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 Jerusalem. They travelled on foot or on mules and horses, and rarely by cart because the conditions of the road varied continually from place4 to place and from season to season. The amount of long-distance trading done via the Via Francigena is uncertain, as many parts 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.
(Continued on the next page.)
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.