Via Francigena in history

The Via Francigena (‘the way through France’) is a 1,900- kilometre pilgrim way from Canterbury to Rome.

It follows the route described by Sigeric, Archbishop of Canterbury, when he journeyed to Rome in AD 990 to collect his pallium, or cloak of office, from Pope John XV.

Many would have made similar journeys, but Sigeric had the foresight to have one of his party record the 79 stages of their return from Rome. Sigeric’s De Roma ad usque Mare, which is preserved in the British Library, thereby forms the basis of today’s Via Francigena across England, France, Switzerland and Italy.

The historical route was revived and put back on the map in the 1990s by a group of enthusiasts who faithfully followed Sigeric’s stopping places, only adapting his itinerary where the old Roman road had become a modern highway. This led to the establishment in 1997 of the Association Internazionale Via Francigena (AIVF). 

The Via Francigena was made a European Cultural Itinerary by the Council of Europe in 1994 (in the same way that the Camino de Santiago was in 1987), and another group with local government and European Union funding, the European Association of Via Francigena (AEVF), was set up in 2001 to help foster development of the route. 

Local associations in England, France, Switzerland and Italy have all taken a hand in waymarking the route – sometimes with mixed results.