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Tournai (Municipality, Province of Hainaut, Belgium)


Last modified: 2019-01-27 by ivan sache
Keywords: tournai | doornik | kain |
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Flag of Tournai - Image by António Martins, 24 October 2017

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Presentation of Tournai

The municipality of Tournai (67,844 inhabitants on 1 January 2007; 21,375 ha, therefore the biggest Belgian municipality in Belgium by its area; municipal website) is located on the river Scheldt, 25 km east of Lille (France) and 85 km west of Brussels. The municipality of Tournai was estyablished in 1976 as the merger of the former municipalities of Tournai, Barry, Beclers, Blandain, Chercq, Ere, Esplechin, Froidmont, Froyennes, Gaurain-Ramecroix, Havinnes, Hertain, Kain, Lamain, Marquain, Maulde, Melles, Mont-Saint-Aubert, Mourcourt, Orcq, Quartes, Ramegnies-Chin, Rumillies, Saint-Maur, Templeuve, Thimougies, Vaulx, Vezon, Warchin and Willemeau. Beside the town of Tournai proper, 2/3 of the area of the municipality of Tournai is rural.

Tournai emerged in the Roman times, as Tornacum, a town that progressively grew up around a military camp in the first half of the 1st century AD; remains of the ditches that surrounded Tornacum have been found in the borough of La Loucherie in 1954. Tornacum was located on the crossing of Roman ways and the river Scheldt, on the border of the former territories of the Menapians and the Nervians. The Peutinger Table and Antonine's Itinerary show the town under the name of Turnaco. Tournai is therefore the oldest town in Wallonia and the second oldest town in Belgium after Tongeren. Tornacum was also an important river port, still called a portus in the Carolingian times.
In the middle of the 5th century, the Salian Franks (aka Salii) seized Tournai and made of the town their capital. The tomb of King Childéric (d. 481) was discovered in 1653 on the right bank of the Scheldt; it contained jewels, probably representing cicada but misinterpreted as bees. Childéric's son was Clovis, who united the Frankish kingdoms and is considered as the founder of France. The later kings of France had a special devotion to Tournai as the cradle of their "dynasty", although there are historical gaps between Clovis and the kings; moreover, the Tournai "bees" are the origin of the bees widely used in the Napoleonic iconography.

Tournai was the capital of an administrative division called Tournaisis, which succeeded to the Roman "civitas tornacensium", and of a bishopric founded in the 6th century by St. Eleutherius and merged with the bishopric of Noyon until 1146; in the 9th century, the bishop of Tournai was able to separate the town of Tournai from Tournaisis and to make of it a domain belonging to the Kingdom of France, with the bishop as its lord. Progressively, the bishops of Tournai increased their power across the Scheldt, that is on lands nominally depending on the German Empire. In the 11th century, the Tournaisis was incorporated to the County of Flanders; the administrative seat of (Flemish) Tournaisis was located outside the town, on a small islet in the Scheldt (today the Castle's borough). Around 1147, the burghers of Tournai set up a municipal administration; walls were built in the 12th century, encompassing the Market, St. Piat and St. Brice's boroughs. The bishop lost the right of Higher Justice, which was transferred to King of France Philip I Augustus, as stated in charters signed in 1188 and 1211. In 1289, the town of Tournai increased, incorporating the Flemish islet and the industrial borough of Chaufours, including Allain and Warchin, a former dependance of the German Empire.
In 1313-1314, the king of France invaded Tournaisis. In 1321, the bishop of Tournai transferred to the king his civil rights on Tournai. The municipality, however, attempted to get rid of the power of both the bishop and the king of France. Accordingly, the king suppressed the municipal administration in 1332; following the resistance of the town to the Flemish militias commanded by Jacob Van Artevelde in 1340, the municipality was reestablished. The next year, the municipality was transferred all the civil rights on the town. The set up of new taxes caused riots and the suppression of the municipality in 1367. The Constitution of 6 February 1370 set up a municipality led by the local aristocracy, but the democratic revolution of 1423 increased the power of the traders and craftsmen.
Maintained by King Henry VIII during the English occupation of the town (1513-1518), the municipal administration was eventually suppressed by Emperor Charles V in 1522 after the incorporation of the town to the Spanish Low Countries, but Tournai and Tournaisis remained two distinct entities until the French Revolution.

Seized by Turenne on 24 June 1667 during the War of Devolution and reincorporated to the Kingdom of France, Tournai was seized again by the Anglo-Dutch troop in 1709, during the War of the Spanish Succession. The Treaties of Utrecht (1713) and Rastadt (1714) confirmed the incorporation of the town into the Austrian Netherlands. After the battle of Fontenoy, during the War of the Succession of Austria, Tournai became again French for a short period (1745-1748). The Bailiwick of Tournai-Tournaisis was made a Provincial Council by Empress Maria-Theresa in 1773.
Tournai was severely damaged during the First World War and even more during the Second World War: the bombings of 16-20 May 1940 killed or injured 250, destroyed 1,732 houses and damaged another 3,500.

