The Via Francigena stretches some 1800 km from Canterbury, in Kent to the Vatican in Rome. The road was a popular pilgrimage route in medieval times. The name comes from the Latin for the way through France. People from Britain have been making this journey since the times of the Roman occupation. Following the Edict of Milan in AD313, which announced that the empire was now Christian, logically its home, HQ and focal point was to become Rome. There’s plenty of documented evidence to show that even after the collapse of the Roman empire many pilgrims continued to walk the route throughout the so-called Dark Ages. Probably a little more dangerous than it is today! It is said that the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Sigeric, made the pilgrimage in 990AD. He set the standard for the route which continues pretty much unaltered today. His story has influenced countless others, including the renown account by Hilaire Beloc. I’ve not read his first hand account but seen it quoted and it sounds quite amusing. He appears not to have carried any water yet seems to have consumed plenty of wine! Clearly many of the roads, lanes and streets, of the tenth century no longer exist but today’s route follows pretty much that taken by Sigeric over a thousand years ago. Obviously barring motorways, canals, and railway lines!
Sections of the route were only re-opened to the public a few years ago. It was recognised by the Council of Europe in 1994 and given similar status to the Camino de Santiago. Though unlike its big brother, the Via Francigena, attracts relatively few walkers or pilgrims. In 2009, it had only 2500 visitors compared to the Camino de Santiago’s 150,000! The map below gives a satellite view of the planned route.