The so called Lombard Way became the Iter Francorum, or Via Francisca in the Itinerarium sancti Willibaldi of 725. The Via Francigena (VF) is first mentioned in the Actum Clusio, a parchment in the abbey of San Salvatore at Monte Amiata -Tuscany in 876. The itinerary was written down by Sigeric, Archbishop of Canterbury, in 990 on his return from Rome; it became increasingly more popular after the institution of Holy Years in 1300, but has been forgotten since 1700.
The VF became the ‘backbone’ of the road system of Western Europe in 58 B.C, when Julius Caesar opened this “Road of the Sun”; the shortest route between the North Sea and Rome. This route partly coincides with the Celtic Tin Route, which connected Cornwall with Switzerland and Marseilles, and with the European network of Roman roads.
Following the Muslim domination of Jerusalem (640 AD), Rome remained the main destination for Christian pilgrimages until the tenth century and the veneration of St James of Compostela in Galicia.
During the Early Middle Ages in Italy, the route followed Roman and Longobard roads, becoming known as Iter Francorum from 725, and as Via Francigena, for the first time, in 876.
Over the centuries the Via changed its name according to the provenance of its users: it was Via Francigena-Francisca in Italy and Burgundy, Chemin des Anglois in the Frankish Kingdom (after the evangelisation of England in 607) and also Chemin Romieux, the road to Rome.
In 1154, the Icelandic monk Nikolaus de Munkathvera noticed the passage of Franks, Flemish, English, Germans and Scandinavians through Vevey and heading for Rome. The VF was also of service to popes, emperors, bankers, merchants and highwaymen, and from 1300, with the proclamation of the Holy Years, it was travelled by thousands of wayfarers per year, but as a Pilgrim’s Way, the road fell out of fashion around the XVIIth century.
However, in 1985 the Italian road archaeologist, Giovanni Caselli, retraced the itinerary as described in 990 by Archbishop Sigeric of Canterbury who came to Rome to receive the pallium from Pope John XV.
The 80 stages on the route (submansiones) recorded by the Saxon Archbishop, are the fixed points on the network of roads which over the centuries became known as VIA FRANCIGENA.
Conspicuous Roman and medieval remains of the VF are still in existence in Italy, Switzerland, France and England, and the aim of the Via Francigena Project is the reconnection of these traces of history, of art and European economy.