Tournai in Belgium : A Unesco cathedral and a small town art gallery of substance

After a dip into the Roubaix swimming pool our coach transported us just over the border and into Belgium. The town of Tournai was our destination. Such a small quiet town but with so much to offer. We were given an hour and a quarter to find a luncheon venue and meet again under the towering belfry at the end of the picturesque town square.

The Belfry Tournai

A life-size black and white cow tempted us into an intimate brasserie Au Boeuf Qui Rit where we chose I salmon salad and  my companion chose cheese croquettes.

World Heritage

Next to the Belfry is the Cathedral of Tournai. Begun in the 12th century the cathedral’s cultural value was recognised by UNESCO and designated a World Heritage Site in the year 2000.

[The Cathedral] has been preserved in its original state , particularly the capitals of the nave, which makes the cathedral one of the few remaining great Romanesque buildings in this region. The World Heritage committee also pointed out the historical continuity of the cathedral as a place of worship from the 5th century onwards as well as the role of the chapter in the political, social, economic, intellectual and cultural life of the city, documented by centuries old archives.” [Poster shown above]

Photos at Tournai Cathedral :

Tournai 1

Tournai 2

Tournai 3

Tournai 4

Repair work on the cathedral continues but we were able to visit the main body of the church and also the Treasury. No photography was allowed inside The Treasury as almost 5 years ago to the day a priceless jewelled cross was stolen by thieves :

22/02/08 — Theft — Tournai, Cathedral — The “tresor” of the Tournai Cathedral was the victim of a major theft on Tuesday 19 February. In broad daylight, three men using baseball bats broke the glass display cases and stole, despite the attempts of several by-standers, thirteen objects including a famous Byzantine cross. This reliquary which holds a piece of the Cross and probably dates back to the VIIIth-IXth centuries was most likely brought to Tournai from Constantinople in 1205 by a Crusader. One can only hope that the object will not be dismounted in order to sell off the precious stones ornating it. ” [Source]

Beaux arts tournai

From the Cathedral it was a very short walk to the Museum of Fine Arts [Musée Beaux Arts Tournai]

Inaugurated on Sunday 17th June 1928, the Museum of Fine Arts is a building created by the genius for spatial conception, the great Belgian  Art Nouveau architect Victor HORTA. He conceived it especially for presenting the very rich collections bequeathed to the city by the Brussels patron of the arts Henri VAN CUTSEM, deceased in 1904.

The combination of the rooms that radiate from the central polygonal entrance hall is so original that the building itself deserves a visit. The collections shown include many ancient paintings, which added to the works bequeathed by Henri VAN CUTSEM, together with purchases, deposits, gifts and legacies, permit to offer the visitors an interesting overvieuw of the pictorial production history from the 15th century up to now.” [source]

I just chose two pictures on a reading theme on show at the Museum.

Courbet The Reader

Gustave Courbet’s “La Lecture”

Fantin-Latour The Reader

Henri de Fantin-Latour “La Lecture”

Art Deco and Art Nouveau in Lille and Antwerp : Day One

Last Thursday I set off from St Pancras Station to Lille along with 23 others booked on a Travel Editions art trip to northern France and Belgium.  The train journey took just less than 1 hour 30minutes.

Lille Town Hall and belfry

Lille Town Hall and Belfry [UNESCO World Heritage listed] from the hotel balcony

Day 1 : Travel by Eurostar from St Pancras to Lille and transfer by coach to hotel for check in for 3 night stay. Afternoon walking tour of central Lille.
Welcome reception lecture “Art nouveau – an Overview” and dinner with wine at the atmospheric Art Nouveau Brasserie de la Paix located 2-3 minutes from the hotel.

Vieille Bourse with Belfry behind

Unfortunately, it was raining hard in Lille so an hour after arrival and check-in with our brollies out we were on our first guided walk with tour guide and lecturer Mike Hope who mixed his vast knowledge with humour, patience and enthusiasm and from whom I learned all I now know about Art Deco and Art Nouveau in Lille (and nearby towns) and Antwerp during the following three days.

La Grand Place in the rain

The Grand Place in the rain

Once the jewel of the Spanish Netherlands, Lille is France’s most besieged city. It was incorporated into the royal domain in 1304 before passing under Burgundian (1369), then Austrian (1477), then Spanish rule under Charles V. The city became French in 1667 and remained so, except for a brief interlude from 1708 to 1713 and the absurd Nazi Aryanization (1940) from which it was delivered by its illustrious native son, a certain Charles de Gaulle. Throughout the 20th century, Lille was the capital of the French textile industry. … The city [has made] an extraordinary transformation that began with the arrival of France’s high-speed train, the TGV. [It] boasts prestigious colleges, abounds with café terraces and brasseries. Since 2004, when Lille was European City of Culture, it has stood at the forefront of the French cultural scene.” [From my LV Guide Lille, Lyon, Monaco, Toulouse 2012]

From the hotel we were just steps away from the main square and the important civic buildings – the town hall, the old bourse (now a secondhand book market), the opera and theatre – and shopping and business areas.

Vielle Bourse

V Bourse

VB Detail

VB Drainpipe

In the Vieille Bourse

Theatre du Nord

The Voix du Nord Building: Mike points out the architectural features

Paul, Lille

Art Deco Bakery on the rue Lepelletier – still a bakery shop


A L’Huitriere

A L'Huitriere

A L’Huîtriere, rue des Chats Bossus. Renowned fishmonger and restaurant with pure Art Deco decor inside and out.

ND de la Treille

The Cathedral of Notre Dame de la Treille : building began in 1854 and was finally finished in time for Lille’s European City of Culture year 2004

West Window

The West Window from Inside

… and other Art Deco and Art Nouveau façades in Lille :

Others 1

Others 2

Others 3

Others 4

And the best place to finish is at Méert famous for its butter and vanilla waffles


Footloose in Lisbon : walking and climbing in the city

The ATG holiday finished after breakfast on Saturday morning. We’d eaten early and walked down to Sintra Station for the 40 minute train journey to Lisbon Rossio Station. We passed the National Palace on our way. It’s on my list for my next visit!

National Palace Sintra

The National Palace, Sintra

We’d added an extra night to the trip so that we might gain a flavour of Portugal’s capital city. From Rossio Square it was a 20 minute walk to our B&B in the shadow of the Sé Cathedral in the medieval Alfama district. Our hostess Teresa met us and let us leave our bags giving us a local map and a few suggestions for a day’s walking in Lisbon.

The hill and step climbing didn’t stop at the end of the walking holiday. Lisbon is a hilly city. First off we walked along the route of the famous old 28 tram up to the viewpoints at Santa Luzia and Portas do Sol Squares. Fantastic views over Lisbon and its port, Alfama and the River Tagus.

Alfama from Sta Luzia Square

Alfama District from Santa Luzia Square

Tiled wall at Santa Luzia Square

Tiled wall at Santa Luzia Square

Tram 28 at the busy Portas do Sol

Tram 28 at the busy Portas do Sol

Portas do Sol Square

Portas do Sol Square

Further climbing brought us to the end of the queue for the ticket office for the Castelo Sao Jorge. Once inside the Castle grounds you can take in fantastic city views from the busy esplanade, visit the archaeological museum, walk the battlements and see the ongoing Moorish excavations and shady gardens. Considered to be the site of the founding settlement of Lisbon recent archaeological finds date back to the late 6th C BC. The castle remains themselves are from the Moorish era (11th and 12th C). St George’s Castle was a royal residence until 1511. For centuries then it was neglected but today it’s an attractive place to visit and we spent the best part of the morning until the early afternoon exploring and admiring the views at every turn.

Lisbon, River Tagus and  25 April Bridge from the Castle Esplanade

Lisbon, River Tagus and  25 April Bridge from the Castle Esplanade

Shady Esplanade at S Jorge Castle

Shady Esplanade at S Jorge Castle

Tile Frame Border in the Archeaological Museum

Tile Frame Border in the Archeaological Museum

This is a representation of angels. Blue and white tiles with manganese. Produced domestically. Late 17th C. [Exhibit notes]

Moorish Excavations

Moorish Excavations

Next up was a wander around Alfama – taking note of possible evening meal locations – and ending up at the popular, Bohemian-style Pois Cafe very near Sé Cathedral the next place on our itinerary.

Street in Alfama 1

Street in Alfama

Street in Alfama 2

Quiet Square in Alfama

Lisbon’s Cathedral, built not long after Dom Afonso Henriques took Lisbon from the Moors in 1147, stands on the site of city’s main mosque. The crenellated Romanesque building is a reconstruction and restoration since most of Lisbon was destroyed by earthquake in 1755.

Se Cathedral near our B&B

Sé Cathedral near our B&B

It is also an important archaeological site and new finds are constantly being added to the inventory from the cloister excavations originally started to reinforce the building’s foundations. We explored the Cloister and the Treasury at extra charge. The highlight of the church is the Rose Window.

