Cathedral of Our Lady: The Jewel of Tournai

Belgium has numerous beautiful churches and cathedrals. Among them is undoubtedly the Cathedral of Our Lady in Tournai. At 83 metres (272 ft) high, this jewel is unmissable in the Belgian skyline.

Construction of the Cathedral of Our Lady began in Tournai from the start of the 12th century. It is the only religious edifice in Belgium that was erected as a cathedral – hence its grand appearance.

Perceptive visitors will immediately recognise multiple architectural styles, which came about in three different stages. The Roman three-nave is the oldest and had a huge influence on later monuments in this same style. The four corner towers and the transept then followed. Finally, the chancel reflects the rise of the Gothic age. The unique style of this jewel of heritage caught on all across Europe and would later serve as inspiration for the Dom Tower in Utrecht.

Great Belgian works of art found a home here over the centuries. In particular, the masterful Liberation of Souls from Purgatory by Pieter Paul Rubens from 1635, which was stolen during the French Revolution. Valuable pieces can be admired in the treasury, such as the oldest tapestry in Belgium, a collection of goldsmithing works, liturgical clothing and the cloak of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. The crown jewel there, however, is the Reliquary of Our Lady, one of the Seven Wonders of Belgium – a real must-see.

It is no surprise that UNESCO declared the Cathedral of Our Lady a World Heritage Site in 2000. Moreover, its renovation was completed in 2018 and it can now be admired in its full glory once more. A tip: visit Tournai on the second Sunday of September. This is when the great Procession of Our Lady of the Infirm sets out, with the entire art collection from the cathedral, to commemorate the city’s freedom from the Plague in 1092.