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Notre-Dame Cathedral, St. Omer

Main entrance - the Cathedral's north door

Bishop Omer's image in stained glass over the north door

The 15th century cathedral tower is seen from quiet cobbled streets of 17th and 18th century town houses - where the canons of the cathedral once lived.

St.Erkembode's Tomb - pilgrims over centuries came to pray and left old shoes

One of France's greatest Gothic cathedrals
Saint-Omer's Cathedral is a spectacular example of Gothic architecture from the Middle Ages. Its history dates back over a millennium to when churches, abbeys and monasteries were being built all over France. The fabric of Notre-Dame-des-Miracles has survived 800 years of wars and revolutions.

Two churches founded by monks
The town of Saint-Omer stands on hillside on the edge of the river Aa marshes. In the 7th century Benedictine monks came here to convert the local people to Christianity.
Bishop Omer's cathedral was in Thérouanne. He could not speak Flemish so he brought two monks with him, Bertin and Mommolin. They founded a monastery near the river, called "Saint Bertin's Abbey".

Omer later built a chapel and college for monks about 1km further up the gentle slope up from the marshes. This was rebuilt on a grand scale starting in the 13th century as one of the most beautiful Gothic churches in northern France. When completed in 1561, it was made a cathedral to replace the one Charles Quint destroyed in Thérouanne.

Saint Erkembode’s tomb
Bishop Omer's 4th successor as Bishop of Thérouanne was Erkembode, previously Abbot of St.Bertin's. His huge diocese stretched from Ypres (now in Belgium) to the River Somme. He walked it constantly, looking for land he could buy to give to the poor. He died in 723, crippled and almost paralysed. His grave was moved from the first church to the choir of the new cathedral.

Because he walked such long distances to help other people, St. Erkembode is the patron saint of children who have difficulties in walking.

Pilgrims came to pray at his grave, and left old shoes as a symbol of their long walk to ask his help - the man who walked so much for other people.

The Organ

Treasures of the cathedral

Baroque organ
Inside the cathedral a fine 18th century organ - whose case of Danish oak is decorated in baroque style - towers over the 14th/15th century nave.

Astrological clock
There is an astrological clock (1558) - dating from when the town was in
Spanish Flanders (see below).

From that period there are many fine decorated tombs. From after the town became French, there is a descent from the cross that might be by Rubens.

Angels and (top centre) the child Jesus

Organ pipes

Figures of 'Faith, Hope and Charity'

Doors to the choir, guarded by saints

Inside the cathedral, its masterpiece is the huge 18th century organ. The baroque case was built by local craftsmen, the Piette brothers and restored in the 19th century. It still plays today.

Astrological clock
 clock machanism
When it was first installed in 1558, this "miraculous" clock also attracted pilgrims. Its wrought-iron mechanism not only tells the time, it also shows the movement of the sun and stars in the sky over Saint Omer, and the signs of the Zodiac. Such a clock was very rare: two others are known, in Prague and Lyons. The clock was used to make astrological predictions for Charles Quint who consulted Professor Gemma Frisius, of Louvains University (in modern Belgium). Frisius was professor of medicine, a mathematician, and author of a treatise on astronomy.

The clock seemed very special in 16th century. It was a time when Copernicus and Galileo challenged the long-held belief that the Earth was the centre of the universe, and that the sun and stars all revolved round the Earth. This idea dated back to the Greek astronomer Ptolemy. The Church denounced the scientists who questioned this notion, fearing that it cast doubt on their basic teachings about God and creation.

Guided walks round the town
Many of the churches are included in the guided tours organised by the town's Office de Tourisme.

Background information
Church and religion
Medieval Art
Spanish Netherlands & Charles Quint

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Location: Saint-Omer

200m walk from Office de Tourisme in town centre
Take Saint-Omer exit 3 from A26 autoroute, then N42
Information/ reservations:
Tourist Office: 4 rue du Lion d'Or, 62500 SAINT-OMER
Tel: 00 33 3 21 - 98 08 51
Fax: 00 33 3 21 - 88 55 74

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St. Bertin's Abbey © Copyright 1999-2000 Invicta Media. Last updated 16th April 2000