Page:Notes and Queries - Series 11 - Volume 11.djvu/92

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NOTES AND QUERIES. [11 s. xi. JAN. so, in*


reproach themselves for not having tried to save treasures which, once destroyed or injured, no effort can or could restore.

Since Laon is a stopping-place on the direct Lcndres-Calais-Bale route, even a hasty American motorist of the sort who allot a bare half-hour to St. Pierre at Beauvais and overlook St. ]tieime alto- gether conlcl scarcely fail to notice that almost semicircular hill, rising so strangely out of the plains of France, crowned with the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Laon deserves more prolonged attention. It is a most interesting little city ; and its ancient Hotel de la Hure there are others, of course is, or, alas ! perhaps was, an ideal hostelry for the right kind of pilgrim.

The local historian of the Cathedral, M. le Chanoine Bouxir, not vouching for the legend of an earlier chapel established by the traditional apostle of the Laonnais, St. Beatus, claims that, at any rate, a Church of St. Mary sheltered the youth of St. Remi, which carries us back securely to the fifth century. The date of the present building has been a matter of dis- pute, but it seems probable that it was begun about the middle of the twelfth century, and was not finished till the close of the first third of the thirteenth. It thus coincides in time with the work of St. Hugh at Lincoln, comprising the choir and eastern transept, and with Lincoln's nave, planned and partly executed by Hugh de Wells and finished by Grosseteste. But the interest- ing fact of this comparison is that while these portions of Lincoln are pure Gothic, the early part of Laon is still " Romano - ogival."

The main modification of the original plan is the substitution, in the thirteenth century, of a square - ended choir for the original apse, a feature ascribed by Parker to the influence of a bishop, William the .Englishman, who is supposed also to be responsible for the " square ends " common in the diocese. Viollet-le-Duc, however, attributes it to the dull motive of econonrv. Anyhow, Laon lacks the apsidal chevet which adorns most French cathedrals. While to the student of architecture the whole building is full of interest and charm, it also appeals most powerfully to less technically instructed wanderers. Fortu- nate above most in its commanding site, it is still more so in its preservation of so many of its ancient towers. Reims lost four in the fifteenth-century fire, Chartres only finished two of its intended eight, but five grace Laon. Of the two, infinitely


light and graceful, crowning the western portal the thirteenth - century architect, Vilart de Honnecourt, wrote: "En aucun liu oncques tel tor no vi com est cele de Loon" ("Never anywhere have I seen a tower like Laon's'"). They not only charm by their supreme grace, but they also bear the effigies of the great whit bullocks who, standing at the corners, ga.ze benignly down on the low-lying ground, whence their patient originals in real life dragged the stones for the Cathedral up that arduous ascent.

In the interior an interesting feature is to be found in the lateral chapels of the nave, now, unfortunately, diverted from their proper use, and filled with broken sculpture. Those of the choir, however, are still devoted to their own purpose ; and in the first of these, on the Northern side, is preserved Laon's great treasure (removed, one hopes, to a place of safety), ' La Sainte Face,' the Byzantine portrait on wax of our Lord sent by Jacques Pantaleon, afterwards Pope Urban IV., to his sister, the Abbess of Montreuil-en-Thierache, whence it passed later into the Tresor of Laon Cathedral. Rescued from, the dangers of the Revolution by a Laonnais named Lob joy, it has been ever an object of veneration to the faithful all through Laon's peaceful days. On the occasion of an " Office de la Sainte Face," when the covering is withdrawn, and the grave, penetrating Byzantine eyes hold the spectator entranced and seem to pierce his very soul, it is hard indeed to believe it is just merely human work. As the Vicar - General of the Cathedral writes: "Si Ton s'arrete dans la contemplation de cette peinture, il est difficile de ne pas ressentir une profonde emotion."

Space does not permit more than men- tion of the sculpture, especially that of the pillar capitals, of the beauty and interest of the triforium gallery above the ambulatory, and of the cathedral - like Church of St. Martin at the other end of the city. The poignant fact for lovers of French Gothic in general, and of Laon in particular, is that all this lies at the mercy of the desecrators of the glory of Reims and the perfection of Soissons.

Can civilized people really do nothing (belligerents' protests would, perhaps, be futile) nothing at all to bring home to the Teutonic mind that after such deeds the end of the war will not mark the end of Germany's shame ? Can America, e.g., say nothing effectual ? The Americans are surely not wholly nor best represented by