Via Francigena

Various Via Francigena signposts

The Via Francigena [ˈviːa franˈtʃiːdʒena] is the common name of an ancient road and pilgrim route running from France to Rome, though it is usually considered to have its starting point much further away, in the English cathedral city of Canterbury. As such, the route passes through England, France, Switzerland and Italy. The route was known in Italy as the "Via Francigena" ("the road that comes from France") or the "Via Romea Francigena" ("the road to Rome that comes from France").[1] In mediaeval times it was an important road and pilgrimage route for those wishing to visit the Holy See and the tombs of the apostles Peter and Paul.

History of the pilgrimage to Rome

Sign showing the path near Ivrea, Piedmont, Italy.

In the Middle Ages, Via Francigena was the major pilgrimage route to Rome from the north. The route was first documented as the "Lombard Way", and was first called the Iter Francorum (the "Frankish Route") in the Itinerarium sancti Willibaldi of 725, a record of the travels of Willibald, bishop of Eichstätt in Bavaria. It was "Via Francigena-Francisca" in Italy and Burgundy, the "Chemin des Anglois" in the Frankish Kingdom (after the evangelisation of England in 607) and also the "Chemin Romieux", the road to Rome.

The name Via Francigena is first mentioned in the Actum Clusio, a parchment of 876 in the Abbey of San Salvatore al Monte Amiata (Tuscany).[2]

At the end of the 10th century Sigeric the Serious, the Archbishop of Canterbury, used the Via Francigena to and from Rome in order to receive his pallium;[3] he recorded his route and his stops on the return journey,[4] but nothing in the document suggests that the route was then new.

Later itineraries to Rome include the Leiðarvísir og borgarskipan of the Icelandic traveller Nikolás Bergsson (in 1154) and the one from Philip Augustus of France (in 1191).[5] Two somewhat differing maps of the route appear in manuscripts of Matthew Paris, Historia Anglorum, from the 13th century.

The Via Francigena – in France given the Grande Randonnée route number GR145 – crossing the Massif de Saint Thierry, Champagne.

The Welshman Rhodri Mawr in AD 880 and his grandson Howell the Good in 945 are both known to have visited Rome towards the end of their lives, but it is not known whether they went by land or by the dangerous and pirate-infested sea route via Gibraltar. Reports of journeys before Sigeric can only be apocryphal. We may be quite certain that the Benedictine William of St-Thierry, used the roads towards Rome on several occasions at the end of the 11th century. The return journey by sea was likely to be easier, thanks to the prevailing south-westerly winds, but tacking down to the Mediterranean would have made a very long journey indeed. A statement that a historical figure "died in Rome" may have been a historical falsity, but a metaphorical truth.

The Via Francigena was not a single road, like a Roman road, paved with stone blocks and provided at intervals with a change of horses for official travellers. Rather, it comprised several possible routes that changed over the centuries as trade and pilgrimage waxed and waned. Depending on the time of year, the political situation, and the relative popularity of the shrines of the saints situated along the route, travellers may have used any of three or four crossings of the Alps and the Apennines. The Lombards financed the maintenance and security of the section of road through their territories as a trading route to the north from Rome, avoiding enemy-held cities such as Florence. Another important point is that unlike Roman roads, the Via Francigena did not connect cities, but relied more on abbeys.

Pilgrims to Rome carved in a relief, Fidenza Cathedral (late twelfth century)

Sigeric's itinerary

Circa 990 AD, Archbishop Sigeric journeyed from Canterbury to Rome and then back again but only documented his itinerary on the return journey.[6] Sigeric's return journey consisted of 80 stages averaging about 20 km (12 mi) a day, for a total of some 1,700 km (1,100 mi).[7]

Most modern-day pilgrims would wish to follow Sigeric's documented route in the reverse order, i.e. from Canterbury to Rome, and so would journey from Canterbury to the English coast before crossing the Channel to Sumeran (now called Sombres) landing at the point where the seaside village of Wissant now lies. From there the modern-day pilgrim must travel to the places Sigeric knew as "Gisne", "Teranburh", "Bruaei", "Atherats", before continuing on to Reims, Châlons-sur-Marne, Bar-sur-Aube, Langres, Besançon, Pontarlier, Lausanne and Saint-Maurice. From Saint-Maurice they must traverse the Great St. Bernard Pass to Aosta and from Aosta they must pass through Ivrea, Vercelli, Pavia, Fidenza, Pontremoli, Filattiera, Aulla, Luni, Lucca, San Gimignano, Poggibonsi, Siena, San Quirico d'Orcia, Bolsena, Viterbo and Sutri before finally reaching the city of Rome.

