Art and Architecture in Medieval France: Medieval Architecture, Sculpture, Stained Glass, Manuscripts, the Art of the Church Treasuries

By Whitney S. Stoddard | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 11
The Cathedral of Noyon

EVERY Early Gothic cathedral possesses an indivduality which makes it different, as a total architectural statement, from all others. Noyon (figs. 153-161) is no exception. Located due west of Laon, Noyon lies just outside the twelfth-century boundaries of the royal domain and just over sixty miles north of Paris. The town has a varied history. Here Charlemagne was crowned King of the Franks, and Hugh Capet was elected the first Capetian in 987. Noyon started as a Roman camp and became and remained an important trading center. Charles Seymour's book (see bibliography) gives a lucid analysis of the cathedral and at the same time sets it in its historical framework. His discussion of the historical, political-economic, and religious environment out of which the cathedral grew is a fascinating story which should someday be written for all Gothic cathedrals.

Noyon is centered in the Oise River basin and is surrounded by rich agricultural land. Traffic into the Seine via the Oise and on the two major roads, north and south from Paris to Flanders and east and west from the Channel ports to fairs of Champagne, made the physical location of Noyon of paramount importance. The taxes imposed on goods entering and leaving Noyon augmented the treasury of the chapter and the bishop-count.

As Seymour points out, the Bishop-Count of Noyon combined in one person the churchman and the feudal lord. Although a suffragan to the Archbishop of Reims, the Bishop of Noyon had an enormous jurisdictional and economic role in his town. His extensive revenues, when made available to the chapter of the cathedral, helped tremendously with the building campaigns. A series of strong bishops dominated Noyon, starting in 1122 and continuing into the early years of the thirteenth century. All these bishop-counts served not only as the ecclesiastical bishops of Noyon but also as one of the king's twelve peers who advised him on the administration of the monarchy.

The monarchy did not contain Noyon within its boundaries, but only twelve miles distant is the royal town of Compiègne. In any external or internal disagreements, the kings of France usually backed the bishop-counts of Noyon. Louis VII made five visits to Noyon, and toward the end of the twelfth century Philip Augustus confirmed the charter of 1181 and resolved a series of disputes.

The commune, which operated under a charter of 1108, gave control to its richer members and, since it remained primarily a vassal of the bishop, had little legislative power. Thus, the commune, with the guilds, played only a small role in the construction of the cathedral. On the other hand, the cathedral chapter was closely associated with the building campaigns. The chapter, even though it was secularized in the twelfth century, still maintained a quasi-monastic form, with chapter house, treasury, and elaborate houses in front of the cathedral (see air view, fig. 161). The chapter consisted of sixty-nine canons; being immune from secular intervention, it exercised a great deal of power. Its vast holdings included mills, vineyards, and forests. Revenues came from outside the town as well as from tolls within the walls.

The prize possession of the Noyon chapter was the body of Saint Eloi, a seventh-century bishop. Saint Eloi was reputed to cure flowing ulcers and often served as the major protector of the Noyon

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