by Michel Thomas-Penette, director of European Institute for Cultural Routes-Luxemburg (IEIC)
In 1994 on the representation of the Italian Ministry of Tourism, the Committee for Cultural Itineraries of the Council of Europe agreed to promote the theme of the Via Francigena, to complement that of the Pilgrim Way to Santiago de Compostella, and thereby form the larger theme of historic pilgrimages in Europe. The itinerary chosen revived an ancient pilgrim route to Rome, which reached its peak in the thirteenth century. The itinerary starts in Canterbury and ends in Rome, crossing France and Switzerland. It revisits the route taken by the then archbishop of Canterbury, when he went to Rome in 990 to meet Pope John XV.
Work groups were set up place by the Ministry of Tourism to organize exhibitions and conventions. A leading objective of this initiative was to establish a route for the Jubilee in Rome in the year 2000. But quite apart from the Jubilee, it offers to the Europeans of the 21st century the opportunity to walk once again historic roads, enabling them better to understand how their predecessors viewed Europe, its values, its cultures. To understand cultural and natural heritage along the European routes, entails above all understanding one’s fellow human beings, and learning to share and to tolerate.
In Italy the Via Francigena crosses the road to Santiago, which facilitates cooperation between the two itineraries. But for the rest of Europe, as this Vademecum, stage by stage, describes so well, the itinerary and the pilgrimage of one man, Sigeric, as documented in the diary where he describes the stages of his journey, crisscrosses the many routes used by those making their way to other centres of pilgrimage: Compostella, Rome and Jerusalem.
For the first two years, the itinerary and the network it engendered was financed by the European Union. But ministerial strategies evolve and the Ministry of Tourism turned to a more decentralised structure, allowing local authorities to form their own plans. The initiative of relaunching a truely European cooperation fell to Mme Adelaide Trezzini, who decided, a few years ago, to create an Association to promote the historical study of the way and provide pilgrims as well as tourists with information on lesser known sections.
The “Association Via Francigena” signed a partnership agreement with the Institute four years ago, to study how to establish a continuous route through the different countries and communities involved, and prepare a common information and documentation policy. So we welcome the publication today of the second Vade-mecum, which makes concrete the reborn continuity of the way. As Mme Trezzini wrote to us recently: “The Via Francigena is now reality!” This “cri de joie” will surely be shared by the numerous Europeans who choose to experience Europe following the route and discovering the paths that make up the historical stages.
For our part, we will continue our cooperation by linking the Association’s website with our own, so as to offer all those interested in this important page of our shared history all the information they seek concerning our common heritage. (translation from french)