Sigeric's journey compared to today's route
No. Stages as described by Sigeric Today's stages of the Via Francigena
Place names as per Sigeric Current-day place names Start - End Distances in km
Across the English Channel
1 LXXX Sumeran Sombre (part of Wissant) Calais - Wissant 19.7
2 LXXIX stage missing
3 LXXVIII Gisne Guînes Wissant - Guînes 20.2
4 LXXVII Teranburh Thérouanne Guînes - Licques 15.7
Licques - Wisques 23.9
Wisques - Thérouanne 13.2
5 LXXVI Bruwaei Bruay-la-Buissière Thérouanne - Auchy-au-Bois 15.1
Auchy-au-Bois - Bruay-la-Buissière 19.0
6 LXXV Atherats Arras Bruay-la-Buissière - Arras 33.6
7 LXXIV Duin Doingt Arras - Bapaume 26.2
Bapaume - Péronne 25.3
Peronne - Doingt 3.0
8 LXXIII Martinwaeth Seraucourt-le-Grand Doingt - Seraucourt-le-Grand 29.2
9 LXXII Mundlothuin Laon Seraucourt-le-Grand - Tergnier 17.0
Tergnier - Laon 33.0
10 LXXI Corbunei Corbeny Laon - Bouconville-Vauclair 18.6
Bouconville-Vauclair - Corbeny 4.5
11 LXX Rems Reims Corbeny - Hermonville 20.1
Hermonville - Reims 16.3
12 LXIX Chateluns Châlons-en-Champagne Reims - Trépail 28.1
Trépail - Châlons-en-Champagne 25.8
13 LXVIII Funtaine Fontaine sur Coole Châlons-en-Champagne - Coole 27.0
14 LXVII Domaniant Donnement Coole - Donnement 25.7
15 LXVI Breone Brienne-le-Château Donnement - Brienne le Château 17.8
16 LXV Bar Bar-sur-Aube Brienne-le-Château - Bar-sur-Aube 26.9
17 LXIV Blaecuile Blessonville Bar-sur-Aube - Châteauvillain
(near Blessonville)
18 LXIII Oisma Humes-Jorquenay Châteauvillain - Langres
(near Humes-Jorquenay)
19 LXII Grenant Grenant Langres - Coublanc
(near Grenant)
20 LXI Sefui Seveux Coublanc - Dampierre-sur-Salon 27.7
Dampierre-sur-Salon - Savoyeux
(near Seveux)
21 LX Cuscei Cussey-sur-l'Ognon Savoyeux - Gy 20.6
Gy - Cussey-sur-l'Ognon 16.4
22 LIX Bysiceon Besançon Cussey-sur-l'Ognon - Besançon 17.0
23 LVIII Nos Nods Besançon - Étalans 27.0
Étalans - Chasnans
(near Nods)
24 LVII Punterlin Pontarlier Chasnans - Ouhans 18.0
Ouhans - Pontarlier 17.0
25 LVI Antifern Yverdon-les-BainsPontarlier - Orbe 40.2
26 LV Urba Orbe
27 LIV Losanna Lausanne Orbe - Lausanne 32.0
28 LIII Vivaec Vevey Lausanne - Cully 12.9[8]
Cully - Vevey 11.3
29 LII Burbulei Aigle Vevey - Montreux 8.4
Montreux - Villeneuve 5.9
Villeneuve - Aigle 12.7
30 LI Sce Maurici Saint-Maurice Aigle - Saint-Maurice 18.0
31 L Ursiores Orsières Saint-Maurice - Martigny 17.0
Martigny - Orsières 18.5
32 XLIX Petrecastel Bourg-Saint-Pierre Orsières - Bourg-Saint-Pierre 15.4
33 XLVIII Sce Remei Saint-Rhémy-en-Bosses Bourg-Saint-Pierre - Great St Bernard Hospice 13.8
Great St Bernard Hospice - Saint-Rhémy-en-Bosses 6.3
34 XLVII Agusta Aosta Saint-Rhémy-en-Bosses - Aosta 25.6
35 XLVI Publei (Pontey ?) Pont-Saint-Martin Aosta - Nus 15.9
Nus - Saint-Vincent 22.3
Saint-Vincent - Arnad 22.4
Arnad - Pont-Saint-Martin 15.9
36 XLV Everi Ivrea Pont-Saint-Martin - Ivrea 25.2
37 XLIV Sca Agatha Santhià Ivrea - Viverone 21.4
Viverone - Santhià 16.2
38 XLIII Vercel Vercelli Santhià - Vercelli 28.6
39 XLII Tremel Tromello Vercelli - Robbio 19.7
Robbio - Mortara 14.2
Mortara - Tromello 18.1
