What is the Via Francigena?
The Via Francigena is a walking route to Rome and has been established as the centre of Catholicism since the 1st Century when Christians arrived. Since this time pilgrims have been making their way through various routes to visit the Eternal City. However, the route itself has changed over time and has alternate route options.
The most widely known itinerary for this route is that written by the Sigeric the Serious. In 990 he travelled to Rome to receive his pallium and to be ordained a Cardinal by Pope John XV. On his return to Canterbury he documented the places he stayed in a journal. This walk took him 80 days to complete and covered a total of some 1,700km, through Italy, Switzerland, France and England. As with other pilgrim routes during the Reformation and due to the political instability in Europe at this time pilgrimages to Rome became less popular and much of this route fell into disuse or became part of national road networks.
Originally this route in the Dark Ages was of strategic importance in connecting the duchies within the Kingdom of the Lombards. After the fall of the Lombards and under the rule of the Franks this route became known as the Via Francigena “Road from France”. By the Middle Ages pilgrimages to Rome were at their height particularly as the Holy Land had fallen to the Muslim conquests and was more difficult to complete for Christian pilgrims.
Via Francigena today
Via Francigena was designated as a Cultural Route by the Council of Europe in 1994 and then as a Major Cultural Route in 2004. There has been increasing investments in this route particularly through Italy. As recently as 2009 the Italian Government has recognised the importance and benefit of recovering this route and ensuring that it is well signposted and that communities along the route are supported in providing services for pilgrims. The package that we provide will follow the Via Francigena from Vercelli in Northern Italy down to Rome over some 779km.
It is difficult to walk the Via Francigena?
The Via Francigena route is not particularly difficult. Challenges are mainly related to stage length, altitude differences, and possible water shortages, forcing travellers to increase the weight of their backpack.
The best periods to travel the entire route are May and June, or September and October. It is advisable to avoid the hottest months, especially in the Po valley, where the shade is limited and the weather can be stifling.
Water and rest stops on the route
Water fountains and eating places are common on some stages but in others are rare or even absent. Each day you should carefully consider the availability of water and take it into proper account in planning how much water to carry. During an average stage in high summer it is advisable to drink at least two litres of water, possibly supplemented with mineral salts, in order to reduce the risk of heat stroke.
In Italy, most of the towns on the via Francigena have cafés or shops that sell groceries. They are indicated in the description of each stage.
The best footwear for this type of journey is lightweight ankle high hiking boots with anti-blister hiking socks. The backpack should have a volume of between 35-45 litres and be loaded with the bare minimum. The weight should not exceed 7-8 kg. Choose an excellent quality backpack and shoes – in this area it is best to spare no expense. The rest of the equipment will be less expensive, but includes very light and breathable technical clothing. For the rain a good quality windproof jacket and an umbrella are the best solution.
Credential in the Via Francigena
The pilgrim’s credential is a kind of “identity card”, certifying that the person in possession is making a pilgrimage to a place of worship. It should always be carried in order for you to be identified as a genuine pilgrim and to grant access to refuges. Your credential can be stamped in every place that you stay during your journey.
The credential will allow the pilgrim to receive the Testimonium – certifying completion of the pilgrimage – from the appropriate religious authority.
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