Outlook Issue 26 Winter 2018
News and Views from St. Mary's Woodbridge
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One hundred days
Patrick with wife Jo in Canterbury at the start of his pilgrimage to Rome. Get a map of Europe, a ruler and a pencil, and draw a straight line between Canterbury and Rome, and you have the path of the Via Francigena, a 1200-mile historic trading and pilgrim highway. Sigeric, Archbishop of Canterbury in AD 990, followed it to Rome to receive his pallium, the garment symbolising his office. His clerk recorded each of the 80 stopping points of their return journey on a manuscript now in the British Library – about 15 miles a day, whereas I averaged 12 on my journey this spring. Perhaps Sigeric used a horse whereas I trusted to Shanks’s pony! In France, the Via Francigena traverses the long, low hills of the Pas-de-Calais to Arras, where Commonwealth War Cemeteries dot the landscape. It touches the Somme at Péronne and visits the cathedral cities of Laon and Reims, bridges the Marne at Châlons- en-Champagne, then follows the Aube through ‘La France profonde’ to the hilltop town of Langres, before crossing the Saône and, from Besançon, ascending though the Jura mountains into Switzerland. From Lausanne it skirts Lac Léman, climbs beside the swift Rhône to Martigny, and takes Napoleon’s route through the Alps for a nice cup of tea and a sit-down at the summit monastery of the Grand St Bernard Pass. The descent winds through the long Aosta valley, broadening to rice paddies around Vercelli and Pavia. Here Danilo Parisi, ex-rugby star turned boatman, ferries pilgrims across the Po River towards Piacenza, recording their names in his Bible-like book (I was #638 this year). It’s a relief to leave the scorching heat of the flat terrain, despite the taxing climb from Parma to the Cisa Pass in the Apennines, before the path descends to the hot, white coast at Carrara. In Tuscany the route visits Lucca, San Gimignano and Siena, before crossing into the region of Lazio at Viterbo for the final 50 miles, through groves of hazelnut trees and small fortified hill-top towns. The spirit of welcome and hospitality is alive and well on this trans-European route. There is a keen interest in your journey, and kindness from strangers, from the château owner who’ll do your washing to the boot mender in Mortara who won’t take any money, and the priest in Pobbia offering wine to the parched traveller. Folk will give you Félicitations! and, more to the point, Bon courage. Essential packing: excellent boots, a credit card (to support the local economy) and good companions. Patrick Lovett, September 2018