. This cathedral is awesome! love it :)

  12. Can understand how frustrating it is to travel all the way and find the monument covered in scaffolding. The cathedral of Tournai looks imposing, the gothic architecture is fascinating and compelling with so much to explore. Even after exploring so much in Belgium there is always something new looks like we missed Tournai the last time.

  13. Cathedrals are all so beautiful! I've never been to Wallonia but if I do I'll have to check this one out. I'm always intrigued by the architecture and the art inside. Great photos!

  14. Just quietly, but if you were to pull out about 90% of your exclamation marks and ship them to the dour British, the world would be a better place all round.

    I love cathedrals. So grand and uplifting. And there's usually several tonnes of history to go with them.

  15. The architecture is so beautiful. I didn't know they had something like this in Belgium. That cathedral is really stunning.

  16. Oh there is Notre-Dame in Belgium also because for me it was in Paris. This cathedral is also having beautiful architecture and beautiful stained glasses panels. Also it is very good that restoration work is being done to preserve this UNESCO heritaged architecture. Great photos with beautiful story of this cathedral about how it survived many times.

  17. I'm already amazed by European architecture and I keep seeing more of it by your post. The cathedral goes back to 5th century, wow, this fact only added the place to my bucket list. So glad to know it is being restored, it is important to maintain historical structures. Loved your post.

  18. What a beautiful cathedral, no wonder it is a UNESCO site. I am currently travelling through Europe and I am always stopping and popping into various churches and cathedrals. They are all in various states of repair.
    I am amazed that the bell tower on this one moved 80cms. That really is crazy.
    Thanks for the tips at the end too, this is really useful as I will be passing through Belgium in a couple of months

  19. This looks like a great place to visit, Those cathedral looks so beautiful and stunning. Such a great architecture.

  20. I am in love with those architecture. I am always amazed by reading post on Belgium, it make me more to just pack my bag and explore the beauty of Belgium.

  21. Wow! I have never heard of this place but it looks beautiful. I hope to visit Belgium in next couple of years and explore the country. I would love to visit this cathedral as well.

  22. Where did you get to learn about all the stories behind the UNESCO properties? Are there boards sharing the stories? It's so informative and I love reading them~

  23. what what?! I live in Belgium and never heard of this cathedral, oops! It's only 1,5 hour drive from my house. Now I know where my next day trip is going to :) ;)

  24. Tournai Notre Dame Cathedral is a real treasure. A paean in stone to the artistic and architectural prowess of unknown masters of history. A pity that it got damages due to the tornado. But I am sure the restoration work will ensure the preservation of this treasure.


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