March 2020                                         e-newsletter number 11
Welcome to e-newsletter  number 11 of the Confraternity of Pilgrims to Rome.
• A message from the Chair
• How to be isolation
  - Training
  - Get involved
  - Make a virtual pilgrimage
• Book review "We Are Pilgrims"
• News:
  - Danilo Parisi
  - Canterbury
  - Viterbo
• CPR and FFVF cement their partnership

Dear CPR member,

I trust this short note finds you all safe and well. We are facing a tide of challenges the likes of which most of us have never experienced.  I consider myself a fairly resilient fellow but I too am struggling between the competing demands of trying to help keep my home and family safe and well whilst not forgetting that we are part of a wider community both physical, and in the case of the Confraternity,  virtual. What are we to do in these difficult times?

As we weren’t able to hold the AGM on 14 March, the trustees thought it would be a useful exercise to ask the invited speakers to provide us with a shortened-down version of their talks so that we could share these with you and the wider Via Francigena community. We hope to be able to send these presentations out for you to enjoy in the next week or so. 

So we can look forward to meeting again, we have provisionally set the date of next year's AGM as 13 March 2021. Here's hoping the circumstances will be back to normal, and we can all contemplate physical pilgrimage once more.

We have heard from many of our members expressing their disappointment that they are not able undertake their journey on the Francigena this year.  To ease that disappointment, we are including a few suggestions in this newsletter on how to use this delay to your journey to your advantage: plan/prepare, train, walk a route closer to home, read a blog of someone else’s journey or experience a virtual pilgrimage, read a book on why we are pilgrims. 

With best wishes - and buon cammino!

How to prepare your pilgrimage

Carlo Laurenzi gives us some ideas

Planning a journey along the Francigena is all part of the excitement of the experience and good preparation can make your journey all the more rewarding.  With so many highlights along the route, you can take this opportunity to ensure your plans have allowed you sufficient time to take a rest day in a place that you would like to explore in more detail, or to make sure you don’t miss a local delicacy or renowned site.

To help you with your plans, The CPR has produced a translation of the handy Fédération Française de la Via Francigena booklet of the facilities and accommodation now available in France. Many past pilgrims know, to our cost, how difficult it was crossing France and finding sufficient food and drink en route.  This regularly-updated booklet lists all accommodation for every budget, cafés, restaurants, food shops (their days and times of opening), local transport, and details of every mairie (town hall) and tourist office, as well as the kilometres between them in France. order this vital resource from our online shop for only £5 +p&p.

Training for some is seen both as unnecessary and missing the point of pilgrimage. I don’t really subscribe to this point of view. Centuries ago, when most people were more active, the need to train perhaps was a little less important, whereas today, with our comparatively sedate lifestyles, training seems to me to be essential. Getting an injury or even just blisters, can really spoil one’s experience of the pilgrimage, if we’re not properly fit.
Testing your equipment and kit is important, and I don’t mean at home but in the field. In 2017, my rig consisted of a small front rucksack clipped onto the main backpack by means of two small carabiners which snapped in Canterbury! Luckily for me, I found an outdoor shop in the city centre.

Footwear: Many people do not allow sufficient time for their chosen footwear to be properly broken in. It is essential that time is allocated for this process. I took three months of training to break in my boots. There is much discussion about footwear and I won’t repeat all the advice here. Boots versus shoes is a personal choice but it should be based on practicalities and not style or form! I chose boots
because they provide me with additional ankle-support, whereas I use shoes on shorter hikes.

Take time this season to refine your thinking about your feet: footwear, socks, hygiene, meds/Compeed, do you need to visit a podiatrist before heading off? I use foot powder every day and, when on long hikes, I also carry foot cream to help prevent cracking. My heel cracked badly in Tergnier but fortunately it recovered within a couple of days.

Equipment: Like many walkers I took too much stuff and twice posted kit home, or to my destination. Kit is a very personal thing and it’s worth taking the time over this part of your preparation. For example, I chose to take a silk liner but not a sleeping bag, on the grounds that I don’t feel the cold that much, and hostels generally have blankets. Having said that, I remember a very cold, wet night at the Franciscan hostel in Chatillon, Northern Italy, where I had to pile my spare clothes on top of me to keep warm!

On the VF through central Italy, I met a group of Norwegian hikers, and not one of them was wearing a backpack correctly. If you’re unsure about setting it up properly, pop in to an outdoor store for advice or ask a more experienced friend. Once set up, use it and make sure that you’re not carrying more than ten per cent of your body weight. In order to combine training with food shopping, I would walk to the supermarket and return home on foot, fully laden. It is good practice, and it allows you to test the set-up for your backpack.

