Monday, July 8, 2013

Some thoughts From the Cathedral in Laon

Yesterday we visited the delightful hill town of Laon and its beautiful early thirteenth century Cathedral.  While it will take me years to unpack what I have learned on this trip, I’ll offer a few random reflections on some amusing things we noticed in the course of yesterday’s visit.

The façade of most every late medieval church portrays the last judgment on either the inside or the outside of its portals as a reminder to those coming and going of the purpose of their lives. 

Laon has a wonderful last judgment over the right door of the cathedral as you enter.  Christ, in glory, returns with the Apostles seated on throne to judge the living and the dead, the latter of whom rise form their graves at his feet.  The actual judgment is in the rectangular panel below, which is divided into a left and a right scene.

To the left, an angel gives the good news to the saved, who will soon ascend to heavenly bliss.

To the right, the damned receive the bad news that they are damned with sadness and tears. Notably, the most prominent among the damned is a Bishop and two monks!

Over the central door there is a delightful little man holding up the capitol and the whole church which rests upon it.  All I could think of is how his back must ache after nearly a millennium of work!

And then there are the three youths in the fiery furnace with Christ (he has the biggest head).  I was intrigued by the expressions on their faces.  Christ has a quiet, compassionate confidence, while, the youth to the left looks down thoughtfully.  The other too look upward, as if inspired to trust in the heavenly promise.  The whole scene is characterized by a certain peace, despite the  flames lapping all around them.

Here’s the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem which we commemorate in the Liturgy of Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord.  What strikes me about the design of this window is its similarity to the emphasis on the individual characters and their relationship with each other which we see so often in Giotto’s frescoes.  As in Giotto, you have a couple of folks (looks like Peter and another apostle) following behind and observing the scene.  Then Christ sits on a donkey with his hand in blessing, while one of the children acclaiming him is represented by a tiny head in a tree.  Christ gazes at the child with love as the child stares back at his Lord.  Finally, just like Giotto, there’s the donkey, whose expression is designed to delight every little child whose grandmother points him out as she tells the story of our salvation.

Finally, there is this great depiction of Abraham and Isaac by the entrance to the cathedral.  Abraham stands looking up to God, a knife for the sacrifice in his hand and a lamb beneath his feet.  Isaac stands, bound hands and feet, as his father places his left hand on his head.  
What amuses me in the look on the face of Isaac as it seems to suddenly dawn on him what is about to happen!  Of course, God will stay the hand of Abraham and deliver Isaac from the plight he fears.  Maybe there’s a lesson in that for all of us.

Greetings from France!  Today we're off to Troyes!