Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Laon Cathedral, France (part 1)

The magnificent Laon cathedral sits authoritatively on a considerable hill which rises unexpectedly out of a plain about 130 kms northeast of Paris and about 45 kms northeast of Reims. The present structure was begun c. 1160 (after the fire of 1111, a disastrous consequence of an insurrection). The cathedral was finished in 1230, but like buildings the world over, required work throughout its history. World War I fortunately did not touch the edifice (the Cathedral of Reims, however, was devasted by bombardments).

On each of my three visits over the decades, I take a day train trip from Paris, enjoying the countryside coming and going. Arriving at the station, one immediately sees the high hill rising from the base of the town. You can ascend by car, tram, or (my preferred method) by climbing the hundreds of steps which lead directly to the medieval city's outer wall.

It is thought that six towers were planned but only four were completed, and they are indeed wonderful. I keep returning to this somewhat remote cathedral just to enjoy one more time those airy towers. I especially enjoy the whimiscle oxen high in the tower, taking in the constantly changing scenery of the stretching plains below.

The gothic structure receives its unusual interior lightness from its light stone. Even though I was visiting on an overcast day offering a uniformly bland sky, the cathedral's interior colours were invitingly warm.

These pictures focus on details more than on traditional shots depicting the sweep of the majestic architecture. I admire the large spaces enclosed by such exquisitely crafted masonry, but I also appreciate the intricacies of a finely crafted spiderweb--one transient web protected by a seemingly permanent web of limestone. There are well-worn pavement stones polished by the feet of worshippers and tourists over the centuries, the worn wooden choir stalls where monks once sat eight times daily for Offices and once more for Mass, candles lit by the faithful believers on that June 5th, and plaques of thanksgiving for prayers answered. [For more pictures, please visit: Laon Cathedral, France (part 2).]