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BBC article: Road 1000 years old ...

amorfati1

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
2014_Caminho Portuguese (Lisboa to Santiago_4 weeks in May)
#1
BBC article on Via Francigena

Thirty years ago, few people had ever heard of the Via Francigena: a 2,000km medieval pilgrimage route that snakes a path from Canterbury all the way to Rome.

  • By Breena Kerr
4 December 2018

I was walking through a centuries-old village in northern Tuscany with not another human in sight. To my right, a few horses grazed in a large paddock. To my left, beyond an old stone house that looked as though it had stood for hundreds of years, a thick copse expanded into a forest of oak, chestnut, holly and ash trees. There was no sound except the buzzing of insects and the drumbeat of my feet hitting the path – a path that, I realised, had become harder underfoot. I stopped and bent down, my pack weighing heavily on my back. Peering through the dirt and moss, I could see bits of stone, like hundreds of disjointed puzzle pieces leading me ahead. I had stumbled upon an ancient Roman road.
I was on day two of walking the Via Francigena, a 1,000-year-old pilgrimage route that extends around 2,000km from the English city of Canterbury all the way to Rome. Its name is a nod to the fact that it travels through France, but during its history the route was also known as the Via Romea for the city where it ends.
Walking over long distances, sometimes as far as 24km a day, was new to me. Like many people I met walking the Via Francigena, I’d never backpacked or taken a multi-day hike (the route’s spiritual and cultural aspects seemed to attract those more inclined toward historical immersion and personal transformation than fitness). But the knowledge that people have trodden the same path for centuries made walking it seem somewhat plausible, like something anyone could accomplish if they had thick enough socks and a little too much self-confidence.



The Via Francigena is a 1,000-year-old pilgrimage route that extends around 2,000km from Canterbury, England, to Rome (Credit: EmmeEffe/Alamy)

The saying ‘all roads lead to Rome’ has become a quaint and somewhat clichéd turn-of-phrase these days. But when the Roman Empire ruled over places such as England, present-day Spain, North Africa, and even modern-day Israel and Turkey, it was true. As the Romans expanded their dominion, they built roads to connect the conquered cities back to heart of the empire. And after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th Century, Roman denizens had new, religious reasons to visit the capital city – such as seeing the resting places of the biblical apostles St Peter and St Paul, according to author Carla Mackey who is writing a guide to the Via Francigena and has walked multiple sections of it.
Pilgrimages have been undertaken by people of varying spiritual and religious traditions for thousands of years, from Tibetan Buddhists prostrating their way to Lhasa to Muslims journeying to the holy city of Mecca. The Via Francigena was a route endorsed by the Catholic Church, according to Mackey, with Pope Boniface VIII declaring that the first jubilee would be in 1300AD, when anyone who made the pilgrimage to Rome could have their sins wiped clean. If pilgrims were especially devoted, they could also continue the pilgrimage through southern Italy and onward to Jerusalem.
All roads lead to Rome​
In 990AD, the Archbishop of Canterbury named Sigeric the Serious had a more practical reason to walk to Rome. Having risen into his prestigious office, he needed to visit the Vatican to be ordained and collect his official garments. At the time he made the journey, there were many different paths to Rome. But Sigeric, who’d left from Canterbury, wrote down his route home through Italy, Switzerland, France and into the UK, cataloguing the towns he stayed in on his journey. The route he took now makes up the official Via Francigena. The only part that cannot be completed on foot is the English Channel, which medieval pilgrims crossed by boat (and modern pilgrims on the Dover-to-Calais ferry).
As the Renaissance blossomed in Europe, the Via Francigena began to decline in popularity. Trading routes multiplied and shifted to pass through Florence, one of Italy’s most significant intellectual, artistic and mercantile cities at the time.



As the Romans expanded their dominion, they built roads to connect the conquered cities back to heart of the empire (Credit: Breena Kerr)

The Via Francigena became, for the most part, forgotten, although sections remained in use as local roads and footpaths. Things remained that way until 1985. That year, a Tuscan anthropologist, writer and adventurer named Giovanni Caselli was looking for new topics to write travel books about. As an enthusiastic hiker who had also walked the old Silk Road through China, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, Caselli decided to walk the Via Francigena after learning about Sigeric’s route.
“I would go into a town and ask the local people, ‘What’s the oldest route from here to there’,” he said. “And it worked, because the local memory of these paths still exists.” Caselli walked all the way from Canterbury to Rome, crossing the British countryside, the English Channel (by ferry), French Champagne country, the Swiss Alps and the rolling hills of Tuscany.
After Caselli published his book about the Via Francigena in 1990, the route started gaining attention. In 1994, the Via Francigena became one of the Council of Europe’s designated Cultural Routes. Then in 2006, the organisations that oversee the Via Francigena decided on the official route that pilgrims walk today. Many pilgrims see it as an alternative or follow-up to Spain’s better known – and much busier – Camino de Santiago.



