On 7 October, 2017 the second charity walk in aid of Save the Children took place on the Via Francigena UK (Canterbury to Dover). The event raised £770 with gift aid for Save the Children, supporting their important work in providing essentials such as food and clothing, as well as education, for many vulnerable children across the world. ‘
Pilgrims arrived at Canterbury Cathedral at 7.45 am where we were given a wonderful send off by the Lord Mayor of Canterbury, Rosemary Doyle. The Lord Mayor expressed her particular interest in the event, as she been involved in the development of the Via Francigena and its promotion over 10 years ago when the zero kilometre stone of the Via Francigena was placed within the Cathedral Precincts, marking the official starting point of the route to Rome. Velia Coffey of the Canterbury Council and Vice-President of the European Via Francigena Association, who has twice cycled to Rome, also came to wish the group well. Luca Faravelli of the Via Francigena Association had travelled from the Association’s headquarters in Fidenza, Italy, as a representative and to experience the UK section of the Via Francigena for himself. After an inspirational blessing by Canon Clare at the Zero Kilometre stone, the group of 20 pilgrims set off on the Via Francigena, just as Archbishop Sigeric would have done in 990 AD as he began his long journey to Rome. All archbishops of the Catholic church made this journey, but it is only from Sigeric that we have a record of the stops that he made along the way. The revived route, which pilgrims travel today, tries as faithfully as possible to follow the way of Sigeric.
The charity walk aimed to give pilgrims an immersive experience of pilgrimage and so, included a visit to each of the churches the route passes on the way to Dover. The first stop was at St. Martin’s church, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the first Christian church in the English speaking world. This delightful church was first the site of a Roman building, and the Roman red tiles and bricks can still be seen embedded within its walls. After stamping their pilgrim credentials and listening to an engaging talk on the history of the church by a knowledgeable parishioner, we began the next stage of our journey. Waiting for us in Patrixbourne was tea, coffee and a big slab of cake, which we enjoyed while learning about the striking Normal wheel window and other architectural features of the lovely St. Mary’s. The route was dry from Patrixbourne to Womenswold, but the weather turned to misty rain as we approached our next stop of St. Margaret’s. Upon walking through the door we discovered the church wardens had prepared us three types of piping hot soup. We soon felt warm and comfortable as we sat sipping soup and chatting with our fellow pilgrims. The last 10 miles became increasingly challenging, but coffee breaks at St. Andrew’s church, Shepherdswell, and St. Peter’s, Whitfield, gave us the energy we needed to walk the final stretch of the route along the Roman road into Dover. Our last visit was to the delightful chapel of St. Edmund’s in Dover. This small chapel, which was lovingly restored in the 1960s to its 13th century glory, was the perfect place to find some rest and tranquillity to reflect on the physical, mental and spiritual journey of the day.
The Francigena is always a different experience. No matter how many times I walk the route I always discover something new, from friendships to insights. Looking forward to what I will discover on the route next year for the charity walk of 2018!
Thanks go out to the following individuals and organisations, without whose support this event would not have been possible:
- The Canterbury Cathedral
- The Lord Mayor of Canterbury
- Velia Coffey, Canterbury Council and Vice-President of EAVF
- The European Via Francigena Association and representative Luca Favavelli
- The churches of St. Martin’s, St. Mary’s (Patrixbourne), St. Margaret’s (Womenswold), St. Andrew’s (Shepherdswell), St. Peter’s (Whitfield) and Dover Greeters for opening the doors of their historic buildings and for offering us such wonderful hospitality.
- Finally thank you to Karl Goodwin and Carrie Eeles who helped lead the walk – your stamina and positivity is inspirational!