Pilgrimage Routes in Western Europe
Without anybody consciously intending it, Western Europe during the early medieval ages developed a de facto network of pilgrimage corridors, joining Canterbury, Rome and Santiago de Compestela in the northwestern corner of Spain.
(Map below): Pilgrimage corridors in Western Europe, showing branch routes and the connection of the Via Francigena and the Camino de Santiago.
In 990 AD, Archbishop Sigeric the Serious travelled the length of the Via Francigena. He walked from Canterbury to Rome to receive from Pope John VX the pallium, which is a circular band of white wool with pendants that is worn by archbishops over the chasuble at Mass. A member of Sigeric's retinue recorded his route, and listed their eighty principal stopping places. This is the oldest-known documented report of the route, yet nothing in this tenth-century report suggests that the route at that time was a new one.
The eighty stages in Sigeric's itinerary averaged about twenty kilometres a day, covering some 1,700 kilometres. Be aware that Sigeric's report was not a map of his route, but simply the sequence of his overnight stopping points; the actual pathway or track between any given stopping point and the next one was not recorded, i.e., it reveals Sigeric's "route" but not his specific pathways used en route.
Other travellers' accounts of this passage are by the Icelandic traveler Nikolas Bergsson (in 1154) and Philip Augustus of France (in 1191). Having crossed the English Channel to Calais, or, following Sigeric's example to Wissant, still called Sumeran (Sombres) by Sigeric, a pilgrim bound for Rome might stay in Gisne (Guines), Teranburh Thérouanne, Bruaei (Bruay), Atherats (Arras), Reims, Châlons-sur-Marne, Bar-sur-Aube, Langres, Besançon, Pontarlier, Lausanne and Saint-Maurice, then travel over the Great St Bernard Pass to Aosta, Ivrea, Vercelli, Pavia, Fidenza, Aulla, Luni, Lucca, Poggibonsi, Siena, San Quirico, Bolsena, Viterbo and Sutri before reaching Rome. One of the best-known places on the Via Francigena is the Passum Padi in the municipality of Senna Lodigiana, where Sigeric crossed the Po River. Today a monument marks his crossing point of the Po River. (See the map on the previous page.)
Sigeric's manuscript (now held in the British Library) was rediscovered in the 1980s and has subsequently become the focus for academic research and the re-creation of a modern-day pilgrimage route, earning the award of Major Cultural Route by the Council of Europe. In the centuries that followed Sigeric’s tenth-century pilgrimage, the Via Francigena was used by prelates and pilgrims travelling back and forth from the north of Europe to Rome and then sometimes on to Jerusalem. They travelled on foot or on mules and horses, and rarely by cart because the conditions of the road varied continually from place to place and from season to season. The amount of long-distance trading done via the Via Francigena is uncertain, as many parts of it could not take wheeled vehicles.
Various portions of the road were built and maintained by local nobles, often for the military advantage of facilitating regional defence. Because it was not constructed with the idea of connecting places of great importance and distance like the Roman roads of old, the Via Francigena was actually a series of local paths and trails of various widths and of various materials, which linked mountain passes, bridges, ferry boats, monasteries and villages with one another. Walking across Europe had a financial cost attached to it, as there obviously were living expenses involved. To be able to be free from earning an income for at least half a year, a pilgrim had to be a person with some financial reserves, or with the financial backing of a patron.
Images (at right): Picture 1: A Via Francigena signpost in the countryside.Picture 2: The Via Francigena on a hillside. Picture 3: A Via Francigena logo.
However, it had two distinctive characteristics, the first being the provision of places where pilgrims could find refuge for the night, built closer together if the travelling in that area was difficult and wider apart if the going was easier. These rudimentary places were called hospices. Simple illnesses and blistered feet were treated there; the word hospital partly derives from this tradition. Major stopping points were often near a monastery, where pilgrims received overnight “hostel” accommodation in the outer “foresteria” (a dormitory-like guest house, completely separate from the monks’ quarters) of the monastery. This hospitality was often free of charge; even so, no doubt pilgrims with the means to do so gave a donation to the monastery.
The second characteristic was the constant danger involved in a trip of great distance: bandits, difficult terrain, wild animals and disease. In fact, because of the constant dangers involved, if one undertook a pilgrimage there was a ritual to be observed regarding the preparations. Usually the pilgrims were men, but women could undertake the trip as well. Before leaving home, the pilgrim was required by the Church pay his debts, prepare a will, receive from his local priest his pilgrim costume, ask forgiveness of anyone whom he might have offended and finally to say goodbye to everyone before leaving. There was a possibility that he might be unable to return because of death or misadventure en route.
Many things had to be specified in the will. For example, his heirs, the purpose of his trip, the length of time he was supposed to be away, and the places he was supposed to visit. This last item was to be proven upon his return by the souvenirs he brought back. In the case in which the pilgrim had not returned after the length of time he was supposed to be away, plus one year and a day, his property was distributed among his heirs. The preparation of the will was followed by his being dressed and blessed by his local priest or bishop. By doing this, the individual entered into the "Order" of the pilgrims and he probably wore a kind of habit which consisted in an eleventh-century pilgrim's staff, which was a stout stick with a metal point, of a long garment of rough texture and dark colour and a leather bag which hung at his waist and which he used for food and money.
This uniform also had various symbolic aspects. For example, the staff, the dress and the bag representing Faith, Hope and Charity, as well as having been blessed to protect him against the temptations of the devil and other evils. The souvenirs brought back were usually small items or symbols of some kind that could be shown off as proof of where he had travelled. For example, a sea shell from Santiago de Compostela (Spain), a palm leaf of Jericho, or little lead figures of the patron saints of the places visited.
Images (at left):Picture 1: A Via Francigena signpost. Picture 2: The Via Francigena in open countryside.Picture 3: The Via Francigena in open countryside.
After the Protestant Reformation, pilgrimages between northern and southern Europe became less frequent and, as a consequence, parts of the Via Francigena fell into disuse, and other sections became absorbed into the newer road networks. Because the Via Francigena linked monasteries rather than major cities, by the sixteenth century there were more direct and better-constructed routes used for commerce and general travel. Today's pilgrimages along the Via Francigena attract people of all ages and beliefs, their common factor being their desire to stand back from the daily pressures and take time to reflect on their lives and the lives of those around them. Walking the entire Via Francigena is a journey of at least 1,700 kilometres, and is a physical challenge. Most pilgrims choose to travel on foot, but some opt for bicycles, and a few choose horseback. On foot, the entire journey takes about twelve weeks, based on an average of between twenty and thirty kilometres per day; climbing to heights above 2,500 metres and being exposed to a very wide range of weather conditions.
In 1994 the Via Francigena was designated a European Cultural Route by the Council of Europe.
In November 2005, Italian politician Romano Prodi announced that he would revitalize the Via Francigena.
On 11th August 2007 a group of 27 cyclists, including several members of Canterbury City Council, rode from Canterbury Cathedral via the Via Francigena to Rome in sixteen days. This was a charity ride to raise money for the restoration of the Canterbury Cathedral and for other causes.
In November 2009 the Italian government launched a project to recover the Italian leg of the Via Francigena. The object of the plan is to recover the entire route (disjointed parts of which are already signposted) “not only in spiritual and religious terms but also in terms of the environment, architecture, culture, history, wine and cuisine and sport.”
This initiative was promoted by the Region of Tuscany, which hosts 400 kms of the Via Francigena, and which presented a plan detailing the low environmental impact infrastructures that will be created. The plan will be shared with other local authorities located along the route as an encouragement to carry out similar recovery work. Tuscany has also announced cooperation with the Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi (ORP), the Vatican’s organization for encouraging pilgrimages.
When one speaks of the Via Francigena today, he or she intends to refer to the Sigeric itinerary. Nonetheless, the Via Francigena is not a single "road' in the strict sense of the word. It comprises several possible routes that changed over the centuries as trade and pilgrimages developed or waned, depending on the time of year, political situation, and relative popularity of the shrines of saints along the route or simply the building of a new bridge that permitted an easier crossing of a river.
Video (above): The Via Francigena. One of many videos on the Internet about the Camino. This one has still photographs, music but no commentary. It covers only the final stages of the Camino - from Siena to Rome.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZzU-EZF8p0
There is still not one single official Via Francigena route; there never was, and probably there never will be. In many parts the original Via Francigena followed the ancient Roman roads: the routes of Via Aurelia and the Via Cassia which are now mostly converted into main highways. Where necessary today's Via Francigena has diverted to safer trails and alternative paths (or else to quieter secondary roads when nothing else is available), and and even to parts of older (i.e., pre-Sigeric) versions of the Via Francigena to include historical and artistic centres of interest along the route.
It is catching both from an historical standpoint, and for the lanscape and nature the whole area offers. Moreover, passing through Radicofani allows the avoidance of a section of motorway that can be a safety problem for pilgrims. The Spediale at Radicofani has six beds, and offers genuinely accredited pilgrims one night’s accommodation. It is open all year, and simply asks pilgrims to make a donation.(Continued on the next page.)
Via Francigena. Following a millennium’s worth of footsteps. From the Catholic News Service. 9 minutes in length. https://cnsblog.wordpress.com/2015/07/09/following-a-millenniums-worth-of-footsteps-on-italys-via-francigena