The official Via Francigena follows the journey taken by Archbishop of Canterbury Sigeric the Serious in 990AD (Credit: Breena Kerr)

Walking the Italian portion of the Via Francigena, it’s common to see a handful of other walkers, as well as cyclists, along the route. But the northern stretches, like those through England, France and Switzerland, are usually fairly empty. British couple Nell Sleet and Luke Smith walked the entire Via Francigena in 2017, but said they only saw six fellow pilgrims during their first month walking.
Like me, Sleet and Smith, who write a blog about the Via Francigena and other walks, experienced some serious nerves as they began their journey. At first, they said, doing a three-month walk seemed crazy. But the route exerted a kind of magnetic pull, and before they knew it, they were on the road.
We felt like it was calling us​
“What ordinary person even walks that far?” they told me in an email. “But it’s funny, we felt like it was calling us.”
On the morning they set out from Canterbury, the pair was apparently so nervous that they couldn’t even finish their breakfast. “Walking all day, then having to put up a tent, then take it down, pack it up, and do it all over again [the next day] is a bit overwhelming,” they said.
I felt the same way, even though I only covered a short portion of the route, from Lucca to San Gimignano (about 75km) and stayed in pilgrim hostels and hotels along the way. I was horrified by the anticipation that had built up around this grand adventure. I was, I had hoped, a person who could fearlessly book a ticket, fly 13,000km from my Hawaii home and walk an ancient route alone, with no training. But what if I was wrong?



After trading routes shifted to pass through Florence, the Via Francigena was all but forgotten (Credit: calix/Alamy)

As I trudged through the streets of Lucca on my first day, the sun shone hot on my skin and the wind brushed my face. Without the protection of a car or bus, I smelled every rubbish bin and felt the whoosh of passing cyclists. I heard the gentle thud of my feet and noticed how the texture of the ground – whether earth, grass, cobblestone or cement – changed my stride.
I stopped to get a stamp in my pilgrim passport (as I would do at regular intervals throughout the route) at Lucca Cathedral, then continued out into the suburbs, passing cats perched on fences, overgrown lots and backyard streams until the neighbourhoods became more rural. At every intersection, I looked for the tiny image of a pilgrim – whether on a lamp post, small sign or spray painted on the pavement – to guide my way.
Eventually, the lull of my footsteps slowed my thoughts. My heartbeat matched my pace for the first time in a long while. My feet started to hurt, so I told myself, “just a little further”.
Somewhere around hour five, I walked off the road and threw my backpack down under the canopy of a sprawling oak tree. I plopped onto the ground and laid back, feeling the prickle of thorns and burrs; the dry caking of sweat, dirt and sunscreen on my face; the hard rocks underneath me. The last things I saw before I closed my eyes were the leaves, dancing in the afternoon breeze, outlined by the blue sky.



Today, the Via Francigena is one of the Council of Europe’s designated Cultural Routes (Credit: Realy Easy Star/Toni Spagone/Alamy)

Like many moments of my five days on the Via Francigena, it was dusty and quiet. Lucca had faded into semi-rural, semi-industrial outskirts that will likely never be on any tour itinerary. It was not particularly impressive or photo-worthy – it was a moment that would be hard to justify to someone else, to explain why, out of all the things I could have done, I had chosen to be there.
But, the truth is that beneath that tree, I was doing more than ‘seeing’ Italy, or Tuscany, or the Via Francigena. I was a part of them, the way countless pilgrims before me had been.
I think about nothing, too. It’s wonderful. Isn’t it?​
On my third night, I was eating dinner with other pilgrims in a hostel outside the vertiginous hill town of Gambassi Terme (I chose the small hotel because when I arrived, my feet riddled with crippling blisters, I knew that if I stayed there I would not have to climb the steep slope before I could rest). As we dug into plates of pasta al pomodoro (pasta with tomato sauce), the man next to me – an Italian in his 60s who had completed a week of the Via Francigena so far – furrowed his brow and posed a question, as though he’d been thinking about it for a long time.
“What do you think about when you’re walking?” he asked me.
“Honestly?” I said, “When I walk I mostly think about nothing.”
He laughed softly and smiled.
“I think about nothing, too. It’s wonderful. Isn’t it?”
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If you liked this story,
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Camino(s) past & future
Frances(2006) portugues(2013)San Salvador (2017)
#2
BBC article on Via Francigena

Thirty years ago, few people had ever heard of the Via Francigena: a 2,000km medieval pilgrimage route that snakes a path from Canterbury all the way to Rome.

  • By Breena Kerr
4 December 2018

I was walking through a centuries-old village in northern Tuscany with not another human in sight. To my right, a few horses grazed in a large paddock. To my left, beyond an old stone house that looked as though it had stood for hundreds of years, a thick copse expanded into a forest of oak, chestnut, holly and ash trees. There was no sound except the buzzing of insects and the drumbeat of my feet hitting the path – a path that, I realised, had become harder underfoot. I stopped and bent down, my pack weighing heavily on my back. Peering through the dirt and moss, I could see bits of stone, like hundreds of disjointed puzzle pieces leading me ahead. I had stumbled upon an ancient Roman road.
I was on day two of walking the Via Francigena, a 1,000-year-old pilgrimage route that extends around 2,000km from the English city of Canterbury all the way to Rome. Its name is a nod to the fact that it travels through France, but during its history the route was also known as the Via Romea for the city where it ends.
Walking over long distances, sometimes as far as 24km a day, was new to me. Like many people I met walking the Via Francigena, I’d never backpacked or taken a multi-day hike (the route’s spiritual and cultural aspects seemed to attract those more inclined toward historical immersion and personal transformation than fitness). But the knowledge that people have trodden the same path for centuries made walking it seem somewhat plausible, like something anyone could accomplish if they had thick enough socks and a little too much self-confidence.



