A portion of the Francigena Way near St. Thierry. (Photo by “Garitan” on Wikimedia Commons)
By Clara L. Dorfman
MONTERIGGIONI, Tuscany — “You’re here late.”
The head of the pilgrims’ hostel in Monteriggioni, Tuscany, gave us an amused look. We were five university students, none Italian, who had spent the entire day traveling ceaselessly to get to this miniscule hilltop village. All the work we’d done to get here wasn’t strictly necessary: we’d spent the past seven-and-a-half hours walking from another nearby town, San Gimignano, rather than catch the hourly regional bus.
Why? Because while studying at the University of Bologna for the year, each of us wound up hearing about the Via Francigena, a pilgrimage that leads from the Swiss-Italian border all the way to Rome, one way or another, and had decided that we wanted to try it out. Since it’s rather difficult to take off the multiple weeks needed to complete the entire trail, many Italians break the path into more manageable, weekend-sized chunks. This allows them to return home for the workweek after a strenuous but fulfilling weekend hike. After classes were over for the school year, we – two French, one German, one Norwegian, and one American – decided to do one such hike.
The Via Francigena is an excellent way to see the Italian countryside, not to mention the many smaller and larger towns it weaves through along its way south. For Catholics, there’s the additional appeal of its long legacy as a pilgrimage to St. Peter’s in Rome. According to the official website for the pilgrimage, the route originated as a way to unite upper and lower Europe in the 7th century. Christians began using the route on their way to Rome around the turn of the second millennium, although – as a gardener informed us about two hours outside of Siena – the modern-day pilgrim’s route is really just one of the many paths those pilgrims would take south. Indeed, the medieval pilgrimage to Rome went along the Via Cassia, which is now a major freeway. “You’d be crazy to try and walk that way anymore,” the gardener told us.
The route that’s maintained nowadays is crossed daily by dozens of pilgrims – mostly Italians, though the occasional non-Italian European may be encountered as well – and traces its way from one city or village along the path to the next. (Read More)