History, information, advice, events... The Via Francigena celebrates its 30th anniversary

History, information, advice, events… The Via Francigena celebrates its 30th anniversary

In 2024, the Via Francigena, a route that connects Canterbury (Great Britain) to Rome (3,200 km), celebrates the 30th anniversary of its certification as a Cultural Route of the Council of Europe. Several events are planned, including, in March, a walk as part of the “Grande Randonnée vers Paris” organized by the FFRandonnée in the run-up to the Olympic Games. Interview with Martine Gautheron, vice-president of the European Association of the Via Francigena (AEVF).

Why do we sometimes put this term in the plural, Vie francigene?

Because, as the saying goes, “all roads lead to Rome!”. Multiple routes join this pilgrimage route. For example, those arriving from Belgium cross the Via francigena at Reims ; and I would mention the latest one, the Via ligeriawhich leaves Nantes to join the main route at Bucey-lès-Gy (Haute-Saône).

Furthermore, other itineraries such as the paths of Assisi, Mont-Saint-Michel or Santiago de Compostela sometimes overlap with the Via francigena or cross it. From Germany or Austria, you can also take routes such as the Via Romea Germanicathere Via Domitiathere Via Francisca del Lucomagnothere Via Appiaetc.

What were the main dates of the rebirth of the Via Francigena?

This main axis of communication between the north and the south of Europe, along which merchants, soldiers and pilgrims passed, gradually fell into oblivion.

Around 1993, an Italian network of local authorities and historians became interested in it, and achieved “Cultural Route” certification from the Council of Europe. In 2001, Italian elected officials created the AEVF (European Association of the Via Francigena), in order to participate in the renewal of this path. Finally, in 2004, the Via francigena has become a “Major Cultural Route” of the Council of Europe.

In France, a network of associations also came together a few years ago to create the FFVF (French Via Francigena Federation) in order to provide information to pilgrims on this path.

This 30th anniversary is an opportunity to take stock of the last thirty years. What is it?

As for attendance, based on the number of credentials sold, it is estimated that each year, around 50,000 pilgrims travel this route for an average duration of one week.

There Via francigena has become a sustainable route. It networks residents, pilgrims and local communities from the four countries crossed. It promotes their cultural heritage by making it discover and revive, and it generates the economy.

Furthermore, the Via Francigena contributes to the construction of a better world, by showing that the future is in our hands, in our actions, through our ideas: in 2021, the great “Road To Rome” march of 3,200 km, in five months homelessness, was a good proof of this. There Via Francigena , it is a cultural, social and sustainable tourism project. And a great peace project!

Who are the walkers or pilgrims of the Via Francigena and what are their motivations?

These walkers, pilgrims or widely roaming hikers come from 55 countries around the world. Those who come from distant countries (notably America, Australia, Japan and Korea) most often make the journey in one go: their journey therefore lasts almost three months. Europeans (Italians, Belgians, Dutch, etc.) divide their journey further.

The majority do this route on foot, even if, over the past three years, there have been increasing numbers of cyclists (13.8%). These pilgrims and hikers are mostly over 60 or under 30 years old.

As for motivations, they are multiple: a challenge with oneself, culture, heritage, spirituality, religion, sport.

What advice would you give to those who would be tempted by the adventure of walking the Via Francigena?

First, set the date of your departure taking into account the snowy periods of the Grand-Saint-Bernard pass (2473 m altitude), which must be crossed to cross into Italy: it is only open between the beginning of June and mid-October.

For accommodation, it is safer to book the day before at the latest. The AEVF website contains a lot of information: stages, list of accommodation (pilgrim reception and tourist accommodation) in the four countries crossed, addresses of points of sale for credentials (or pilgrim’s notebooks). A booklet listing accommodation has also been published (available on the FFVF website).

The app Via francigena (for iPhone or Android), free download, also allows you to geolocate, find accommodation and distribution points for the credential and other practical information.

The historian Jacques Le Goff wrote: “A route does not simply live in the past or even in the present, it sends in a way a signal for the future. » What signal does the Via Francigena give?

A call for serenity, for peace: on this path, these values ​​of the Council of Europe can be embodied. It is indeed a place of intercultural sharing, of openness, where travelers from all over the world can exchange in a serene climate: walkers with each other, but also walkers with locals. A beautiful tribute paid to Archbishop Sigéric, more than a thousand years after his great founding journey!

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