The Via Francigena is a 1,000-year-old pilgrimage route that extends around 2,000km from Canterbury, England, to Rome (Credit: EmmeEffe/Alamy)

The saying ‘all roads lead to Rome’ has become a quaint and somewhat clichéd turn-of-phrase these days. But when the Roman Empire ruled over places such as England, present-day Spain, North Africa, and even modern-day Israel and Turkey, it was true. As the Romans expanded their dominion, they built roads to connect the conquered cities back to heart of the empire. And after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th Century, Roman denizens had new, religious reasons to visit the capital city – such as seeing the resting places of the biblical apostles St Peter and St Paul, according to author Carla Mackey who is writing a guide to the Via Francigena and has walked multiple sections of it.
Pilgrimages have been undertaken by people of varying spiritual and religious traditions for thousands of years, from Tibetan Buddhists prostrating their way to Lhasa to Muslims journeying to the holy city of Mecca. The Via Francigena was a route endorsed by the Catholic Church, according to Mackey, with Pope Boniface VIII declaring that the first jubilee would be in 1300AD, when anyone who made the pilgrimage to Rome could have their sins wiped clean. If pilgrims were especially devoted, they could also continue the pilgrimage through southern Italy and onward to Jerusalem.
All roads lead to Rome​
In 990AD, the Archbishop of Canterbury named Sigeric the Serious had a more practical reason to walk to Rome. Having risen into his prestigious office, he needed to visit the Vatican to be ordained and collect his official garments. At the time he made the journey, there were many different paths to Rome. But Sigeric, who’d left from Canterbury, wrote down his route home through Italy, Switzerland, France and into the UK, cataloguing the towns he stayed in on his journey. The route he took now makes up the official Via Francigena. The only part that cannot be completed on foot is the English Channel, which medieval pilgrims crossed by boat (and modern pilgrims on the Dover-to-Calais ferry).
As the Renaissance blossomed in Europe, the Via Francigena began to decline in popularity. Trading routes multiplied and shifted to pass through Florence, one of Italy’s most significant intellectual, artistic and mercantile cities at the time.



As the Romans expanded their dominion, they built roads to connect the conquered cities back to heart of the empire (Credit: Breena Kerr)

The Via Francigena became, for the most part, forgotten, although sections remained in use as local roads and footpaths. Things remained that way until 1985. That year, a Tuscan anthropologist, writer and adventurer named Giovanni Caselli was looking for new topics to write travel books about. As an enthusiastic hiker who had also walked the old Silk Road through China, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, Caselli decided to walk the Via Francigena after learning about Sigeric’s route.
“I would go into a town and ask the local people, ‘What’s the oldest route from here to there’,” he said. “And it worked, because the local memory of these paths still exists.” Caselli walked all the way from Canterbury to Rome, crossing the British countryside, the English Channel (by ferry), French Champagne country, the Swiss Alps and the rolling hills of Tuscany.
After Caselli published his book about the Via Francigena in 1990, the route started gaining attention. In 1994, the Via Francigena became one of the Council of Europe’s designated Cultural Routes. Then in 2006, the organisations that oversee the Via Francigena decided on the official route that pilgrims walk today. Many pilgrims see it as an alternative or follow-up to Spain’s better known – and much busier – Camino de Santiago.



The official Via Francigena follows the journey taken by Archbishop of Canterbury Sigeric the Serious in 990AD (Credit: Breena Kerr)

Walking the Italian portion of the Via Francigena, it’s common to see a handful of other walkers, as well as cyclists, along the route. But the northern stretches, like those through England, France and Switzerland, are usually fairly empty. British couple Nell Sleet and Luke Smith walked the entire Via Francigena in 2017, but said they only saw six fellow pilgrims during their first month walking.
Like me, Sleet and Smith, who write a blog about the Via Francigena and other walks, experienced some serious nerves as they began their journey. At first, they said, doing a three-month walk seemed crazy. But the route exerted a kind of magnetic pull, and before they knew it, they were on the road.
We felt like it was calling us​
“What ordinary person even walks that far?” they told me in an email. “But it’s funny, we felt like it was calling us.”
On the morning they set out from Canterbury, the pair was apparently so nervous that they couldn’t even finish their breakfast. “Walking all day, then having to put up a tent, then take it down, pack it up, and do it all over again [the next day] is a bit overwhelming,” they said.
I felt the same way, even though I only covered a short portion of the route, from Lucca to San Gimignano (about 75km) and stayed in pilgrim hostels and hotels along the way. I was horrified by the anticipation that had built up around this grand adventure. I was, I had hoped, a person who could fearlessly book a ticket, fly 13,000km from my Hawaii home and walk an ancient route alone, with no training. But what if I was wrong?



