Laon Cathedral

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Laon Cathedral
Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Laon
La cathédrale de Laon DSC 0707.jpg
Laon Cathedral
Basic information
Location Laon,  France
Geographic coordinates Coordinates: 49°33′51″N 3°37′30″E / 49.5643°N 3.625°E / 49.5643; 3.625
Affiliation Roman Catholic Church
Province Diocese of Laon
Region Picardy
Ecclesiastical or organizational status Cathedral
Status Active
Architectural description
Architectural type church
Architectural style Gothic
Groundbreaking 12th century
Completed 13th century [1]

Laon Cathedral (French: Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Laon) is a Roman Catholic church located in Laon, Picardy, France. It is one of the most important examples of the Gothic architectural tradition of the 12th and 13th centuries. The cathedral predates those of Sens and Notre Dame of Paris, ranking with them in importance. It is the seat of the Bishop of Laon. The church has been listed among the Monuments Historiques since 1840.

Previous cathedrals on the site[edit]

On the same site as the present cathedral, a previous church had been begun under the episcopacy of Gerfrid (774–800). This Carolingian-style cathedral was consecrated on 6 September 800, in the presence of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charlemagne himself.

That building was replaced under Bishop Élinand (1052–1095).[2] with the current cathedral. It was inaugurated with the second coronation of King Philip I, King of the Franks.[citation needed] This cathedral was torched during the Easter Insurrection on 25 April 1112. During the revolt, Laon's unpopular Bishop Waldric (French: Gaudry) took the precaution of hiding in a barrel in the cellar of the episcopal palace. This was unsuccessful, and he was killed, but the cathedral was not destroyed. After a repair programme lasting two years, the cathedral was rededicated in 1114 under Bishop Barthélemy de Jur.


Laon Cathedral.JPG

The present Laon Cathedral dates from the 12th and early 13th centuries, an early example of the Gothic style that originated in Northern France. It was built half a century after the first example of Gothic architecture, the Abbey Church of St. Denis, was erected. The former cathedral was burned out and damaged during the communal insurrection in 1112, then occasioned by the revocation of the commune's charter. The present reconstruction began with a choir in about 1160 and was finished as far as the east side of the transept by 1174. In a second campaign, which started about 1180, the nave was built, and completed after 1205. Then the choir was replaced by the greatly lengthened present choir in 1215. The cathedral was structurally completed by 1230.[3]

The building is cruciform, and the choir terminates in a straight wall instead of in an apse. Of the seven planned towers flanking the façades, only five are complete to the height of the base of the spires, two at the west front, with life-size figures of sixteen oxen beneath the arcades of their upper portion, meant to pay homage to a local legend about a church that once occupied the site, explaining that the oxen appeared to help move the heavy stones. There are two more towers, one at each end of the transept, and a square central crossing tower that forms a lantern illuminating the crossing. If all seven towers were completed, at the time of construction, Laon would have more towers than any other cathedral built at the time. The ambition of the planners of Laon Cathedral gave some insight on what cathedral planners of the time were aiming for - a new take on space.

Nave in four tiers, with clerestories, triforium and tribune under sexpartite vaulting

The west front, then with three porches, the centre one surmounted by a fine rose window of 1210, ranks next to that of Notre Dame de Paris in the purity of its Gothic style. Because of the use of white stone in the interior, however, the luminosity is remarkably greater than at Notre-Dame. The cathedral has stained glass of the 13th century and a chancel screen of the 18th century. Although the cathedral suffered some damage during the French Revolution and the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, it escaped both World Wars unharmed.

On June 25, 1940, Laon Cathedral was visited by Adolf Hitler.[4]

The famous medieval artist Villard de Honnecourt made detailed drawings of one of the towers of Laon, ca. 1230.

Composer Pierre Dumage was organist of the cathedral in 1710–19.

In 1912 the towers of the cathedral were the subject of the painting Tours de Loan by the painter Robert Delaunay. The work shows Delaunay's transition away from figurative compositions towards the abstract movement of "Orphism".[5]


The west façade portals
At the transept crossing
Rose window


  1. ^
  2. ^ "Elinand, évêque de Laon méconnu (1052–1098)" (PDF). 1991 Tome 36. Retrieved 2013-03-26.
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ Irving, Mark (2011). Farthing, Stephen, ed. 1001 Paintings You Must See Before You Die. Cassell. p. 612. ISBN 978-1844037049.

External links[edit]