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The Via Francigena in Switzerland

The origin of the Via Francigena which links Canterbury to Rome, crossing England, France, Switzerland and Italy, goes back to the old Roman road system when soldiers and merchants travelled from the South to the North of Europe and the other way around.

The Via Francigena goes through the cantons of Vaud and the Valais and crosses the Grand-Saint-Bernard pass. The Romans used this road when they were en route to conquer Britain in 43 AD.

The name of this ancient Roman road is from a much later date, however.

In 772, the Lombards (a kingdom in Italy, Ravenna was the capital)  threatened the pontifical states. Charlemagne, King of the Franks, saved the Pope. The road got the name Via Francigena, which means the ‘road which comes from France’.

The road became a Christian pilgrimage after the archbishop of Canterbury had travelled to Rome to receive the pallium from the Pope in 985. His itinerary was written down. The document is in the British Museum nowadays. It is a guide for pilgims ever since.

The cantons of Vaud and Valais belonged in these days to the Burgundian Kingdom (888-1032).

The Swiss cities are written down in their (vulgar) Latin names: Bourg-Saint-Pierre (Petrecastel), Orsières (Ursiores), Saint-Maurice (Sce Maurici), Aigle (Burbulei), Vevey (Vivaec), Lausanne (Losanna), Orbe (Urbe) and Yverdon (Antifern).

In 1994, the Council of Europe recognised the Via Francigena as a European Cultural Itinerary, and in 2001 the European Association of the Via Francigena was founded. (Source: A. M. Barelli, Le Chablais (Viterbo, 2014).