Laon Cathedral

The Laon Cathedral ( Notre- Dame de Laon ) is one of the masterpieces of Gothic architecture in France. It was built in the years 1155 to 1235 and is one of the first churches that were built in this style. The church replaced an earlier cathedral dating from the 5th century, was burned down in 1112.

The first Gothic ribbed vault was created in 1140 from the established new choir of the Cathedral of St. Denis. The effect was tremendous. From then built the bishops in northern France gothic, and the style quickly spread. In just a few years created the new cathedrals of Sens ( 1140 ), Senlis ( 1151 ), and Noyon 1157th The Cathedral of Laon is also part of this early phase of the Gothic.


Laon was French in the 9th and 10th century capital. Twenty to thirty years after Noyon in 1150 was started here in 1170 /80 the construction of the Gothic cathedral. And here is the facade, which was created in 1190, well above St- Denis addition. In the history of Gothic Kathedralfassade Laon marked a turning point. Made famous is the utterance of Villard de Honnecourt from the beginning of the 13th century. "I have seen many countries, [ ... ] but in no place have I ever seen such a tower as that of Laon is one. " Such towers in the characteristic shape of perforated come here for the first time, were instantly famous at that time and have - even though they are unfinished - numerous imitations found, for example in Bamberg and Naumburg.

With the façade we have a strong break the horizontal, a very dominating midfield with the first rose window of the Gothic style and a distinctive portal zone with three porches and deep wall cutouts in the window downstairs. From the formerly flat wall surface nothing is there then the whole façade is placed in a powerful dynamic movement, divided into several layers of space, as the key innovation " ascend in succession " and see the towers of their increase. " A triumphant train comes into the input side, and you realize that have been linked to later shop fronts of cathedrals in Chartres, Amiens and Reims at the dramatic example of Laon. ". They sought the balance between the balanced, static solution of Paris and the dramatic experiment of Laon

These towers of Laon have become famous not only for its extensive plastic through breakdown of the masonry, but also because they introduced for the first time from a square base to an octagonal on the upper floors, which was often imitated from there also. The upper two floors are octagonal in its core and in every other corner is the large two-storey spire with the oxen. This is also a moment of rotation has entered into the towers.

Model for this tower form - or at least a simultaneous similar construction - to which the builders of Laon perhaps built, is the important Cathedral in Tournai in present-day Wallonia in Belgium. Their famous five- tower group is the only example of a planned completion of a fünftürmigen Ostchorgruppe - consisting of four towers and a central tower choir edge. The nave of Tournai was started in 1125, the transept with the towers at the turn 12-13. Century - was therefore begun at the time, as well as the facade of Laon (not completed at that time were, however, the upper floors of the towers ). There may be here so relationships, and Tournai should have been the model.

It can be assumed with certainty that the builder knew of Laon Cathedral of Tournai, especially the bishop of Noyon adjacent to 1146 in personal union was bishop of Tournai simultaneously. The builders of large cathedrals obtained their office only after a long apprenticeship, included many trips to the relevant buildings of the history of Western art to the.

The 16 oxen

The towers are dissolved in a delicate member system and have an absolute rarity in Western architecture: namely the full sculptures by 16 oxen on the top floor, which protrude between the columns. The history of art has of course often thought about what it means this unique design, but found no clear explanation.

An earlier view it as meaning that the builders wanted to so inform the numerous oxen a memorial stone, who helped in the construction of the cathedral, by having contrived the stone material on countless carts. "Today there is a tendency to more spiritual, symbolträchtigeren explanations and suggested rather an allusion to the ox, which were shown by the Book of Kings in the courtyard of the Temple of Solomon. "


Laon has not only these two western towers, but a total of five (similar Tournai ). There were plans for as many as seven: apart from the two west towers, two at the transept facades and a central tower. That was a completely new idea ( For the general meaning of the towers see Pevsner, pp. 160 ff). For the later construction of Chartres eight towers were originally provided for Reims even ten. But the commitment to these major projects subsided always significantly after these churches were handed over to their actual function, and therefore there has been no cases to the large tower number ( Binding, p 140).

The English Choir

The choir is much bigger than the other early Gothic choirs in France. He looks like a long house and is not closed round but rectangular. This has something to do with the very strong relationship between England and France at that time. At that time, these two countries were politically not so clearly separated as they are today.

The Cathedral of Laon was constructed in two major phases. The first began in 1160, the second to 1190th The choir was originally polygonal, ie closed almost round like the other French churches. In the second phase but it was based on English models, which almost invariably from a rectangular choir. One of the reasons for the large size of the English choirs and thus also of the Laoner choir is that this space should be created for the tombs of the canons, which were to be buried in the choir.


The nave of Laon goes a step further than that in Noyon: here there is no alternation of supports, but only columns. It makes for the visual impression of a Gothic interior is an essential difference whether the columns of the nave are the pillars or columns. Pillars, at least the previous early Gothic forms, to emphasize the very severity and impact of the walls. Here in Laon, where there are only columns, the architecture has a much lighter and more open, the Soil Heavy is taken. The much-cited support system of Gothic occurs here already pronounced in appearance. The impression of space is determined by the pull-up off the floor to the vault vertical lines that seem to grip the yokes and thus the whole structure between them., Yokes ' are the successive spatial units of a church, consisting of a nave and an aisle field. The combination of the nave field and the accompanying aisle fields is called the Gothic period ' travée '.