The historical wealth of Tournai is due to stone extraction and clothing trade. Limestone used for building and to prepare lime was already extracted on the current site of the cathedral of Tournai in the beginning of the 1st century AD. Stone extraction and cutting faded away during the Frankish period but resumed in the 12th-14th centuries.
A. Dumont called in 1832 "Tournaisian" the first level of the Carboniferous period (359.2 ± 2.5 - 345.3 ± 2.1 Million Year BP). A characteristic fossile of the Tournaisien is Spirifer peracuta, found in the schistous strata of Maredsous. The limestones and psammits from the strata of Etrœungt and Comblain-au-Pont are also worth being mentioned, as well as the Waulsortian facies of the stratum of Celles, and, last but not least, the so famous Tournaisien dolomites, which can also be found in the French Boulonnais.
Wool merchants from Tournai were already registered in Ghent in the early 11th century. The next century, the Tournai Guild joined the London Hansa and, in the 13th century, the Seventeen Towns' Guild. The free fairs of Tournai attracted Flemish, Brabantian and German traders. The second half of the 14th century, with political unrest, wars, famines and epidemics, was not favourable to trade, which was also limited by the decline of the port of Bruges. The situation improved in the 15th century when the Tournai tapestries became highly prized by the sovereigns. After the reincorporation of Tournai to the Kingdom of France, Louis XIV ordered the modernization of the town: a new citadel was built by Vauban, who also revamped the city walls, while the Scheldt was canalized. Under the Austrian rule, textile industry developed in the town, employing up to 3,000 workers. Tournai eventually declined after its reincorporation to the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the reestablishment of the border with France and border taxes; industry faded away and Tournai did not took any advantage of the industrial revolution of the 19th century.

Tournai is the birth town of the Flemish painter Rogier van der Weyden (c. 1399/1400-1464, born Rogier de la Pasture or Rogier de le Pasture). Rogier entered the workshop of Robert Campin, probably the mysterious "Master of Flémalle", in 1427 and was appointed member of the Painters' Guild of Tournai in 1432. Official painter of the town of Brussels in 1435, the painter took his Flemish name and worked for the court of Duke of Burgundy Philip the Good, who was fond of art. Influenced by Van Eyck, Rogier made big compositions for the court of Burgundy, the most famous of them being the "Polyptich with the Last Judgement", aka the "Beaune Altarpiece", a series of 15 panels ordered by Chancellor Rollin for the Hospital he had founded in Beaune, and still there.

Ivan Sache, 7 December 2007

Flag of Tournai

The municipal flag of Tournai is vertically divided red-white.
According to Armoiries communales en Belgique. Communes wallonnes, bruxelloises et germanophones [w2v03a], the flag shows the traditional colours of the town.

The arms of Tournai, as shown by Servais [svm55], are "Gules a castle argent masoned sable open on the field a chief azure three fleurs de lis or". The Hainaut Armorial states that the arms were granted by Royal Decree on 30 April 1931, as De gueules à la tour d'argent ouverte, crénelée d'une pièce et de deux demies, à la herse levée du même, percée de deux meurtriè:res, maçonnée de sable, au chef cousu d'azur chargé de trois fleurs de lys d'or rangées.
These arms are clearly of French origin and are shown on a metallic banner decorating the belfry of the town.

Tournai-related arms, "Azure a semy of tleurs-de-lis or a castle argent", are shown by different historical sources. The arms are shown by Rogier van der Weyden on his "Tryptich of the Seven Sacraments", aka the "Chevrot Altarpiece" (c. 1445, Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp). The upper part of the central panel shows two coats of arms. According to Jacques Stiennon, Professor Emeritus at the University of Liège, the left coat of arms belongs to Bishop Jean Chevrot (1437-1460) while the right coat of arms belongs to Tournai.
However, the arms of Ferry de Clugny (1474-1483), Cardinal-Bishop of Tournai, were "Quartered, 1 and 4 azure two keys or accosted, 2 and 3 argent three fleurs-de-lis sable, an escutcheon azure a semy of fleurs-de-lis or a tower argent", and says explicitely that "the escutcheon represents the arms of the Bishops of Tournai".
The field of the arms of the Duchies of Reims, Laon and Langres is "Azure a semy of fleurs-de-lis or"; the arms of the County of Noyon (remember that the Bishoprics of Tournai and Noyon formed once a single entity) is "Azure a semy of fleurs-de-lis two bishop's croziers accosted argent" (Héraldique Européenne website).

Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 7 December 2007

Former municipality of Kain

Kain (6,668 inhabitants; 1,128 ha) is among the 29 rural villages incorporated to the municipality of Tournai in 1976. The flag of Kain was officially adopted on 14 October 1962.

Ivan Sache, 7 December 2007