In the Middle Ages, beginning from the 4th century A.D., a vast number of people who wished to visit holy places started moving around Europe: high priests or poor monks; high ranking noblemen or simple believers. As the number of pilgrims increased steadily, Europe was covered in an extensive network of roads leading towards three main destinations: Saint James of Compostela, Rome and Jerusalem. Along these routes, a great number of abbeys and monasteries were built, but also hospitals and shelters which could cater to the needs of the ever increasing flow of people.

Probably the most famous Christian pilgrimage route of all is the medieval route to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain, alleged burial place of St. James, brother of John the Evangelist and one of Christ's twelve apostles. Pilgrimages began in the 10th century AD and by the 15th century tens of thousands of pilgrims were making the journey from all over Europe.

During that time pilgrims have made their way to Santiago along four traditional routes. Tours (Paris), Vézelay, le Puy-en-Velay and Arles were named in the 12th century Pilgrim's Guide attributed to Aimery Picaud as the assembly points for pilgrims coming from all over Europe, including Britain and Ireland. Each of these was the site of a shrine celebrated in its own right, at which the pilgrims would worship before proceeding. The stages of the routes were marked by further shrines competing for patronage and for relics, for the interest of the pilgrims, and the business they brought with them. Monasteries and pilgrim hospices were built along the way to minister to the needs of pilgrims. The glories of Romanesque architecture and sculpture still mark these and other minor routes that parallel or converge on them. The route we use across France was known as the Via Podensis (Le Puy Road), the route taken by Godescalc, Bishop of Le Puy, in 950 AD. From the border with Spain we follow the Camino Frances, passing across Castile, through Burgos and León to Santiago de Compostela.

'All roads lead to Rome' (Omnes viae Romam perducunt) - once upon a time this was not so far from the truth. At the end of the 10th century Sigeric, the Archibishop of Canterbury, traveled to Rome in order to be consecrated by the Pope; on his return journey, he kept a record of the route and the stops he made. In the Middle Ages pilgrims converged on the spiritual home of European Christianity from all over the continent, upon arrival in Italy following the route that linked Rome with Canterbury - the Via Francigena. In 1985 an Italian archaeologist, Giovanni Caselli, retraced the itinerary as described by Archbishop Sigeric. The eighty stages in Sigeric's itinerary, averaging about twenty kilometres per day, and covering a total of some 1700 kilometres, are the basis for re-identifying the route today. The Via Francigena is just starting to be rediscovered and the flow of Pilgrims is only a trickle. Although the facilities along the road are not very developed, their number is steadily increasing and we hope to see more and more people on their way to Rome. which, together with the Camino de Santiago, was the principal spiritual route of the great era of pilgrimage. We are now offering the Italian section of the great pilgrimage route.

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