Day 20: Walking into Laon we had a glimpse of what it may have been like being a pilgrim approaching the 12th and 13th Century stone Gothic Laon Cathedral.
Laon Cathedral with its imposing towers and its beautiful Gothic architecture was of great importance as a major stop on the medieval pilgrimage route to Santiago in Spain.
Dominating The Landscape
As we were a few miles out from the imposing hill top town we could see it from the surrounding countryside. Even from afar it dominated the landscape.
Entering The City
Approaching from the north we passed wooded areas before making the steep climb to the outer fortified city walls on top of the hill. Skirting the 6 metre high stone walls for some time we entered the narrrow streets lined with old multi-storey buildings.
As we approached the centre of Laon the towering cathedral came into view. Reaching the cathedral I was awe struck at the cathedral’s facade.
While other pilgrims rested their weary feet in the square’s cafe after a long walk and climb, the mass of stone together with the lofty cliff-like height and the intricately carved portal left me enthralled and unable to take my eyes off it, like a smitten teenager from the object of their affection.
While others rested their weary feet after the long day and climb in a cafe in the square I just couldn’t stop looking at the building. The massive amount of stone and height standing cliff like together with the incredible stone figures and detailing left me feeling like a teenager who had fallen in love and couldn’t keep his eyes off the object of their affections.
Laon Cathedral is the beginning of a long lineage of Gothic architecture which continues with cathedrals in Paris, Chartres, Amiens, and Reims, all influenced by Laon.
Carved Stone Animals
The intricately carved stone animals and figures together with the interior’s relatively simple detailing and grandeur left me understanding what it was like for simple pilgrims to witness such splendour.
The flying hippopotamus and rhinoceros gargoyles really caught my imagination – can you imagine early pilgrims peering up at what to them would have been strange mythical creatures.
Refuge and Peace
Within the cathedral the coolness was welcoming. There was a pervading sense of peace, of arrival, refuge. Within this echoing cavern with coloured light filtering from the heavenly clerestory surrounded by stone and history we were safe.
The towering heights of the pointed vaults, stain glass windows and hallowed spaciousness would have equally left early pilgrims awe struck.
Laon Cathedral to me was a masterpiece of Gothic architecture that has been my favourite cathedral along the pilgrimage to date. Reims which we visited a few days later didn’t have the same effect on me.