However, it must be emphasized restrictive that there is also a strong horizontal division into four different projectiles, especially that arises because the services do not go through to the bottom, but rest on the column capitals. The result is the impression that the columns to the upper floors " bear " who get so a slightly floating appearance. That will change in the High Gothic period, in Chartres and Bourges. Because the galleries will be eliminated, which form a dominant horizontal element. And it will be the service bundles occupy the entire available length of the line progression: from a column base, ie from from earth, on the vault across to the other column base on the opposite side. This will emphasize the Jochcharakter of the nave - the room is in a rapid succession of the same spatial units - and it is the vertical integration emphasize the height increase. Laon has, inter alia, also why "nor" galleries, because was collected about these galleries the vault thrust in the period before the invention of the strut plant 1160 /80.

Such service bundles here rise up from the column capitals of the vaulting ribs. They hardly have a static meaning. They should only make the principle of construction of the building significantly. Each rib of the vault and the window zone is visible rest on the column and therefore gets its own service, which symbolically passes her weight down.

Technically if you had the arch pressure course in the wall down and also on the pillars and the buttresses outside can be derived directly. Here, however, it comes down to - and even that is a contrast to the Romanesque architecture - to make the force of such currents Cathedral visible to use as a vehicle of expression, in order to emphasize the character of the building as a representation active active energies. Günther Binding speaks here of " illusion architecture" ( Binding, p 293). These are similar principles as in, splitting the wall ' in Sens and the conversion of the wall in an image area were already effective. The 12 pillars of the nave, which mean the apostles of the New Testament, will thus be seen for each of the building of this church, which symbolizes the order of the divine world on earth (12 is also the completeness and Saints number 12 disciples of Jesus, 12 tribes Israel, 12 hours, 12 months. ).

The wall structure is the same as in Noyon, but get here completely original, even without tracery windows in the clerestory. A characteristic falls within the historical retrospective on but: here there is no clear grouping of two yokes into a unit more like cathedrals so far, but nevertheless still a six -part vaults.

The nave vault shows with which crystalline, mathematical clarity of the whole building is constructed. Of the supporting pillars, the movement of the services in the vaulted ribs goes on and on the other side back down - or rather the movement trend is from both sides through to the top.

However, if you look closely, it is striking that the number of services that rises from the columns is not the same. There are alternately three or five services. That a certain Ungleichgewichtigkeit of the yokes has been preserved, and as far as the six-part vault is still justified. But you can see that now only a small step is necessary to compensate for these differences and to bring to an identical series of the Mittelschiffjoche. This step is then fully pull Notre -Dame in Paris.

The church originally had - as is usual - a round chancel with chapels. The main facade, and the facades of the transepts should be framed by towers. This was completed only at the main facade, the towers on the transept remained piecemeal.

A seventh tower over the crossing should emphasize the impression of vieltürmigen, the heavenly Jerusalem, as described in the Bible.

It also puzzled about the reason why it was demolished in the interior even after 40 years of round the choir room and replaced by a straight wall. This ensures high uniformity is achieved: All four "houses" end in such a wall with a rose window - an element that was also used here for the first time in Laon.

That this unified impression of the room was the decisive factor for the conversion seems to be obvious by another aspect: During construction the builders took no change in style before, though by the great cathedrals (Paris 1163, Chartres 1194) long ago other components "modern" were. In contrast, Laon was built in 1200 the new choir room as well as the nave.

A design element of Laon was not taken up again in later times: The four -piece wall construction. Only the cathedral of Soissons (20 years later ) and the Romanesque (!) Limburg Cathedral (60 years later), grab this on again. The "classic" Gothic wall structure is in three parts.

The building is a historical monument since 1840. In the years 1853-1913 the cathedral was restored.


The organ was built in 1899 by organ builder Henri Didier ( Epinal ). The Orgelhäuse is older. It is the case of the first organ that was built in 1700. The instrument has 54 registers on three manuals and pedal. The play and Registertrakturen are mechanical.

The color in medieval churches

Some details of a lower semicircular canal show any ink residue. And here can again point out that the medieval architecture always worked with colors ( Binding, p 285). It has unfortunately become accustomed to these structures in the so-called Steinsichtigkeit: to leave ( oursel, p 62 " stone Romanticism") and many visitors therefore believe that this image corresponds to the original impression. A decree of the Paris Prefect of the 13th century decreed that not a figure of stone may be made which is not provided with polychrome painting, it was for a church or other location determined ( Binding, p 286). Not only the big windows were full color, and the walls were partially covered with frescoes and the individual structural architectural elements were distinguished by color from each other. At the remains of the obtained color you can see here. Original paint residues were often found on the organ galleries, where the walls were covered by the later built organ so that they could not cover up or wanted.

The theme color in the medieval buildings is for today's historic preservation has long been a hot button issue. One knows that initially much of it was painted, especially portals, rose windows and parts of the towers ( Swaan, p 117), but one does not usually know how, at least not exactly (see Disappearance Inventarium. The Sculpture Fund in the Cologne Cathedral Choir. Cologne 1984 ). We are better informed about the interiors. In general it can be said that basically the architectural elements were color lifted from the base, so for example, a service from the service template or the wall. In most cases, only a few colors came to bear and sharp contrasts were avoided in order not to superimpose the effect of stained glass windows. Preferred basic colors were white and ocher, red and Pinks (walnut, p 163).