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The birth of the Via Francigena
When the Lombard domination left space to the Franks one, also the Via di Monte Bardone changed its name into Via Francigena, that is to say “road that originates from France”. The name included, beyond the current French territory, also the area of the Reno Valley and the Netherlands. At that time, the traffic along the Via was growing, so that the path established itself as the main connection axis between the North and the South of Europe, along which merchants, armies and pilgrims passed through.
The pilgrimage in time
Between the end of the first millennium and the beginning of the second, the practice of pilgrimage acquired a growing importance. The holy places of Christianity were Jerusalem, Santiago de Compostela and Rome, and the Via Francigena represented the central junction of the great faith roads. As a matter of fact, pilgrims coming from North travelled on the Via towards Rome and eventually along the Appian Way towards the bridges of Puglia, where they could embark for the Holy Land. Vice versa, Italian pilgrims that were headed towards Santiago, travelled on the Via towards North, to reach Luni, where they could embark for the bridges of France or they could continue towards Moncenisio and then to the Via Tolosana, that led to Spain. Pilgrimage soon became a mass phenomenon and this intensified the role of the Via Francigena, that became a determinant communication channel for the realisation of cultural unity, that characterised Europe during the Middle Ages.
The itinerant sources
It is mainly thanks to the travel journals, and in particular the notes of the illustrious pilgrim Sigeric, that we can nowadays reconstruct the ancient path of the Francigena. In 990, after being ordained as Archbishop of Canterbury by Pope John XV, the abbot went back home noting on two manuscript pages the 80 mansions where he stopped for the night. Sigeric’s journal is still considered the most authoritative source, so much so that often we talk about “Via Francigena according to Sigeric’s itinerary”, in order to define a more “philological” version of the path.
The Via Francigena in Switzerland
The Via Francigena in Switzerland runs through a variety of landscapes and is without doubt also one of the most spectacular pilgrims’ paths in Europe.
From Lausanne, the ViaFrancigena runs through the vineyards of Lavaux to the bend in the Rhone. From the ancient city of Octodurus (Martigny), it winds through the narrow pass shaped by the wild waters of the Drance to the northern slopes of the Great St. Bernard pass. In Val d’Entremont, medieval villages line the route: Sembrancher, Orsières, Liddes and Bourg-Saint-Pierre.
Discover the Via Francigena in Switzerland on the official website: www.viefrancigene.org