Around the year 990 A.D., Archbishop Sigeric of Canterbury walked with a retinue of servants and advisers to Rome. Upon his return, he asked his secretary to record each stop in his return itinerary. The resulting manuscript still exists and serves as our primary evidence of the existence of a pilgrim itinerary all the way from England to the Holy See in Rome.
Called the Via Francigena, in English the “Way of the Frankish People,” this pilgrimage itinerary has been re-activated for modern walking pilgrimages. Each year a few thousand pilgrims start all the way in Canterbury and walk the 1,700 kilometers in 70-90 days all the way to Rome. Many more pilgrims begin somewhere along the way — in France, Switzerland or Italy — and do portions of the walk.
Because Sigeric walked on Roman roads which have long since been supplanted by modern arterials and highways, the track doesn’t always adhere to its historic ancestor. However, most of the towns and cities listed on the travelogue are still very much in existence. These historic towns long served as important waypoints for pilgrim walkers heading to and from Rome, and they make a very delightful series of stops for the modern pilgrim walker. The modern route has found pleasant walking paths that closely shadow the historic Roman roads of the original route and, when linked together, make a feasible and enjoyable walk.
For more information, go to the Confraternity of Pilgrims to Rome, the Via Francigena on Wikipedia, The Via Francigena (an English language site about the walk to Rome), or read books like New York Times columnist Tim Egan’s new book, Pilgrimage to Eternity: From Canterbury to Rome in Search of a Faith.