A ceremony to unveil a new stone at Canterbury Cathedral that marks the start of the historic Via Francigena pilgrimage route takes place this Friday (24 November).
Archbishop Sigeric was the first person to document the route between Canterbury and Rome when he made the journey in AD 990. His detailed notes were rediscovered in the 1990s by Italian researchers, and since then there has been strong interest in bringing the route back into use.
More and more people have been arriving at Canterbury Cathedral to begin their pilgrimage, and the stone will provide a formal starting point. In Rome, there is an office where pilgrims can go to officially complete their journey.
The city council is leading Canterbury’s role in the Via Francigena through its links with some of the towns and cities along the route and was a founder member of a new European association set up this year to promote the cultural, historic and tourism benefits of the route.
The Via Francigena heads across France, passing through Canterbury’s twin city of Reims, into Switzerland, over the Alps to Aosta and then down to Rome through Piacenza, Fidenza and Siena. Representatives from many of these towns and cities will attend the ceremony.
Leader of Canterbury City Council, Cllr Harry Cragg, said: “Canterbury is proud to play a leading role in restoring the Via Francigena, and we are very pleased to be working with the Dean and Chapter at the cathedral to provide a dedicated departure point for pilgrims. There is strong support for the Via Francigena in Italy, with the government backing legislation bringing the route back in use. Canterbury is a well-known city in Italy because of its links with pilgrimage, and we believe the restoration of the Via Francigena will bring us major heritage and economic benefits.”
The Dean of Canterbury, the Very Revd Robert Willis, said: “We are delighted to provide the origin of this ancient pilgrimage route. Canterbury Cathedral has been associated with pilgrimage and providing hospitality for centuries. The growth of pilgrimages in recent years shows that this form of Christian discipline is still important to very many people. We hope that the rebirth of this ancient route will help foster closer links with our neighbours.”