The Via Francigena winds through England and over the channel into France, Switzerland, and Italy—over 2000 km (about 1,056 miles). Quite the hike. It is the ancient pilgrim’s path to Rome and, from there, to ships bound for the Holy Land.
While the Camino Santiago handles traffic from more than 300,000 people every year, the Road to Rome draws a much smaller crowd—maybe 25,000 people who don’t necessarily cover the entire distance or go as pilgrims. It got much more traffic in medieval times but includes a lot of beautiful territory and historical holy sites.
Probably a few details have a lot to do with this:
Me? I like the “road less traveled.” In a couple of years when our friends get married in Tuscany, questing the Via is how I want to round out that trip.
How unusual that Peter, the rough fisherman-apostle, should become the Rock on which Christ built his church. It is on this basis that Rome became the center of Catholic Christianity.
After the passing of Peter, crucified upside-down, its popes essentially became Peter’s replacements as leaders (though some were questionable in this capacity). Because of the importance of the place honoring him, some of the world’s most brilliant artists gave their talents to creating something beautiful in Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican in Rome. It is, perhaps, one of the greatest Western architectural achievements.
And the road that takes you there comes in through France, thus the name: Via Francigena (basically, “the road that comes from France”). Yet it’s not all road and, in parts, there’s more than one path running roughly in the same direction.
But why Canterbury as the official starting point?
Because that’s where Sigeric, Archbishop of Canterbury at that time, began his own pilgrimage to Rome around 990 AD to get his pallium—a journey he recorded in some detail. The brief account of his itinerary is currently kept at the British Library in London.