The square chevet of Laon Cathedral
Smith, Rebecca Avery
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The cathedral of Notre Dame in Laon, France, represents an unusual example of French Early Gothic architecture. Until ca. 1205, Laon Cathedral incorporated a conventional French Gothic design including a round chevet after which the chevet was dismantled and reconstructed with a square design. To date, scholarship has not offered a convincing explanation either for the change in the chevet or for the adoption of such a non-traditional design. Evidence from the history of the cathedral’s construction suggests that the chevet was rebuilt in between the stages of the crossing tower’s reconstruction. Given the scarcity of crossing towers within Early Gothic cathedrals, it is possible that the canons were concerned about the structural stability of their tower and chose to build a square chevet as a precaution. Laon may have copied an English Gothic model, where crossing towers and square chevets were common, as a precedent for the new design.