Join 3,368 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Pilgrim route redux
December 1, 2009 7:30 AM   Subscribe

The Via Francigena (fran-chee-jena) (also here) was the pilgrim road leading from Canterbury to Rome and one of the most important routes of communication in the Middle Ages. The Italian government has this week launched a project to recover the Italian leg of it.

The object of the plan is to recover the entire route (disjointed parts of which are already signposted) “not only in spiritual and religious terms but also in terms of the environment, architecture, culture, history, wine and cuisine and sport.” The initiative was promoted by the regional government of Tuscany, which hosts 400km of the Via, and which presented a plan (128-page PDF in Italian with maps and pix) detailing the low environmental impact infrastructures to be created. The plan will be shared with other local authorities located along the route as an encouragement to carry out similar recovery work. Tuscany has also announced cooperation with the Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi (ORP) (link in Italian), the Vatican’s organisation for encouriging and supporting pilgrimages. Modern-day pilgrims can often be seen walking (or sometimes cycling) on the Via Francigena, and are offered hospitality along the way by local parishes.
posted by aqsakal (6 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
... encouraging ...
posted by aqsakal at 8:02 AM on December 1, 2009


Modern-day pilgrims, on Flickr! Those trail signs are great.
posted by steef at 8:04 AM on December 1, 2009


This is very interesting. I've never heard of it before, and I'm not quite sure I understand its status. The wikipedia article says it was not a fixed route but varied in places, and contrasts it with a fixed Roman road. But surely there must always have been a major road, if not from Canterbury at least from, say, Paris to Rome, even in the 'Dark Ages' - in fact, the Roman one was still there, wasn't it? Why wouldn't pilgrims use that?

On the other hand, if it never was really fixed, 'recovering' it with new infrastructure seems to risk creating a medieval entity that did not actually exist in the Middle Ages. Nice though.
posted by Phanx at 8:41 AM on December 1, 2009


Good point, Phanx. I think it's a similar concept to "the Silk Road" - there isn't one single, definitive route, but a generic one which will change from time to time as a bridge falls down or a new one is built, a pass is snowed in or opened, robber bands are particularly active in a certain area or are expunged, a new church is built or a particularly venerated reliquary is moved from one church to another, an area is infected with malaria, and so on. And I assume that in the Middle Ages the peasants weren't very accurate in pointing the right way to the next town, abbey or hostelry. The Tuscany plan addresses this in "Action 1", which attempts to define the fixed parts and the "minor routes" which vary around it. Yes, this will probably risk creating a fixed version of something which was (slightly) variable in the Middle Ages, but trying to define the most historically valid or frequently-used part wherever there's a variation.

As for the Roman roads, yes, but they were built for moving troops or freight and went from town to town (or fort to fort), but the VF went from abbey to abbey (or other religiously significant waypoint), which didn't always coincide.

And super pix, steef! I wish there were some more detailed captions about where each one was taken.
posted by aqsakal at 9:26 AM on December 1, 2009


but surely there must always have been a major road, if not from Canterbury at least from, say, Paris to Rome, even in the 'Dark Ages' - in fact, the Roman one was still there, wasn't it? Why wouldn't pilgrims use that?

Well, naturally, and not all pilgrims came from Canterbury or Paris regardless. Those from Bordeaux, or Barcelona, must have joined it at an intermediate point. It's likely that this main via was simply the trunk route of a road network centered originally on Rome.

'recovering' it with new infrastructure seems to risk creating a medieval entity that did not actually exist in the Middle Ages.

Well, there's museum restoration, and there's historic rehabilitation that fits the needs of the day. I think a road deserves to have a life, so to speak. Even if the stones and gravel underfoot aren't original, or in the original location (which may be impossible -- under a reservoir, perhaps, or an airport), the meaning and spirit of the trail would be intact; the experience of walking it would be intact. I don't object to this sort of re-creation, particularly if it's done curatorially so that people understand the point.
posted by dhartung at 12:48 PM on December 1, 2009


Why wouldn't pilgrims use that?

It apparently used to be a major route according to the site for the swiss section of the route

But other than that what aqsakal said, also remembering maintenance of roads was a sketchy affair up until the 18th/19th century.

On the other hand, if it never was really fixed, 'recovering' it with new infrastructure seems to risk creating a medieval entity that did not actually exist in the Middle Ages.

The recovered route is based on what a particular pilgram (Sigerich, archbishop of canterbury) wrote down in 990 as he was returning to Canterbury (which is why it is called the via francigena).

There's also a European cycle route from London to Rome Euro Velo 5, which takes a different route to make it an easier climb.
posted by Erberus at 3:26 PM on December 1, 2009


« Older Tuesday, December 1, 2009 is the 21st annual World...  |  Who sings the "Since I left yo... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments