A church has existed in Laon since the beginning of the fifth century. However, the Gothic structure we have today dates back to the 1150s, owing to a parish uprising that destroyed several buildings, including the Romanesque church. Completed in a mere 80 years, the Cathedral is a stylistically unified example of Early Gothic architecture.
As usual, because our pilgrimage was during the off-season, we could enjoy exploring the Cathedral with hardly anyone else around. Laon is a small town, and the late winter/early spring does not attract large crowds. The tourist office is right next to the Cathedral, so we did see a trickle of tourists during our three-day stay, but for the most part, we wandered reverently in and around the church by ourselves.
A large section of the west end of the nave was free of chairs, which enhanced the feeling of grandeur that most Gothic churches give, but the light stone and lantern tower of Laon Cathedral gave it such a warm atmosphere. A recording of liturgical chants permeated the entire building creating a respectful atmosphere.
Laon Cathedral is unique in having a flat apse, but it puts that space to good use by filling the wall with a rose window and three lancet windows underneath fitted with original medieval stained glass. The side chapels along the aisles are closed off with Renaissance screens. We also saw painted sections on the wall of the chevet that appeared to be medieval.
A couple of intriguing pieces of art we encountered were the “Holy Face of Laon,” which is believed to be a likeness of Christ, and a 15th-century wood carving of Saint Martin of Tours.
The Cathedral has five towers of seven that were planned. The north Thomas-a-Becket tower is named after the English Archbishop of Canterbury, who stopped at Laon while fleeing England in 1163. An unusual feature of the Cathedral’s towers is the stone oxen that adorn them. They are a homage to the oxen for helping to build the church by pulling enormous beams up to the roof.
The Laon Cathedral is a beautiful medieval legacy set in an equally lovely medieval town on a hilltop surrounded by fairytale ramparts. This stop had all the features one could imagine reading in a medieval pilgrimage tale.
Index of blog posts for our Cathedral Pilgrimage
- 1. A Cathedral Pilgrimage
- 2. Preparing for a Pilgrimage
- 3. First Stop – Reims
- 4. Reims – City of Kings
- 5. Saint Remi and His Basilica
- 6. Christian Time Traveling
- 7. Second Stop – Laon
- 8. Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Laon
- 9. Third Stop – Amiens
- 10. Amiens Cathedral: Almost Heaven
- 11. Soaring Vaults and Great Treasures