I first discovered this ancient route known as The Via Francigena as I read a nicely informative sign in the hilltop medieval town of Monteriggioni several years ago. Intriqued, I made a mental note that “someday” I would walk a portion or two of that well-trod via. And lucky me…that someday has arrived! I have the honor and pleasure of partaking in a journey with other bloggers and photographers along a designated pathway through age-old Tuscan thermal spa towns and sections of the Via Francigena. I’m incredibly excited and looking forward to rich experiences that I’ll be sharing here and on other social media. Andiamo, y’all!
But first, a little background and a few thoughts on the Via Francigena…
Considered by most as a path of pilgrimage, the Via Francigena actually has secular roots that prepared the way for its later importance as a spiritual highway. Beginning as a less-than-formal pathway in the Dark Ages, the ancient route was enlarged by the Lombards as a means to navigate from the kingdom of Pavia avoiding land held by the unruly Byzantines, and thus connect with the Via Cassia into Rome. It was christened the Via di Monte Bardone until the Franks said “Au revoir!” to the Lombards and aptly renamed the route Via Francigena…or the Road from France. With repetitive use by generations of pilgrims, merchants, and soldiers, the Via Fracigena became established as a major pathway connecting upper and lower regions of Europe.
As the first millennium AD gave way to the second, the Via Francigena found itself becoming a chosen route for Christian pilgrimage. Three major cities…Rome, Jerusalem, and Santiago de Compostela…were considered the holiest of destinations and therefore on the bucket list of the most reverent — or those in bad need of absolution. Leading to major ports in Italy and Spain that made connection to the three holy cities doable, the popularity of participating in a pilgrimage became almost fevered, and thus the Via Francigena grew even more as a major thoroughfare throughout the Middle Ages.
In our modern, technology saturated, rush-about world, the Via Francigena is gaining a new following amongst travelers; those not so much seeking to pay a penitence, but rather connect in a new way to the oldest of traditions. Although the ancient Via dissolved into subdivided paths and eventually was absorbed into other major roadways, the modern pathway is still the emotional pilgrimage, even if not precisely the geographical one. Putting feet to ground, step by step following a kindred human journey, viewing the same night sky, resting in a quiet hostel in one of many churches or “ospedales” along the way, eating a simple meal without distraction of clock or schedule, and rediscovering the person within while also discovering the natural beauty along this pathway of old — this is what draws the pilgrim once again.
* many thanks to www.viafrancigena.org for factual information gathered for this post