After trading routes shifted to pass through Florence, the Via Francigena was all but forgotten (Credit: calix/Alamy)

As I trudged through the streets of Lucca on my first day, the sun shone hot on my skin and the wind brushed my face. Without the protection of a car or bus, I smelled every rubbish bin and felt the whoosh of passing cyclists. I heard the gentle thud of my feet and noticed how the texture of the ground – whether earth, grass, cobblestone or cement – changed my stride.
I stopped to get a stamp in my pilgrim passport (as I would do at regular intervals throughout the route) at Lucca Cathedral, then continued out into the suburbs, passing cats perched on fences, overgrown lots and backyard streams until the neighbourhoods became more rural. At every intersection, I looked for the tiny image of a pilgrim – whether on a lamp post, small sign or spray painted on the pavement – to guide my way.
Eventually, the lull of my footsteps slowed my thoughts. My heartbeat matched my pace for the first time in a long while. My feet started to hurt, so I told myself, “just a little further”.
Somewhere around hour five, I walked off the road and threw my backpack down under the canopy of a sprawling oak tree. I plopped onto the ground and laid back, feeling the prickle of thorns and burrs; the dry caking of sweat, dirt and sunscreen on my face; the hard rocks underneath me. The last things I saw before I closed my eyes were the leaves, dancing in the afternoon breeze, outlined by the blue sky.



Today, the Via Francigena is one of the Council of Europe’s designated Cultural Routes (Credit: Realy Easy Star/Toni Spagone/Alamy)

Like many moments of my five days on the Via Francigena, it was dusty and quiet. Lucca had faded into semi-rural, semi-industrial outskirts that will likely never be on any tour itinerary. It was not particularly impressive or photo-worthy – it was a moment that would be hard to justify to someone else, to explain why, out of all the things I could have done, I had chosen to be there.
But, the truth is that beneath that tree, I was doing more than ‘seeing’ Italy, or Tuscany, or the Via Francigena. I was a part of them, the way countless pilgrims before me had been.
I think about nothing, too. It’s wonderful. Isn’t it?​
On my third night, I was eating dinner with other pilgrims in a hostel outside the vertiginous hill town of Gambassi Terme (I chose the small hotel because when I arrived, my feet riddled with crippling blisters, I knew that if I stayed there I would not have to climb the steep slope before I could rest). As we dug into plates of pasta al pomodoro (pasta with tomato sauce), the man next to me – an Italian in his 60s who had completed a week of the Via Francigena so far – furrowed his brow and posed a question, as though he’d been thinking about it for a long time.
“What do you think about when you’re walking?” he asked me.
“Honestly?” I said, “When I walk I mostly think about nothing.”
He laughed softly and smiled.
“I think about nothing, too. It’s wonderful. Isn’t it?”
Join more than three million BBC Travel fans by liking us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter and Instagram.
If you liked this story,
sign up for the weekly bbc.com features newsletter called "If You Only Read 6 Things This Week". A handpicked selection of stories from BBC Future, Earth, Culture, Capital and Travel, delivered to your inbox every Friday.
Thanks for this post. I have some work to do now but look forward to reading this when I come up for air!
 
Camino(s) past & future
Frances(2006) portugues(2013)San Salvador (2017)
#3
  1. Sigeric the Serious
  2. But, the truth is that beneath that tree, I was doing more than ‘seeing’ Italy, or Tuscany, or the Via Francigena. I was a part of them, the way countless pilgrims before me had been.
  3. On my third night, I was eating dinner with other pilgrims in a hostel outside the vertiginous hill town of Gambassi Terme (I chose the small hotel because when I arrived, my feet riddled with crippling blisters, I knew that if I stayed there I would not have to climb the steep slope before I could rest). As we dug into plates of pasta al pomodoro (pasta with tomato sauce), the man next to me – an Italian in his 60s who had completed a week of the Via Francigena so far – furrowed his brow and posed a question, as though he’d been thinking about it for a long time.“What do you think about when you’re walking?” he asked me.“Honestly?” I said, “When I walk I mostly think about nothing.”He laughed softly and smiled.“I think about nothing, too. It’s wonderful. Isn’t it?”
Thanks again, amorfati1, for this post. A lively piece of writing.
 
Camino(s) past & future
please see signature
#5
@amorfati1 , thank you

I can concur with the view that the northern sectons "are usually fairly empty"

I walked Canterbury, Kent to Chaumont, haut Marne in September and saw two other pilgrims. And hostel accomodation was quite rare. On the other hand many hotels had a reduced "pilgrim" tariff. And on several occassions locals assisted with finding a place to pitch my tent.

My paucity of fellow pilgrims was reflected in a paucity of signage, or even an agreed route. Which led me most days to walk on roads with official signposts to my intended destination for the day. Thus I was free to consider my changing surroundings and not consulting the GPS location on my OSM map at each turn.

Quite accidentatly, my time from a day before Arras to Saint-Quentin coincided with rememberances of events exactly 100 years ago in those places.
 
Last edited:
Camino(s) past & future
2018
#7
BBC article on Via Francigena

Thirty years ago, few people had ever heard of the Via Francigena: a 2,000km medieval pilgrimage route that snakes a path from Canterbury all the way to Rome.

  • By Breena Kerr
4 December 2018

I was walking through a centuries-old village in northern Tuscany with not another human in sight. To my right, a few horses grazed in a large paddock. To my left, beyond an old stone house that looked as though it had stood for hundreds of years, a thick copse expanded into a forest of oak, chestnut, holly and ash trees. There was no sound except the buzzing of insects and the drumbeat of my feet hitting the path – a path that, I realised, had become harder underfoot. I stopped and bent down, my pack weighing heavily on my back. Peering through the dirt and moss, I could see bits of stone, like hundreds of disjointed puzzle pieces leading me ahead. I had stumbled upon an ancient Roman road.
I was on day two of walking the Via Francigena, a 1,000-year-old pilgrimage route that extends around 2,000km from the English city of Canterbury all the way to Rome. Its name is a nod to the fact that it travels through France, but during its history the route was also known as the Via Romea for the city where it ends.
Walking over long distances, sometimes as far as 24km a day, was new to me. Like many people I met walking the Via Francigena, I’d never backpacked or taken a multi-day hike (the route’s spiritual and cultural aspects seemed to attract those more inclined toward historical immersion and personal transformation than fitness). But the knowledge that people have trodden the same path for centuries made walking it seem somewhat plausible, like something anyone could accomplish if they had thick enough socks and a little too much self-confidence.



The Via Francigena is a 1,000-year-old pilgrimage route that extends around 2,000km from Canterbury, England, to Rome (Credit: EmmeEffe/Alamy)

The saying ‘all roads lead to Rome’ has become a quaint and somewhat clichéd turn-of-phrase these days. But when the Roman Empire ruled over places such as England, present-day Spain, North Africa, and even modern-day Israel and Turkey, it was true. As the Romans expanded their dominion, they built roads to connect the conquered cities back to heart of the empire. And after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th Century, Roman denizens had new, religious reasons to visit the capital city – such as seeing the resting places of the biblical apostles St Peter and St Paul, according to author Carla Mackey who is writing a guide to the Via Francigena and has walked multiple sections of it.
Pilgrimages have been undertaken by people of varying spiritual and religious traditions for thousands of years, from Tibetan Buddhists prostrating their way to Lhasa to Muslims journeying to the holy city of Mecca. The Via Francigena was a route endorsed by the Catholic Church, according to Mackey, with Pope Boniface VIII declaring that the first jubilee would be in 1300AD, when anyone who made the pilgrimage to Rome could have their sins wiped clean. If pilgrims were especially devoted, they could also continue the pilgrimage through southern Italy and onward to Jerusalem.
All roads lead to Rome​
In 990AD, the Archbishop of Canterbury named Sigeric the Serious had a more practical reason to walk to Rome. Having risen into his prestigious office, he needed to visit the Vatican to be ordained and collect his official garments. At the time he made the journey, there were many different paths to Rome. But Sigeric, who’d left from Canterbury, wrote down his route home through Italy, Switzerland, France and into the UK, cataloguing the towns he stayed in on his journey. The route he took now makes up the official Via Francigena. The only part that cannot be completed on foot is the English Channel, which medieval pilgrims crossed by boat (and modern pilgrims on the Dover-to-Calais ferry).
As the Renaissance blossomed in Europe, the Via Francigena began to decline in popularity. Trading routes multiplied and shifted to pass through Florence, one of Italy’s most significant intellectual, artistic and mercantile cities at the time.



As the Romans expanded their dominion, they built roads to connect the conquered cities back to heart of the empire (Credit: Breena Kerr)

The Via Francigena became, for the most part, forgotten, although sections remained in use as local roads and footpaths. Things remained that way until 1985. That year, a Tuscan anthropologist, writer and adventurer named Giovanni Caselli was looking for new topics to write travel books about. As an enthusiastic hiker who had also walked the old Silk Road through China, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, Caselli decided to walk the Via Francigena after learning about Sigeric’s route.
“I would go into a town and ask the local people, ‘What’s the oldest route from here to there’,” he said. “And it worked, because the local memory of these paths still exists.” Caselli walked all the way from Canterbury to Rome, crossing the British countryside, the English Channel (by ferry), French Champagne country, the Swiss Alps and the rolling hills of Tuscany.
After Caselli published his book about the Via Francigena in 1990, the route started gaining attention. In 1994, the Via Francigena became one of the Council of Europe’s designated Cultural Routes. Then in 2006, the organisations that oversee the Via Francigena decided on the official route that pilgrims walk today. Many pilgrims see it as an alternative or follow-up to Spain’s better known – and much busier – Camino de Santiago.



The official Via Francigena follows the journey taken by Archbishop of Canterbury Sigeric the Serious in 990AD (Credit: Breena Kerr)

Walking the Italian portion of the Via Francigena, it’s common to see a handful of other walkers, as well as cyclists, along the route. But the northern stretches, like those through England, France and Switzerland, are usually fairly empty. British couple Nell Sleet and Luke Smith walked the entire Via Francigena in 2017, but said they only saw six fellow pilgrims during their first month walking.
Like me, Sleet and Smith, who write a blog about the Via Francigena and other walks, experienced some serious nerves as they began their journey. At first, they said, doing a three-month walk seemed crazy. But the route exerted a kind of magnetic pull, and before they knew it, they were on the road.
We felt like it was calling us​
“What ordinary person even walks that far?” they told me in an email. “But it’s funny, we felt like it was calling us.”
On the morning they set out from Canterbury, the pair was apparently so nervous that they couldn’t even finish their breakfast. “Walking all day, then having to put up a tent, then take it down, pack it up, and do it all over again [the next day] is a bit overwhelming,” they said.
I felt the same way, even though I only covered a short portion of the route, from Lucca to San Gimignano (about 75km) and stayed in pilgrim hostels and hotels along the way. I was horrified by the anticipation that had built up around this grand adventure. I was, I had hoped, a person who could fearlessly book a ticket, fly 13,000km from my Hawaii home and walk an ancient route alone, with no training. But what if I was wrong?



