Saturday, 8 August 2015

Medieval Cathedrals: Notre-Dame de Laon, part 2: Interior

[I'll be using a lot of architectural terms in this series of posts, and in the interests of not doing work that's already been done, instead of making my own glossary I'm linking to this excellent one by Athena Review. All photos used in this post are mine, and can be used by others provided you post a link to this page and credit me.]

My sources for this material are wikipedia’s Laon Cathedral page, The Great Courses The Cathedral course by Professor William Cook (lecture 9), and La Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Laon by Auguste Bouxin, available via  The book is where I got the information for the sculptural program.  Note that my French isn’t that great and the book is quite old (1902), so if you plan to use that information you’d be advised to check with more modern sources.

See part 1: the exterior, here.
Laon cathedral is 111 meters long, the nave being 53 meters, and the choir an impressive 10 bays.  The transepts that give the church its cruciform shape are 12 meters long and meet at a crossing tower that is 40 meters high. 
Nave looking west from the crossing.
Nave looking east
I've included a jpeg version of the floor plan I prepared (and corrected) for this cathedral.  Fell free to use it, but please credit me if you do.  Email me if you'd like the pdf file instead.

Crossing tower with tripartite elevation
Laon Cathedral floor plan

The cathedral has a 4 part elevation: aisle, gallery, triforium and clearstory.  The columns alternate styles, with either 3 or 5 colonettes rising from the floor to join with the vaulting in the ceiling. 
Nave elevation
Nave pillar with aisle and nave vaulting.
You can sometimes arrange to see the gallery at the tourist information office next door.  Unfortunately I didn’t have time for the tour, though I imagine you can get some amazing photographs from there.  It’s also the only way to see the two lancet windows visible on the west front, as the aisle otherwise blocks them from view at nave level.  It’s also the only way to see the upper chapels that adorn the rounded sides of the transepts.  The upper chapels have a double elevation, making a three window height visible from the outside of the cathedral.

The north rose window contains stained glass from the 1180s and depicts Philosophy, with the ladder on her dress as described by Boethius in his Consolation of Philosophy. surrounded by the other arts.  The four slightly off set lancet windows below have modern glass in them.

The south window has a large lancet window with an occulus and smaller lancets inside it, now filled with clear glass.  The tracery is 14th century and quite beautiful.
South transept
South transept lower chapel
The east end is quite impressive with three very deeply set tall lancet windows surmounted by a rose.  There’s some original 13th century stained glass here.

East end
Deep set lancet windows in east end
The centre, ‘Passion window’ includes a scene in the lower right quadrant of the upper roundel that depicts the pilgrims of Emmaus eating at a table, with Christ’s feet rising through the ceiling (alas, the glass is dark so I couldn’t locate the scene when I was there, and my attempts to crop large photos down to show it aren’t as successful as I’d have liked).

Supper at Emmaus stained glass

Unfortunately the west rose, made in 1210 and depicting the Last Judgement, is partially obscured by the organ.
West rose window
While a bit out of the way - and a tough climb up a steep hill - Laon Cathedral is definitely worth a visit.
Taking the stairs back down to the train station is MUCH easier.

No comments: