The remarkable cathedral of Tournai
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Zairon
Who says Tournai, says: second or third oldest city in Belgium, the cradle of France, tapestries, porcelain, the germ of the Flemish primitives ... Of course, also the Cathedral of Our Lady with its famous five bell towers and ... with something else.
Let's briefly refresh you memory. In the 5th century, the Salian Franks invaded Tournai, made it their capital and founded a dynasty of Merovingian kings, of whom Clovis was the most famous and the most important. It also became an episcopal city.
Towards the end of the 12th century, construction of the present Romanesque-Gothic cathedral was at a standstill. This was soon to be changed by the vigorous and enterprising Bishop Stephen of Orleans. In 1198, he bought off the toll right on the Scheldt and spent one fourth of the proceeds on building the vaults in his cathedral. And in the same breath, he would put a stop to what had been extremely disturbing him for some time. Every time he would stride to and from his palace just opposite the place of worship in rainy weather, his shoes and cassock would get wet, dirty and muddy. His plan to connect the two imposing architectural gems with a chapel was cautiously but firmly discouraged by the magistrate. Back then, you couldn't just build at random either. Just bridge the few metres ... above the street, the bishop thought. The city council's opposition to this proposal, based on the stipulation that the air also belonged to the municipality, was ignored by Stephen, who had had enough of so much obstructionism. Result: today, you and I will keep dry under the round arch with the Saint-Vincent chapel above it between the rue du Vieux Marché aux Poteries and the place de l'Évêché. Tournaisians know the archway as the False Gate.
It did not stop there, by the way. To avoid any misunderstandings as to the rightful owner of this closed gallery, namely the Church, the witty prelate ordered this no-holds-barred scatological inscription to be engraved in Latin on one of the walls: 'Sordide qui sentis ventrem contendere ventis longius absiste quoniam sacer est locus iste cui stomachus turget quem fetidus eolus urget non hic se purget quia non sine verbere surget.' Freely translated: 'Ye who feel a foul wind rising in your belly, walk on and do not give in to it! For this place is sacred. Whose stomach swells and who must leave an malodorous beast, that he does not do it here. For a beating will be his portion.' Plain language.
Seemingly, the city magistrates could agree with the warning, considering that every year during the Ancien Régime, they solemnly promised to respect all ecclesiastical privileges at St Vincent's chapel.