After trading routes shifted to pass through Florence, the Via Francigena was all but forgotten (Credit: calix/Alamy)

As I trudged through the streets of Lucca on my first day, the sun shone hot on my skin and the wind brushed my face. Without the protection of a car or bus, I smelled every rubbish bin and felt the whoosh of passing cyclists. I heard the gentle thud of my feet and noticed how the texture of the ground – whether earth, grass, cobblestone or cement – changed my stride.
I stopped to get a stamp in my pilgrim passport (as I would do at regular intervals throughout the route) at Lucca Cathedral, then continued out into the suburbs, passing cats perched on fences, overgrown lots and backyard streams until the neighbourhoods became more rural. At every intersection, I looked for the tiny image of a pilgrim – whether on a lamp post, small sign or spray painted on the pavement – to guide my way.
Eventually, the lull of my footsteps slowed my thoughts. My heartbeat matched my pace for the first time in a long while. My feet started to hurt, so I told myself, “just a little further”.
Somewhere around hour five, I walked off the road and threw my backpack down under the canopy of a sprawling oak tree. I plopped onto the ground and laid back, feeling the prickle of thorns and burrs; the dry caking of sweat, dirt and sunscreen on my face; the hard rocks underneath me. The last things I saw before I closed my eyes were the leaves, dancing in the afternoon breeze, outlined by the blue sky.



Today, the Via Francigena is one of the Council of Europe’s designated Cultural Routes (Credit: Realy Easy Star/Toni Spagone/Alamy)

Like many moments of my five days on the Via Francigena, it was dusty and quiet. Lucca had faded into semi-rural, semi-industrial outskirts that will likely never be on any tour itinerary. It was not particularly impressive or photo-worthy – it was a moment that would be hard to justify to someone else, to explain why, out of all the things I could have done, I had chosen to be there.
But, the truth is that beneath that tree, I was doing more than ‘seeing’ Italy, or Tuscany, or the Via Francigena. I was a part of them, the way countless pilgrims before me had been.
I think about nothing, too. It’s wonderful. Isn’t it?​
On my third night, I was eating dinner with other pilgrims in a hostel outside the vertiginous hill town of Gambassi Terme (I chose the small hotel because when I arrived, my feet riddled with crippling blisters, I knew that if I stayed there I would not have to climb the steep slope before I could rest). As we dug into plates of pasta al pomodoro (pasta with tomato sauce), the man next to me – an Italian in his 60s who had completed a week of the Via Francigena so far – furrowed his brow and posed a question, as though he’d been thinking about it for a long time.
“What do you think about when you’re walking?” he asked me.
“Honestly?” I said, “When I walk I mostly think about nothing.”
He laughed softly and smiled.
“I think about nothing, too. It’s wonderful. Isn’t it?”
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What a wonderful account of your experience! I walked along the Camino de Santiago from Leon to Santiago but it was the Via Francigena that first captivated my wanderlust to be a pilgrim. I had read a few books about the authors' pilgrimages along this route but it was Patrick Leigh Fermor's "A Time of Gifts" in which he walked part of the route that convinced me to go on pilgrimage, although he really didn't refer to his peregrinations as such. Nonetheless, I wanted more and more and more. Thank you for this and all of the helpful links in your article.
 
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances-(2013/14/18
Camino Salvado Perth -(2015)
West Highland Way (2016)
Lyon France 2017
#8
and, a Thankyou from me also - my appetite to learn more of this particular walk, has now been whetted....would that I still had the time to attempt all the walks that are there to be walked. I am now in my 71st year and struggling with issues related to Severe Degenerative Arthritis throughout my spine and also severe issues with my feet......these feet, post surgery, though, WILL continue to walk when I am able to do so, even if I only get to walk a few Ks. each day. For now though, I will content myself with reading as much as I can, particularly, articles such as this very, very interesting one. Susanawee.
 

JabbaPapa

"True Pilgrim"
Camino(s) past & future
100 characters or fewer : see signature details
#10
The Francigena is older than that, and although that particular route between Canterbury and Rome is about that old (1066 and all that), Rome and Jerusalem are by far the oldest foot pilgrimage destinations in Christendom, and indeed the oldest routes to Compostela were simply on the Southern Ways to Rome walked a revès ...

But really, the Francigena, like the Camino, has no particular "starting point", nor any required itineraries -- these are simply some particular routes that have come into being over the course of centuries of habits, and culture, and recommendations, and all other ways whereby we strive as people to make order out of chaos.

And most properly so !!

And it's a well-written and clever article.

But there's a clue in the "All roads lead to Rome" reference -- and a healthy and wise self-contradiction in the article, for whilst it will always remain fundamentally unimportant which route you follow, the social and religious and infrastructural benefits of following on the beaten path are to be celebrated and welcomed.

----

Some factual errors :

Christianity did NOT "become the official religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th Century", but rather the Emperor Constantine instituted the principle of religious freedom at that time. Some attempts were made by some Emperors, mostly Eastern ones, to turn Christianity into a State Religion with the Emperor at its head (a bit like what Henry VIII did in England), but these attempts at a confusion of the worldly with the spiritual were vigorously and successfully resisted by the Popes of the 6th to 8th Centuries.

Also not true is the claim that "as the Renaissance blossomed in Europe, the Via Francigena began to decline in popularity" ; egregiously wrong, in fact, as the 16th Century saw a massive rise of travellers on what were known as "le petit tour" (which was conceived as a personal journey of discovery, as much touristic, as personal, as educational, as religious, and so on and so forth), which in principle involved the Way to Rome, and quite often also the Way to Compostela, and "le grand tour" (which was the same thing, except also encompassing the Way to Jerusalem). These things persisted into the 19th Century, but it would seem that the loss of popularity in the Pilgrimages as such was a knock-on effect from the wars of religion in the 17th and especially 18th centuries, when some Governments started to repress the Pilgrim Paths. --- Anyway, the historical statistics show that during the Renaissance (15th and 16th Centuries), these Pilgrim Ways actually increased rather than decreased in popularity -- though it does seem that there was a degree of decline in foot pilgrims walking every step of the Way, as the invention of public transport began its changes --- and a more notable decline in Pilgrims to Jerusalem, after the invasion of the Holy land by the Arabs made that route more unsafe.

Really, the period of actual desertion of the Pilgrim Ways would be between about 1848 and 1965 ...
 

athiker93

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
Sept-Oct 2013
#11
I walked this route in 2016 - I left St Paul;s Cathedral in London on June 20th...arrived at St Peter's Basilica on Sept 30h. 110 days enroute. Not a day goes by that i dont think of it, miss it and would do it again in a heartbeat.
 

BobM

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances; Via Podensis; Via Francigena; Via Portugues; Via Francigena del Sud; Jakobsweg.
#12
Each section of the VF has its own attractions for me. Walking through the 'lost villages' of northern France might be lonely and boring for some, but the route crosses some of the battlefields of WW1 and passes though towns like Arras, Bapaume, Peronne and St. Quentin that can add an extra spiritual dimension for pilgrims with a family connection to WW1. There are numerous war cemeteries where you can stop for a reflective break.

As you get closer to Switzerland, the beauty of the countryside increases and the prospect of crossing the Alps looms ever larger in the mind, another challenge on the journey of life. There is the beautiful walk alongside Lake Geneva from Lausanne to Villeneuve before you head into the mountains.

The mountains! The goosebump beauty of sharp peaks and flowery upland meadows where you can touch the sky. Even in early summer you can encounter snow from the previous winter. Finally you attain the Hospice at the Pass itself and let its healing peace seep into your body and soul for a day or two before the long descent into Italy.

Every day after leaving the Hospice, I would look back until finally the great mountains could be seen no more, and my thoughts turned towards Rome.

In many respects, the Italian sector of the VF is more pilgrim-friendly than the earlier sectors, and might appeal best to people who have walked the Camino to Santiago in Spain and seek a new challenge. There is more choice of religious accommodation for those who want it. Cross the Po River on Danilo's boat, one of the high points for me of the Italian sector. The beautiful hilltop towns of Tuscany are desperately appealing, but they have one great disadvantage for weary hikers at day's end: They are all on hilltops.

Soon Rome itself becomes more present in the mind. You wind your way through a nature reserve and park and suddenly come upon an open vista overlooking the city, and the dome of St Peters catches your eye. Take a seat on the park bench nearby and absorb it all: The ultimate destination after all your days of walking from Canterbury.

You wend you way through the dreary suburbs of Rome to St Peters Square amid thronging tourists and seek out the tourist office under the crossed keys of St Peter and get your credencial. The staff have done it a million times and are oblivious to your exultation at having completed one of the more significant experiences of your life. I walked amongst the tourists on the Square, an invisible presence, isolated from their world, looking for other pilgrims - who are always unmistakable. They are kindred spirits, perhaps the only people who can possibly understand.

Journey's end? Maybe not. Consider continuing to Bari or Brindisi on the Via Francigena nel Sud.

I offer Season's Greetings to all who have ventured upon the VF and best wishes for the future, especially for those who will walk the VF in 2019.

