“Europe was born out of pilgrimage, and its mother tongue is Christianity“
The Francigena Way, also known as the Via Francesca or Via Romea, is an ancient pilgrimage route from north-western Europe to Rome (and on along the Appian Way and via the city of Brindisi to the Holy Land). The Francigena name referred, literally, to the route’s origin in the land of the Franks. It was not actually a single route but a series of paths and roads that guided the pilgrims to Rome. Getting there from France in the Middle Ages was no easy task; there were different lands and cultures to cross, and it could take months before the Eternal City appeared on the horizon.
Some pilgrims died along the way; others met bands of brigands; still, others were forced to depart from the original route for political reasons. What drove the people of the time to embark on this long, tiring, perilous undertaking was the need to visit places of special significance for Christians, sites guarding sacred relics, or places of great historical importance for the Catholic faith.
In those days, every good Christian was expected to do one of the “Peregrinationes Maiores” – pilgrimages to St Peter’s tomb in Rome, to Santiago de Compostela, and to Jerusalem, respectively – at least once in their life.
The first and most complete official document on the Francigena Way is a meticulous travelogue from the 10th century written by Bishop Sigeric, who was returning to Canterbury after an audience with the Pope. This text became the official basis for the Francigena’s route, a journey that has been undertaken by the faithful in their numbers, depending on the season and the political climate. The constant stream of pilgrims enabled the different European cultures to communicate and therefore to forge the common cultural, artistic and economic foundations of modern Europe.
Today, despite all our modern high-speed communication arteries, the Francigena Way continues to flourish as a means of communication and exchange between peoples and cultures. In 1994, it was declared a “Cultural Route of the Council of Europe”, with an established itinerary, thus confirming its international importance on a par with the pilgrimage to Santiago.
Hamlets along the Way
As well as being one of the world’s finest and most beautiful pilgrim paths, the Via Francigena brushes by some of Emilia-Romagna’s historical and spiritual hotspots, such as Berceto and Bobbio, a place of great religious importance in the Middle Ages. For here stands St Columban’s Abbey, founded in 614 by the Irish monk Columban, and it was one of the safe and sacred places that pilgrims met along the road to St Peter’s tomb in Rome.
Services and practical information
The Francigena’s official website offers all the information you need to plan your trip, including where to sleep, where to find cycle paths and details on how to earn your pilgrim’s official “Credential” and “Testimonium” to confirm that you have completed the route. You can also download a GPS file for each stage, the latest updates on the state of the route underfoot, and full details about local events.
The Francigena Way in Emilia-Romagna is usually divided into 6 stages covering a total of nearly 90 miles (the entire way from Canterbury to Rome spans some 1100 miles). It’s not of great technical difficulty, although some stages are quite long, and there are some ups and downs, albeit nothing too drastic, and water can be hard to come by.
Countries traversed: England, France, Switzerland, Italy
Italian regions crossed: Valle d’Aosta, Piedmont, Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna, Tuscany, Lazio
Emilia-Romagna section: GPS tracks
Stage 1 | Caledasco – Piacenza (km 11,3)
Stage 2| Piacenza – Fiorenzuola (km 34)
Stage 3 | Fiorenzuola – Fidenza (km 22,3)
Stage 4 | Fidenza – Fornovo (km 34)
Stage 5 | Fornovo – Cassio (km 21)
Stage 6 | Cassio – Passo della Cisa (km 19)
If you plan to run the Francigena Way, you can buy a guide and download the free App from the official website.
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