Hydration: Most of us have considered hydration. Again, the how and when is personal. I abandoned my Camelbak system on the grounds that I found it contaminates too easily.  Instead, I opted for plain old bottles of water, which I tried to replace regularly. Remember that water bottles you find in an average supermarket should not be used for extended periods as they degrade but are fine for a couple of days’ usage.  Nowadays, I would have chosen purpose-made, re-usable bottles, the sort you can buy in most outdoor shops. The challenge is finding some that are large enough to meet your needs on those long stretches.

Maps and GPS: The recent ban on leaving one’s home poses new challenges. Finding a series of circular walks might be difficult, so be creative with your chosen routes to and from home. If like me, you find GPS and map apps hard to follow, this is a good time to practice their usage.

Why not use our range of information and publications to help you better plan your VF pilgrimage. For example, one of our members who walked from Canterbury to Rome has provided a sample packing list. It is too easy to walk past an historically important structure, especially when you’re tired or the weather is creating challenges. You can check out our extensive list of blogs for highlights of the route.  You can also take a virtual pilgrimage with pilgrim Efrén González who recorded his journey in 2018 in a series of Youtube videos for each stage, including amazing drone footage that you can enjoy here:

Make a virtual pilgrimage

Luca Bruschi, director European Association of the Vie Francigene

The Confraternity was recently contacted by the European Association of the Vie Francigene based in Fidenza, Italy, who are still working tirelessly to promote the Francigena and inspire pilgrims in this difficult time.  This is their director's message to pilgrims:

I write you to share our ideas how to keep alive the magic of Via Francigena in this moment when most of us stay home with quiet bodies and wandering mind.

Nowadays we are experiencing a completely unexplored situation which brings frustration of accepting a crisis, a difficulty of choosing wisdom and having the courage to stop, and to search for comfort in others.

Today our physical steps along the routes are slowed down and encounters with other travellers, with whom we would exchange experiences of past journeys and plans for the upcoming ones, are postponed for an unknown period of time.

Nevertheless, we know that a journey does not start with the first step, but with intentions in our heart and mind; a walk does not stop with the last step on the road - it continues in our memories. That is why we propose to start a new virtual journey along the Via Francigena. From our homes we will discover treasures of the route and share our experience with other travellers, inspiring them for future discoveries and exchanging the ideas. Together we can encourage the community of the Via Francigena and will feel united with others.

How to do it?

Use a virtual community space, narrate and share our journeys via a video, which you can make at home, in the garden, on a path near your house, in a symbolic place in your area. Talk about your journey and share your experience, as if talking to someone in a hostel after a long day en route, sharing your dreams, plans and stories. Be authentic yourself without filters. Tell us a funny story that happened to you along the route and talk about the people you met. Describe the pain that pushed you to travel and narrate about your hurt feet from walking in ill-fitting shoes. Let us talk about every sensation, doubt, enthusiasm and lightness.

We at the CPR would like to thank Luca and the whole team at the European Association for their inspiration to pilgrims in the Francigena community.

On the Via Francigena Facebook Forum ( we can see that pilgrims have, on their own initiative, begun virtual pilgrimages.  Several pilgrims are reposting photos from their time on the Francigena - reliving and resharing their experiences.  Pilgrim Efrén González has been posting the last of his wonderful videos of the stages of the Francigena from Canterbury to Rome, which include stunning drone footage (  Perhaps the most creative virtual pilgrimage so far however, comes from Steve Hackman, who shared his experience of undertaking a 10km pilgrimage in his small flat in Hong Kong.  Addressing the video to other "quarantinos" (those in quarantine), Steve engages with the daily routines of pilgrimage, including those delightful moments when you stop for refreshment and a rest and reflect on the experiences of the day.

Buon Cammino pilgrims!

One thing you could also consider is getting involved in the work of CPR, as a volunteer or even as a trustee. We currently have a small number of vacancies as we expand and diversify the range of activities we plan to undertake. If you feel joining the board is something you might consider take a minute to check out the details:

"We Are Pilgrims" by Victoria Preston

Mary Kirk reviews a new book which answers some eternal questions

If you read nothing else during this enforced period of isolation and idleness, when longed-for dreams of pilgrimage have been shattered by Covid-19, read this. In her beautiful book "We are Pilgrims" Confraternity member Victoria Preston sets out to answer those frequently-asked but often unresolved questions: What is a pilgrim? What is pilgrimage? Why have people embarked on these arduous journeys since the dawn of civilisation?
Preston is widely read and widely travelled, and writes with considerable erudition, drawing both on learning and her own experience. But this book is as remarkable for its lyricism and the beauty of its prose as it is for the information and insights it contains.
Although pilgrimage in the current era is a highly individual experience, the author sets out to ask why we are pilgrims:
"The book's narrative travels through the epic landscape of human journeys of purpose and meaning, along a path of ten possible motives…If you have ever been on a pilgrimage, or are contemplating one now, you will doubtless recognise the ten motives in the Table of Contents, but will want to protest that it is not so clear-cut – that we act through a cocktail of reasons, never just one, and that a myriad of other possible drivers have been omitted from my list of ten."
These ten motivations listed are: Survival, Kinship, Faith, Wonder, Solace, Redemption, Hope, Gratitude, Liberation, and Enlightenment. In each of these chapters the author focuses on journeys of intention (not necessarily of distance), journeys which have a spiritual, religious or philosophical purpose, directed towards a place of shared significance, a place where often the veil between this world and the other is thin, "centres for dealings between human beings and the divine", numinous places hallowed by time, by our ancestors, by circumstance, prayer, and the passage of many feet.
Victoria Preston's quest for answers to this need for pilgrimage ranges through Turkey, Rajasthan, Amritsar, Delphi, Mecca, the Lebanon, Jerusalem, Syria, the Andes, Lourdes, and from Glastonbury and Lindisfarne to the Unites States and Ireland, travelling through millennia of devotion and discovery, for "those in search of meaning, of redemption, of hope," and falls into step with her own journey along the Via Francigena.
In her epilogue, Preston touches on the environmental aspect of pilgrimage, a theme which concerns us all as we fly across the planet in our thirst for pilgrimage trails:
Our search …all adds up. Every year, staggering numbers of feet are marching devotedly to the world's major shrines, both religious and secular. And each of these pilgrimages has an environmental footprint.
She explores the concept of Green Pilgrimage, now coming into its own, and neatly sums this up in one sentence - which is both a call to be sensitive to our world and a realisation which comes to those who set out on the quest that is pilgrimage:
Whatever our creed, we know we are part of something greater than ourselves.
And so, in these months when it is not possible to set out into the unknown, to test ourselves against it, and to fulfil these dreams, this book will take us through history and geography to suggest answers to eternal questions. In reading it we are compelled to look at ourselves and what drives and motivates us, and we may find we have already started on our pilgrim journey in search of ourselves.
It is an vital read to anyone who takes the concept of being (a) pilgrim seriously, and we commend it to you.
  • We are Pilgrims, Journeys in Search of Ourselves  by Victoria Preston, Hurst, Paperback, published  9 April 2020£14.99

From Italy
Brian Mooney writes that he has recently spoken to Danilo Parisi, the ferryman of the Po, right in the Lombardy epicentre of Italy's appalling Covid-19 outbreak:

"I have spoken to Danilo and he is all right, but otherwise he is living in an absolute disaster. There are dead and dying all around him, even at Calendasco.  His mother in law has died, though she was in her nineties. The best that can be said is that all the victims are old.

As if this were not enough, Danilo’s boat has been stolen. It was apparently taken on a windy night and it has been found sunk about five kilometres down river and they are waiting to raise it to find out if the motor is still there. His fear is that – once again – the engine has been snitched."



The parish of Santa Maria Nuova, in the historic centre of Viterbo, in response to an ever-increasing number of pilgrims who travel the Via Francigena and come to the city, founded the Association Amici della Via Francigena in Viterbo. They write that it is an association of non-profit social and cultural promotion,  for the pilgrims who travel the Via Francigena.
Among their main aims are: "to welcome pilgrims in the hospitable operating structure of the Pilgrim, to provide them with spiritual assistance (such as the rite of the Blessing of the Pilgrim) material and informative assistance in order to better live the pilgrimage."
In particular, information can be provided about the last 100km  (or a little more), of the Via Francigena, which separate Viterbo from the Tomb of the Apostle Peter, destination of numerous pilgrims every year; or also information about the continuation of the route, called via Francigena del Sud.
The Association Friends of the Via Francigena, in short, wants to value pilgrimage not only as a universal human phenomenon in time and space, but also as a cultural, social and above all religious approach.


From Canterbury
The shop in the Visitor Centre opened at the beginning of March, but is now of course closed. Pilgrims on the Via Francigena can show a pilgrim passport to gain entry, though they will be asked if they can make a donation. Pilgrim passports will be available in the Visitor Centre (though of course Confraternity credentials can be purchased from our shop). The Constables can stamp passports for pilgrims, and the shop has a generic passport book for sale at £2 called "My Pilgrimage" so people can write up their journeys.

CPR editor and French representative Mary Kirk travelled to France for the AGM of the Fédération Française de la Via Francigena which took place in Reims on 7 March.

This was an opportunity to cement the partnership signed in December 2019 between the two organisations. The first fruit of this alliance was the translation and publication in English of the Booklet of Accommodation and Facilities on the Via Francigena in France. This vital resource is checked and updated by local association every year.

Mary gave a short talk introducing CPR and its aims and mission, and said how delighted we were in this post-Brexit world to be cementing friendship with our European neighbours and partners.


If you haven’t already done so and if your membership has expired or is about to expire, or if by any chance you have not received your reminder, please go online to renew your subscription. With your support and with a strong membership we can do more to promote the Via Francigena, and to assist those who want to take up the challenge of walking, cycling or riding to Rome.
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