The Laufmaschine, or running machine, was invented by a German aristocrat, Karl Drais, in 1817. It’s generally considered to be the precursor of the modern bicycle, but was hardly built for speed. It was a two-wheeled vehicle, propelled by the rider pushing with the feet along the ground at walking or running speed. One theory is that Drais’s invention was a response to the appalling summer of 1816, when the poor harvest resulted in a lack of oats to feed the horses which were so essential for transport: the Laufmaschine was, in effect, a substitute horse that enabled humans to pull carts.
All a far cry from the lightweight, hi-tech machines (complete with pedals) the cyclists will be using in the Tour de France this year and which we’ll be able to glimpse, fleetingly, as they speed past us on their progress through north Yorkshire on the first weekend of July. Our parish will be the base for thousands of visitors who will be making their way to the various spectator hubs nearby; and the Priory Church will be open all weekend to welcome any who wish to find space for a moment away from the crowds.
Unsurprisingly scripture is silent on the matter of bicycles: a Laufmaschine would have been considered just as hi-tech as a bicycle with a monocoque carbon fibre frame. However, scripture is far from silent on our obligation to welcome the stranger in our midst. Through such welcome, the writer of the letter of the Hebrews reminds us, some have ‘entertained angels unawares’. The open doors of the Priory, God’s house, speak of the open invitation of God himself to any – and to all. Bienvenue au Tour! Bienvenue aux touristes!