Excavations in Se Cathedral Cloister

Excavations in Sé Cathedral Cloister

The Rose Window

The Rose Window

The cathedral is very dark inside and so we blinked when eventually we emerged into the sunny Lisbon afternoon. We then walked across the main shopping streets, the pedestrianised rua Augusta is the main shopping drag, to the famous Elevador da Santa Justa. This lift, designed by the Portuguese pupil of Gustave  Eiffel (and you can see the connection!) Raoul Mesnier de Ponsard, takes you up in its neo-Gothic lift to the ruin of Carmo and its busy square. When you come out of the lift there’s a tight little iron spiral staircase that takes you up to yet another amazing viewpoint.

Elevador de Santa Justa

Elevador de Santa Justa

Castle from the viewing platform

Castle from the viewing platform of the Elevador

The Cathedral and Tagus from the Viewing Platform

The Cathedral and Tagus from the Viewing Platform

Rossio Square from the Viewing Platform

Rossio Square from the Viewing Platform (note the wavy pavements which seem to reflect the watery nature of the city)

As time was tight we decided that we would have to forego a visit to Belem – highly recommended by both Teresa and Ana. As I always say – “One must leave something for one’s next visit”.

Worcester Cathedral and Strensham Church Services

Worcester Cathedral

Another port of call during the weekend was Worcester. I wanted to visit the Cathedral in connection with my family history researches. It’s a lovely cathedral and you can see its tower from a distance so not hard to find in the centre of the city.

Worcester Cathedral

It was wet and cold on my visit the Saturday before last (9 March) so this photo of the Cathedral with blue sky behind is taken from the Worcester Cathedral website. Here is Dean Peter Atkinson’s Welcome Message introduction from that same website :

Worcester Cathedral is a magnificent sight as it rises majestically above the River Severn. Worcester has been the seat of a bishopric since the Seventh Century, and the Cathedral was served by monks until the Reformation. St Oswald and St Wulfstan were among the bishops. Since the Eighteenth Century, the Cathedral has been famous for its part in the annual Three Choirs Festival, the oldest choral festival in existence. Today the Cathedral is the centre of a vibrant community of clergy and laypeople, offering the praises of God each day, serving the city and the diocese of Worcester, and attracting visitors from all over the world.

St George's Chapel

St George’s Chapel, Worcester Cathedral

I had contacted the Vergers in advance in order arrange to see the Roll of Honour in which my relative is listed and introduced myself to a volunteer welcomer on arrival. A Verger was summoned and soon I was able to inspect the book and find his name. I then took some time to look around the St George’s Chapel where the Roll of Honour rests.

King John

The most significant tomb in Worcester Cathedral is that of King John.

Mrs Henry Wood

In addition, in the “Poets Corner”, I found the memorial to Victorian author Mrs Henry Wood. A prolific writer, she is perhaps best known for her book “East Lynne”.

Flags St George's Chapel

St George’s Chapel, Worcester Cathedral
The Church of St John the Baptist, Strensham
Church Key
For most people the name of the village of Strensham is synonymous with the Motorway Service Station of the same name on the M5. But for me it is the village where my relatives lived during the early years of the last century. More about them later. Strensham is divided in more ways than one; there’s a Lower Strensham and an Upper Strensham and the M5 motorway cuts between the two. However, far from the noise of the Services and the Motorway, Strensham church lies down a long lane across fields and even far from the Strenshams. It stands on cliff overlooking the River Avon. Now that I have visited I notice that you can see its creamy white tower as you drive up and down the motorway.
St John's Strensham
The Church of St John The Baptist, Strensham is listed in Simon Jenkins’ England’s Thousand Best Churches and given one star. It is also cared for by The Churches Conservation Trust. And there is a whole page about it in Jonathan Keates’ The Companion Guide to The Shakespeare Country. 
Companion to Shakespeare Country
One remark in this book that I rather like is his “More Norfolk than Worcestershire (it recalls Ranworth), this set of twenty-three paintings is extraordinary “.
Painted panels
Well, my family came from Norfolk to live in Worcestershire for possibly a couple of decades in the early twentieth century, returning to Norfolk before 1920. In addition to these painted panels the church boasts some impressive monuments, superb linenfold panelling and early 16th century pews.
Linenfold panelling and pegs
The chancel lights up as you enter but elsewhere it looks as if the gas mantels are still in use during the occasional services that are still held here.
Interior St John's Strensham
Keates goes on to say “Next to these is my favourite Worcestershire tomb, a great piece of English art,  full of unrivalled zest and excitement. Edward Stanton’s superb fantasia on the death of Sir Francis Russell in 1705 is as much Gothic as baroque in its marble schadenfreude. His face (a portrait, surely) a wrenched simian mask, he is shown half-lying as his kneeling wife beckons him towards a heaven blobbed with clouds and putti whirling a coronet.”
The Baroque Sir Francis Russell and his wife
The Baroque Sir Francis Russell and his wife
River Avon and Eckington
The Church is perched on a cliff and overlooks the River Avon