40 XLI Pamphica Pavia Tromello - Gropello Cairoli 13.5
Gropello Cairoli - Pavia 18.1
41 XL Sce Cristine Santa Cristina e Bissone Pavia - Santa Cristina e Bissone 27.4
42 XXXIX Sce Andrea Corte San Andrea Santa Cristina e Bissone - Piacenza
(crossing the Po)
43 XXXVIII Placentia Piacenza
44 XXXVII Floricum Fiorenzuola d'Arda Piacenza - Fiorenzuola d'Arda 26.4
45 XXXVI Sce Domnine Fidenza (up till 1927 called Borgo San Donino) Fiorenzuola d'Arda - Fidenza 22.3
46 XXXV Metane Costamezzana (Medesano) Fidenza - Costamezzana 10.8
47 XXXIV Philemangenur Fornovo di Taro (or Felegara)Costamezzana - Medesano 9.7
Medesano - Fornovo di Taro 9.2
48 XXXIII Sce Moderanne Berceto Fornovo di Taro - Cassio di Terenzo 19.8
Cassio di Terenzo - Berceto 10.4
49 XXXII Sce Benedicte Montelungo Berceto - Pontremoli 29.4
50 XXXI Puntremel Pontremoli
51 XXX Aguilla Aulla Pontremoli - Villafranca in Lunigiana 19.1
Villafranca in Lunigiana - Aulla 15.3
52 XXIX Sce Stephane Santo Stefano di Magra Aulla - Sarzana 16.3
53 XXVIII Luna Luni Sarzana - Luni 12.7
54 XXVII Campmaior Pieve di Camaiore Luni - Massa 14.8
Massa - Pietrasanta 15.8
Pietrasanta - Camaiore 8.2
55 XXVI Luca Lucca Camaiore - Lucca 24.2
56 XXV Forcri Porcari Lucca - Porcari 10.6
57 XXIII Aqua Nigra Ponte a Cappiano. Part of Fucecchio Porcari - Ponte a Cappiano 19.7
58 XXIII Arne Blanca Fucecchio Ponte a Cappiano - Fucecchio 4.9
59 XXII Sce Dionisii San Genesio near San Miniato Fucecchio - San Miniato Alto 7.6
60 XXI Sce Peter Currant Coiano. Today part of Castelfiorentino San Miniato Alto - Coiano 12.1
61 XX Sce Maria Glan Santa Maria a Chianni near Gambassi Terme Coiano - Gambassi Terme 12.2
62 XIX Sce Gemiane San Gimignano Gambassi Terme - San Gimignano 14.5
63 XVIII Sce Martin in Fosse San Martino Fosci (Molino d'Aiano. Part of Colle di Val d'Elsa) San Gimignano - Badia a Isola 20.5/25.5
64 XVII Aelse Gracciano (Pieve d'Elsa. Part of Colle di Val d'Elsa)
65 XVI Burgenove Badia a Isola. Part of Monteriggioni
66 XV Seocine Siena Badia a Isola - Monteriggioni 3.5
Monteriggioni - Siena 20.5
67 XIV Arbia Ponte d'Arbia. Part of Monteroni d'Arbia Siena - Monteroni d'Arbia 17.9
Monteroni d'Arbia - Ponte d'Arbia 9.8
68 XIII Turreiner Torrenieri (Part of Montalcino) Ponte d'Arbia - Buonconvento 5.7
Buonconvento - Torrenieri 13.5
69 XII Sce Quiric San Quirico d'Orcia Torrenieri - San Quirico d'Orcia 7.4
70 XI Abricula Briccole di Sotto San Quirico d'Orcia - Bagno Vignoni 5.3
Bagno Vignoni - Radicofani 27.4
71 X Sce Petir in Pail San Pietro in Paglia (Voltole) Radicofani - Ponte a Rigo 10.7
72 IX Aquapendente Acquapendente Ponte a Rigo - Acquapendente 13.8
73 VIII Sca Cristina Bolsena Acquapendente - Bolsena 20.2
74 VII Sce Flaviane Montefiascone Bolsena - Montefiascone 18
75 VI Sce Valentine Viterbo (Bullicame) Montefiascone - Viterbo 18.7
76 V Furcari Vetralla (Forcassi) Viterbo - Vetralla 17.9
77 IlIl Suteria Sutri Vetralla - Sutri 22.1
78 III Bacane Baccano (Campagnano di Roma) Sutri - Campagnano di Roma 22.3
79 II Johannis VIIII San Giovanni in Nono (La Storta) Campagnano di Roma - La Storta 25.6
80 I Urbs Roma Roma La Storta - Rome 14.8


