Up the long flight of stairs
every tread echoes from stone walls
as if to comment on how stillness
tells of sound its silent origin.
In the quiet library, the central table
bears a careful written message:
‘Silence is spoken here’..
and that’s truer than
It first appears to read.
Michael Shepherd – The Monastery
The bees were still in the tree in front of Mme Lysensoone’s kitchen when I came down for breakfast.
Having consumed what seemed like a couple of pints of coffee from a bowl, I began to appreciate why my father always insisted on drinking his morning coffee from a bowl ‘à la française’ while smoking a cigarette and doing The Times crossword!
Over breakfast we discussed a curious incident that had occurred the previous evening. At 7.30pm, after I had retired to my room, Mme Lysensoone had received a mysterious knock on the door. An Englisman in his 60’s who looked extremely dishevelled and hadn’t made a reservation, appeared on her doorstep and asked if he could stay the night! Mme Lysensoone apologised that she unfortunately had no rooms spare. The Englishman, who had driven from Calais in an extremely old and dirty car and had not eaten supper ( it was Sunday and the shop in the village was shut) then reluctantly got back into his car and drove off. “C’était tres bizarre” Mme Lysensoone opined.
Conversation then turned to the monastic life enjoyed by the Benedictine monks and nuns of the Abbeys of St Paul and Notre Dame at Wisques. It was a simple way of life without many of the pressures of modern life, Mme Lysensoone explained, and added that the monastic way of life had many therapeutic benefits to boot.
She then went on to recount the tale of a local farmer who had been suffering from an ailment which affected his arm, preventing him from carrying out his work properly. At his wife’s end when drugs had failed to remedy his ailment, he had decided to give up work and go on a pilgrimage to Rome. When he returned after 6 months on the road, his arm was miraculously healed. Mme Lysensoone ended the story by drawing up the sleeve of her blouse and flourishing her unblemished bare arm for dramatic effect!
It was sad to say goodbye to Mme Lysensoone and her bees. A neighbour’s dog was curled up contentedly in the dining room as I wrote some suitably effusive comments in the visitors’ book, put ‘le picnic’ in my rucksack and headed up the hill out of Tournehem-sur-la-hem.
Although Mme Lysensoone’s chambre d’hote was technically a ‘donativo’, she’d given me a much warmer welcome than some of the places I’d stayed in England on my walk which had charged quadruple the price!
I almost missed the ancient windmill at Nort-Leulinghem. Built in 1854, the windmill is now a refuge for abused teenagers and their destitute parents as part of a charity called ‘Soleil,1,2,3’ that was set up by a local resident Angélique Delpaut.
“I grew up in the village as a child and the windmill was my playground” remembers Angélique who is known as ‘Angie’ by the children.
It was by far the warmest day of my walk so far. The temperature must have been in the 80s, and although it was only 20km from Tournehem to Wisques, at times it felt more than twice the distance. By lunchtime, the water in my SIGG water bottles had turned distinctly tepid and tasted like the inside of a Greek wrestler’s jockstrap. I ended up pouring the contents over my head in an effort to cool down!
After a quick pit stop for lunch, the VF transitioned onto the ancient road running 50km from Sangatte to Thérouanne known as La Leulène. The route which dates back to Roman or pre-Roman times, would have been the same route taken by Archbishop Sigeric when he travelled from Canterbury to Rome in 990 AD to receive his pallium from the Pope.
In the garden of a house in the small hamlet of Leulinghem I came across a Roman legionary telling me that there was only another 1,648 km to walk until I reached Rome and that I had walked 107 km from Canterbury. Somehow it felt like more!
I made it to Wisques at around 4pm, and passing the Abbey of Saint Paul ( monks only), made my way up the hill to the Abbey of Notre- Dame (nuns only).
The first nuns arrived at Wisques in 1889. For the last 120 years, the nuns have continued to follow the Benedictine Rule. Their day is shaped around services conducted in Gregorian chant, prayer, work, silent contemplation and studying the lectio divina; their enclosed life is completely focussed on the search for God.
Currently there are about 20 sisters in the Abbey of Notre- Dame at Wisques who live together fraternally observing the Rule of St Benedict. The liturgical life marks the rhythm of their life, throughout each day and season of the year.
The sisters work together in the kitchen garden, orchard, and the workshop where they decorate ceramics, knit, bind books, and welcome pilgrims like myself to their guesthouse, a former hunting lodge.
As I made my way towards the Abbey, my attention was grabbed by a figure waving her arms frantically and shouting what sounded like “Cooey!”. It was Soeur Lucie, one of the nuns at the Abbey, whom I had emailed with my arrival details. She was expecting me and showed me to my room.
I asked her if she had come across my neighbour in Wiltshire, Brian Franklin. She had. Then I mentioned Harry Bucknall’s name. He was another Englishman, a journalist and a former soldier who stayed here 10 years ago, I told her. Soeur Lucie looked puzzled for a moment but then her face lit up. “Ah yes, Monsieur Harry. I remember now. He was walking to raise money for wounded soldiers”.
After I had taken a welcome shower and completed an overdue clothes wash, Soeur Lucie poked her head around the door to my room and enquired; “Our evening meal is at 7pm and we then have Compline and Gregorisn chant in the Abbey. Will you be joining us?”.
I paused for a moment then smiled and answered that I would. It seemed like the perfect end to another rewarding day on the Via Francigena!