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The collegiate church of Saint Peter, at Aire sur la Lys, whose high white tower can be seen from afar, has all the characteristics of a cathedral. But this gigantic church, a lode-stone for pilgrims over the centuries and ancient church of the chapter of canons of Aire, has been a parish church since 1802.
Classified as a Historical Monument since 1862, the collegiate church has impressive dimensions (105 meters long; 40 meters wide ; and a vault height of 20 meters – to which must be added the 65 meters of the tower), because it has welcomed pilgrims over the centuries who have come to honour an important relic of Saint James.
The base of the pillars, visible in the choir, bear witness to the remains of the primitive church consecrated in 1166, and destined to be the collegiate church of the chapter of canons founded by the pious count of Flanders, Baudouin V . The construction of the actual church of Saint Peter took place throughout the 16th century, which makes this monumental building one of the major testimonials to flamboyant gothic, and Flemish Renaissance styles in the region. As for the tower, which collapsed shortly after having been built, it was rebuilt in 1634.
Wars did not spare the collegiate church, particularly the siege of 1710 and the bombings of 8th August 1944, but successive repairs have left unaltered the original plan and the architectural characteristics of the monument, such as the nave’s ribs.
Works of art of great quality can be admired, such as the monumental 16th century fresco relating the arrival and the miracles of Saint James’ relics; a Flemish Virgin carved at the end of the 15th century, and a 17th century copy of “the Crucifixion of St. Peter” by Caravage, and of course the statue of Our Lady of Panetière, protector of the town since the 16th century.
Aire-sur-la-Lys is a city of strong history, strategically located between Flanders and Artois. It is within this framework that the collegiate church of Saint-Pierre is located.