Today some pilgrims still follow in Sigeric's ancient footsteps and travel on foot, on horseback or by bicycle on the Via Francigena, although there are far fewer pilgrims on this route than on the Way of St. James pilgrims' route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.[9] Roughly 1,200 pilgrims were estimated to have walked the VF in 2012. One reason for this is a lack of infrastructure and suitable support facilities. Affordable pilgrims' accommodation and other facilities can be hard to come by for those traveling along the route.


Pilgrims' accommodation building in Cassio, Parma, Italy [10]

Due to the scarcity of dedicated pilgrims' accommodation along the Via Francigena, pilgrims often camp out rather than staying in hotels or pensions, both options which would turn out expensive when used for weeks on end. However increasingly in Italy, some monasteries and religious houses offer dedicated pilgrim's accommodation. These are called spedali and — like the refugios found on the Way of St. James in France and Spain — they offer cheap and simple dormitory-style accommodation. Spedali accept pilgrims who bear a valid credenziale (pilgrim's passport), usually for one night only. Some places offer meals as well.

The state and path of the route

A steep section of the Via Francigena in Settimo Vittone, Piedmont.

Only a few decades ago, interest in the Via Francigena was limited to scholars. This began to change in recent years when many who, after travelling the Way of St. James in Spain, wanted to make the pilgrimage to Rome on foot as well. In Italy, this gave birth to a network of lovers of the Via Francigena, who with paint and brush, began to mark its trails and paths. These people were joined by religious and local government agencies who also tried to recover the original route. Where possible today's route follows the ancient one but sometimes it deviates from the historical path in favour of paths and roads with low traffic. The potential for the tourist trade in Italy has been recognised but this has also led some to take advantage - some have worked to divert the path so that it passes around this bar or that restaurant![11]

In England, the VF passes only through the county of Kent. In France, the VF (given the Grande Randonnée designation GR145) goes through the régions of Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Picardy, Champagne-Ardenne and Franche-Comté before reaching the Swiss border. In Switzerland the VF goes through the cantons of Vaud and Valais. In Italy the VF goes through the Regione of Valle d'Aosta, Piedmont, Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna, Tuscany, and finally Lazio.

Walkers could choose to walk along the EuroVelo EV5 cycling route which bears the name the 'Via Francigena'. However, this EuroVelo route varies substantially from Sigeric's route and the one given by the Via Francigena Association.

In 1994 the Via Francigena was designated a Cultural Route by the Council of Europe.

In 2004 the Via Francigena was designated a Major Cultural Route by the Council of Europe.

In November 2009 the Italian government 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 Region of Tuscany, which hosts 400 km (250 mi) of the Via, and which presented a plan 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.[12] Tuscany has also announced cooperation with the Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi (ORP), the Vatican’s organisation for encouraging pilgrimages.


See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Via Francigena.


  1. Valle d'Aosta Aosta Valley: Gran San Bernardo - La Via Francigena
  2. Via Francigena: history (PDF) Archived July 19, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  3. Hindley, Geoffrey A Brief History of the Anglo-Saxons: The beginnings of the English nation (New York: Carroll & Graf) 2006:294-295.
  4. The transcript, formerly in the Cottonian Library, is now in the British Library (Cotton Tiberius B.v., folios 34 and 35; On-line map of Sigeric's route
  5. Nikolás is noted in F. P. Magoun, Jr., "The Italian Itinerary of Philip II (Philippe-Auguste) in the Year 1191", Speculum 17.3 (July 1942:367-376) p. 367 note 2.
  6. Ortenberg "Anglo-Saxon Church and the Papacy" English Church and the Papacy in the Middle Ages p. 49
  7. Via Francigena - 03 |Augnet
  8. Distances given by Ingrid Retterath: Via Francigena von Lausanne nach Rom. Outdoor guide Bd. 201. Conrad Stein Verlag 2011.
  10. it:Via Francigena
  11. 128-page PDF in Italian, with plans and pictures

Via Francigena associations

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