The current basilica took more than 300 years to build! The imposing tower is actually missing a spire. But it is proving its worth as a belfry. If there is a fire, the clocks will literally sound the alarm. The tower was also a perfect observation post, a refuge for the local population and a place to store the city archives. In 1931, this great lady received the papal title of basilica. Her imposing belfry is a UNESCO world heritage site, and justifiably so.
Tempestuous Roman and religious predecessors
The Basilica of Our Lady has many predecessors. Archaeological remains under the floor tiles have exposed its turbulent past: wooden houses from the 1st century that went up in flames; a stone house in the Roman style that met the same fate in both the 2nd and the 3rd century; the structure of a 4th century Roman basilica (hall construction)........
There follows a religious heritage of no fewer than 7 churches on 1 site. A Merovingian church (mid 6th century), a larger Carolingian construction (9th century), an Ottoman walled church (10th century), and a new Roman church with a defence wall around the cloister, dating from around 1100 which was severely damaged during a siege in 1213. This prompted the start of construction works on the current basilica in 1240.
Mary, Cause of Our Joy
Tongeren has revered the Virgin Mary for centuries. In 1479,for the Brotherhood of Our Lady an exquisite statue of the Virgin Mary was sculptured in walnut, which has graced the altar of the Basilica of Our Lady ever since. In 1889 the Pope gave his permission to place a crown on the statue. This heralded the start of the Seven-year Coronation Celebrations. The statue underwent a thorough renovation in 1993. The faithful still venerate this late-Gothic statue.
Seven-Year Coronation Celebrations
The coronation of the famous statue of the Virgin Mary in 1890 marked the beginning of the seven-yearly Coronation Celebrations. This tradition is honoured right up to the present day. The Coronation Celebrations have even become the largest procession in Belgium. Over 500,000 visitors attend them in just 1 week. The next celebrations will be held in July 2023.
Discover Tongerens most exclusive religious art treasures in newly-renovated Teseum, on the heritage site of the Basilica of Our Lady. Admire the gold and silver in the treasure chamber and enjoy the tranquillity of the Roman cloister and its garden. You can also go underground to visit a unique archaeological site that lays bare 2000 years of Tongerens history.