The Via Francigena. Photo:

Pilgrimage in European Perspective

Three major pilgrimage routes existed in the Middle Ages. The Way of St James from all over Europe to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, the Via Francigena from Canterbury to Rome,  and the pilgrimage from all over Europe to Jerusalem. The latter finally resulted in violent crusades.

Many routes in many countries led to the final destination. Geoffrey Chaucer’s stories of 14th-century pilgrims in “Canterbury Tales” even strengthened the international journey of religious devotees.

Canterbury is also the starting point of another less well-known ancient pilgrimage, the Via Francigena.

The 1 944 km long route was created by the 10th-century Archbishop of Canterbury, Sigeric. He travelled from Canterbury to Rome and documented his journey. His writings give a detailed and unique account of his route.

His documents also give an interesting insight into the European dimension of medieval Europe. Though modern means of transport and communication were absent, the mentality was much more European and international than today. No cultural or linguistic barrier was too high.

The so-called Dark Ages knew cultural exchange and centres of excellence in (Muslim) Spain and Ireland, France, Switzerland and other territories. Monasteries played a key role in continuing the Roman heritage and cultural exchange.

The pilgrimages were an important part of this dynamic and open European society,  and a revival of a millennium-old tradition can be witnessed nowadays.

The Medieval Ages are never far away. (source: