The Via Francigena – an introduction
The Via Francigena is a pilgrimage route that connects Canterbury to Rome. If you are coming to this blog never having heard of The Via Francigena, you would not count among the minority. In fact, relatively few people have heard of it and those who have usually have a specific academic interest or live along the route. I first heard of this historic route when I was walking the Camino de Santiago, also known as the Way of Saint James, which is a famous pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela in the north-west of Spain. In the 9th century, Santiago was one of the principal destinations of pilgrims, sharing status with Jerusalem and Rome. Revival of the route began in 1987 when it was proclaimed the first European Cultural Itinerary by the Council of Europe. At that time about 2,500 pilgrims were travelling to Santiago annually. Now, there are approximately 200,000 pilgrims arriving in Santiago each year.
The Via Francigena was declared a Cultural Route by the Council of Europe in 1994, yet twenty years later, there are still very few pilgrims to be found travelling along it. As a journey through four countries, over varied landscapes, with one of the world’s most historic, spiritual and culturally rich cities as its destination, the Via Francigena has undeniable appeal. There have been many difficulties in promoting the route however that have hindered the rise in popularity as seen in the Camino de Santiago. The difficulties are linked in many ways to what make the route so attractive. The need for collaboration between not only four countries, but also local governments whose elected officials change frequently, as does local commitment to the revival of the route, make progress slow and uncertain. Parts of The Via Francigena have seen great investment, such as the section that lies in the municipality of Lucca in Tuscany. This section was inaugurated in 2014 after 5 million euro was allocated to make significant improvements to the route itself and pilgrim accommodation.
Read more about Tuscany and improvements in the Via Francigena: http://www.stamptoscana.it/articolo/notizie-toscana/francigena-proseguono-i-lavori-in-provincia-di-lucca
Inauguration by Stefano Baccelli, president of the Provincia di Lucca (Image from Stampa Toscana, 21 June, 2014).
As I walk along The Via Francigena, from one municipality and country to another, I will experience firsthand the differences in the development and promotion of the route. I feel certain that one day The Via Francigena will be walked by as many pilgrims as the Camino de Santiago, but this will only happen with increased publicity of the route. Each year, with the combined efforts of local governments, associations, such as the European Association of the Vie Francigene (http://www.visit.viefrancigene.org/en/) and the Confraternity of Pilgrims to Rome (http://www.pilgrimstorome.org.uk/) and individual pilgrims, more progress is made. I hope that by following me on my journey to Rome through this blog you will be able to share the tremendous experience of walking an historic route and one day, will undertake a journey of your own. I look forward to receiving your comments.