Bob M
 
Last edited:

ksam

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Portuguese '08, Frances '11, del Norte '14, Invierno '16, Ingles '17, Primitivo October 2018
#13
  1. Sigeric the Serious
  2. But, the truth is that beneath that tree, I was doing more than ‘seeing’ Italy, or Tuscany, or the Via Francigena. I was a part of them, the way countless pilgrims before me had been.
  3. On my third night, I was eating dinner with other pilgrims in a hostel outside the vertiginous hill town of Gambassi Terme (I chose the small hotel because when I arrived, my feet riddled with crippling blisters, I knew that if I stayed there I would not have to climb the steep slope before I could rest). As we dug into plates of pasta al pomodoro (pasta with tomato sauce), the man next to me – an Italian in his 60s who had completed a week of the Via Francigena so far – furrowed his brow and posed a question, as though he’d been thinking about it for a long time.“What do you think about when you’re walking?” he asked me.“Honestly?” I said, “When I walk I mostly think about nothing.”He laughed softly and smiled.“I think about nothing, too. It’s wonderful. Isn’t it?”
.
Exactly!! And here on the forum is the only place I find others who understand both the calling and what it feels like when you respond with a yes. To a large degree I don't worry anymore about trying to explain to others. Or rather...the moment I see the blank look...I just let it go. For what ever reason they aren't called to this, in ways I'm not called to other ways of being and sharing.
 
#14
A friend just recently completed the Via Francigena from Canterbury to Rome. After two months, the daily vlogs stopped. It was too much for him to do day to day with spotty internet access. So, he has completed up to Day 75 now and is about 250 km from Rome, even though he has been home for about a month now.

Once daily vlogs are completed, I know he will be working on a more professional, more complete video story. He has some incredible drone shots that he has / will include also. Here is a link to his Via Francigena journey;


I highly recommend subscribing to his channel>

Finally, he did the CF last year and did the same thing with daily logs but later, took all the drone clips and put them together by Province so, there is another 37 daily vlogs and 7 drone collections.

Hope all enjoy. Many questions will find their answers in the watching.
 

BobM

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances; Via Podensis; Via Francigena; Via Portugues; Via Francigena del Sud; Jakobsweg.
#15
A friend just recently completed the Via Francigena from Canterbury to Rome. After two months, the daily vlogs stopped. It was too much for him to do day to day with spotty internet access. So, he has completed up to Day 75 now and is about 250 km from Rome, even though he has been home for about a month now.

Once daily vlogs are completed, I know he will be working on a more professional, more complete video story. He has some incredible drone shots that he has / will include also. Here is a link to his Via Francigena journey;
. . . .
Hope all enjoy. Many questions will find their answers in the watching.
Many thanks for sharing this wonderful vlog. So many great ideas! I just love the 'day in a minute' approach. It is really arresting. Not to mention the really professional camerawork. Well done!

And the use of a drone adds a new dimension (if I may put it that way!). You can get drones that will fit in a (big) pocket now. Better than a GoPro IMO.

I was also interested in the use of a towed cart for all the gear. I looked into that myself before my own VF, but decided against it. Maybe your friend would like to comment on it here.

Congratulations and well done.

Bob M
 
#16
Many thanks for sharing this wonderful vlog. So many great ideas! I just love the 'day in a minute' approach. It is really arresting. Not to mention the really professional camerawork. Well done!

And the use of a drone adds a new dimension (if I may put it that way!). You can get drones that will fit in a (big) pocket now. Better than a GoPro IMO.

I was also interested in the use of a towed cart for all the gear. I looked into that myself before my own VF, but decided against it. Maybe your friend would like to comment on it here.

Congratulations and well done.

Bob M
Hi Bob,

I do not think he has ever been on here. Right now, I do not want to scatter his focus on completing the vlogs to Rome. My guess is there are about 15 more to be done and then he will get into putting together a more complete production.

Not sure if you started at the Packing list but correct me if I am wrong with his estimate of about 40 lb of gear, which included a lot of camera stuff for the trip. That is why he decided on the cart.
 

BobM

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances; Via Podensis; Via Francigena; Via Portugues; Via Francigena del Sud; Jakobsweg.
#17
Hi Bob,

I do not think he has ever been on here. Right now, I do not want to scatter his focus on completing the vlogs to Rome. My guess is there are about 15 more to be done and then he will get into putting together a more complete production.

Not sure if you started at the Packing list but correct me if I am wrong with his estimate of about 40 lb of gear, which included a lot of camera stuff for the trip. That is why he decided on the cart.
I started at the packing list 'in a minute', and it was a blur of items, wonderfully capturing the atmosphere and excitement of packing - if packing can ever be said to be exciting.

One-minute 'episodes' are a stroke of genius, IMO - certainly showing a talent for thinking differently that I hope many of us in this forum will enjoy.

After the blur of items to be packed, I figured the 41lb-load made a towed cart desirable. Please don't divert your friend from his creative work, but at some stage I would like to know how that cart worked out in the field.

Bob M
 
#19
I started at the packing list 'in a minute', and it was a blur of items, wonderfully capturing the atmosphere and excitement of packing - if packing can ever be said to be exciting.

One-minute 'episodes' are a stroke of genius, IMO - certainly showing a talent for thinking differently that I hope many of us in this forum will enjoy.

After the blur of items to be packed, I figured the 41lb-load made a towed cart desirable. Please don't divert your friend from his creative work, but at some stage I would like to know how that cart worked out in the field.

Bob M
Hoping you have had the chance to follow along, Bob. Though I anticipate that Efren has been home for a month now, he has been pretty good at getting a vlog out each day and is within 150 km fro Rome.

As he observes the way markers, he is beginning to note the distance to Jerusalem. Could this be the next Pilgrimage?
 
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