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Day 2. From the Abbaye Notre Dame de Scourmont to Laon, 90 km

Updated: Sep 12, 2023

This morning I get up early. Floky only wants to get up at 8:45. After a nice shower I'm at the Lauden at 6:30 am. We thank God for a new day. Then at 7:15 am I have a nice breakfast in silence and without my partner. I have breakfast with the fathers, but Floky wanted to sleep for a long time. As I leave the cafeteria, a French-speaking 55-year-old man approaches me and asks in fluent Dutch where we are going today. He saw the placard on my bike. I tell him that we are driving to Laon and explain that we are doing this for our grandchild and brother. The man's name is Robert. He wipes away a tear and after a long silence he adds that years ago he and his wife also lost a child to illness. He wishes us a safe journey, squeezes my hand firmly, asks for the card with information about the Rinus Pini fund and gives me a last smile and thumbs up. I'm going to wake up Floris. I took him a double cappuccino in the cafeteria. that was allowed or better of the brother hotelier. At 9:15 am we are ready for the start of our second day. 85 km over a hilly landscape and a large part through the OISE. Under a blue sky we leave for Laon, where we will admire the cathedral with the oxen. Floris is wearing a helmet as it is compulsory for minors in France.

Floris with helmet, wheat fields and woods

Floris and I slept well and are no longer bothered by the 135 km cycling to Chimay. After an hour of cycling, all muscles loosen up. On the way, Floky eats the last two sandwiches from the day before. I had promised him that he would get a nice French “petit pain” from the first baker. However, the region is so rural that we only see our first bakery in Laon at 3 o'clock in the afternoon.

Floky loves the beautiful landscapes with beautiful wheat, corn and potato fields. But he loves riding in the woods even more and this will be a treat for him: a long part of the route runs through the woods of the valley of the Oise, beautiful nature. A bit bumpy, but still safe. The harvest is in full swing and the pickers are hard at work everywhere because it is dry. Like yesterday there is too much headwind which is tiring with our heavily loaded bikes. Laon, in the Aisne region, is situated on top of a steep hill and you can see the cathedral standing majestically on its hill from far. We stop at the first supermarket and buy the necessary provisions for a late lunch (3 pm). Floky watches the bikes and I go shopping. Then up the steep hill because we are staying at Rue du Cloître 22, near the cathedral, at a 100 meter walk. It is a mansion where an old lady, Mme Tordeur, lives and rents out rooms only to pilgrims. She is not on the internet and has no internet (so no emails!) but she is very friendly and helpful even though she has difficulty walking; severe diabetes, she says. Her house is (like Laon) on the one hand on the Via Francigena, the pilgrimage route to Rome (with the tomb of Saint Peter) from Canterbury via Arras, Laon to Lausanne, Luca and then Rome. On the other hand, Laon is located on a secondary pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela (to the tomb of Saint James) which takes pilgrims from Belgium to the via Turonensis and Chartres and then on to Tours and Bordeaux and Spain, etc. The third major pilgrimage route is the one to Jerusalem to visit the tomb of Jesus Christ. I

The old city gate of Laon, Floris in the streets of Laon and our bedroom

It is a house full of memories and full of old furniture and so is our room with two beds. After we have parked our bikes in the garage to charge the batteries and after a short shower, we visit the cathedral at the highest point of the old city on the hill. The new town is at the bottom of the hill. The nickname of the town of Loan is the “Montagne couronnee” or the “crowned hill”. The cathedral is exactly a crown (of Mary) on top of the rocky hill. This coronation is therefore one of the (repeated) main themes of the stone iconography of this cathedral. It is an example of a "classical" early Gothic cathedral built between the 12th and 13th century with four floors. There are beautiful 12th and 13th century stained glass windows. Of the original 7 towers, 5 are still visible. Very special is the rectangular choir: there are only three such choirs in France. All the others have a semi-circular choir with several radiating chapels. The English churches and cathedrals very often have a rectangular choir, I think it is something typically English. Here you have three beautiful long-shaped stained glass windows (referring to the trinity of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit) and a beautiful rose window on top.

The towers of the west facade are decorated with 16 life-size statues of oxen, a hippopotamus and a rhinoceros. The oxen are a tribute to the help of the animals who used to pull the carts with stones to build the cathedral. from the quarries at the foot of the Laon hill to build the church. Oxen often have something to do with miracles. A legend of the monk Guibert de Nogent tells that an overloaded horse and cart failed to overcome the steep slope of the hill. Then suddenly, as if by miracle, a white ox appeared and helped pull the cart and everything ended well. The white ox disappeared after offering help and that was considered a sign from heaven and a miracle. Those who have more time than we have, can also visit the following monuments in Laon: the Abbaye Saint Vincent built at the end of the 11th century. Nearby is the Commanderie or Chapelle des Templiers, an octagonal building (symbol of the Resurrection) dating from around 1140, reminiscent of the Holy Sepulcher Chapel in Jerusalem. Finally, there is the abbey complex of Saint-Martin, which was an impressive and influential abbey. It was founded in the 12th century by Saint Norbertus and he installed 12 regular (Norbertine) canons. The wealth of the abbey was due to the exploitation of the vineyards. After an hour's visit to the cathedral (which was a long time for Floky, but he did it!) we walk around the city and soak up the atmosphere. Then we buy pizza and eat it in the courtyard of the house in peace. At 8 pm I lie in bed to fall asleep a few minutes later.

Floris and opa in front of Laon cathedral with its beautiful stained windows and statues of oxen .

I mentioned earlier in this text that the three great pilgrimage sites for the Catholic faithful were Jerusalem, Rome, and Santiago. Flemings have a preference for Santiago, but I don't know why. All the pilgrims have always worn a sign on their hats or cloaks that refers to the places of pilgrimage they visited. On the hat of pilgrims to the tomb of Santiago one usually finds the shell, the symbol of Saint James par excellence. Also sometimes called "bordoncillos" - small twisted pilgrim's staffs (made of bone, lead or ivory) that were attached to the front of the hat. Saint Jacob himself always wears a pilgrim's hat, his cloak, a pilgrim's staff, a pilgrim's bag with a shell on it and a drinking bottle in the shape of a gourd The pilgrims to the tomb of Peter in Rome along the Via Francigena carry, as a symbol of their journey, the keys of Peter (crossed), a small bust of Peter (with key) and Paul (with sword) and a veroniké or image of the Veronica -cloth). Pilgrims to Jerusalem who went to visit the Holy Sepulcher of Jesus Christ returned with a palm branch badge referring to Jesus' entry into Jerusalem; sometimes they wear the Jerusalem cross or the cross and the palm branch.

Tomorrow a tough day awaits us with 100 km of cycling. We drive past Compiègne in the direction of Beauvais and stay in the small village of Avrigny. Magda always arranges simple but pleasant places to rest. But before leaving Laon we are going to have breakfast with our dear Mrs. Tordeur.

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