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Visiting Laon Cathedral, Laon, France: imposing Medieval structure at the brow of a hill

Updated on July 2, 2012
Flag of France
Flag of France | Source
Laon Cathedral
Laon Cathedral | Source
Rose windows, western frontage, Laon Cathedral
Rose windows, western frontage, Laon Cathedral | Source
West towers, Laon Cathedral Source:
West towers, Laon Cathedral Source: | Source
Map location of Laon canton and 'arrondissement', Aisne, France
Map location of Laon canton and 'arrondissement', Aisne, France | Source

Primitive Gothic, 100 metres above the town

Laon Cathedral (French: Cathédrale de Laon ) has a most imposing location at the top of a hill in Laon, in the northern department of Aisne, in France's Picardy (French: Picardie ) region.

Some history and features

Even without its hilltop situation, however, the Cathedral is a veritable masterpiece of striking Medieval architecture and craftsmanship.

Built between 1155 and 1235, thus elevated 100 metres above the town, the Cathedral is erected on the site of an earlier church dating from the 8th century,

The building possesses five towers, one of which is supposed to have been built in honour of Thomas à Becket (1), who came to Laon in 1163. Originally, seven towers were planned. Ornate, arched portals are situated at the west front.

There are outstanding examples of Medieval stained glass windows at the Cathedral, including a rose window at the west front. It possesses a fine lantern. Among interior features are its nave with gallery arching and rib vaulting.

The architectural style in which the Cathedral is built is sometimes referred to as Primitive Gothic. Indeed, Laon Cathedral is regarded as one of the truly outstanding examples of Gothic, in some ways comparable with the Cathedrals of Reims and Paris - Notre Dame.

The Cathedral is also noted for its ornate gargoyles, depicting various animals, carved on its exterior walls: doubtless a tribute to the Medieval imagination of their masons!

Interestingly, the Cathedral did not sustain any harm during either World Wars One or Two, unlike the fate of not few of France's ecclesiastical buildings. However, it did suffer some damage during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870.

One of my abiding impressions of Laon was that in some ways it seems to have changed very little over the passage of hundreds of years.

July 2, 2012


(1) Thomas à Becket (c. 1118-1170), Archbishop of Canterbury, executed at the orders of the Plantagenet English King Henry II, reputedly at the words of his command: 'Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?' (Other variations of Henry II's outburst also exist.)

Also worth seeing

In Laon itself, there are various buildings dating from the Middle Ages, some of which are connected with the Cathedral; the town is known for its floral competitions.

Guise (distance: 41 kilometres) has a Medieval castle associated with dukes prominent in French history.

Reims (distance: 61 kilometres); its Medieval Cathedral was the venue for the coronation of many of the Kings of France.

Bouillon , Belgium (distance: 180 kilometres) has a Medieval castle linked with Crusader Godefoid de Bouillon.


How to get there: United Airlines flies from New York Newark to Paris (Aéroport Paris-Charles de Gaulle ), from where car rental is available (distance from Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport to Laon: .114 kilometres). The French railroad company SNCF maintains a service between Paris-Gare du Nord and Laon stations. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Please note that some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. Please refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.


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    • MJFenn profile image

      MJFenn 5 years ago

      This Medieval Cathedral is certainly in an impressive location. Thank-you for your comment.

    • mecheshier profile image

      mecheshier 5 years ago

      Wow, what an amazing place. Love the pics and descriptions. Thank you for sharing. Voted up for beautiful.