Last year, five Sitka residents hiked part of the 2,000-kilometer Via Francigena historic pilgrimage trail from Canterbury, England, to Rome. The five — Bridget Kauffman, Ted Laufenberg, Connie Kreiss, Karen Hegyi and Julien Naylor — will give a free presentation and slideshow on their hikes at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 26, at the Sitka Public Library.
“There is so much variety along such a long walk,” Kreiss said. “The 30-kilometer stretch in England to the ferry in Dover is pastoral and a lovely introduction to England’s famous walking paths. Northeast France has canal systems to walk along, the numerous World War I cemeteries and battle sites, the vineyards of Champagne, miles of flat farmland — corn and grain production — and then the foothills and Dura Mountains into Switzerland. All along the way there are magnificent old cathedrals, and some monasteries and convents provided occasional hospitality for the night for pilgrim walkers. Italy has huge variety, starting in the French speaking Aosta valley in the north, down through the plains with flooded rice fields of the Po River Valley, through Tuscany with its hill-top walled towns and tourists, and on to Rome.”
According to Kreiss, Kauffman was the first of the Sitkans to hike part of the trail, hiking the last 400 kilometers from Aulla into Rome last spring. Kauffman was joined for the last few days of her hike by her husband, Laufenberg. Kreiss said she was the next to head to Europe, and she hiked nearly the entire trail from Canterbury to Rome, except for St. Bernard’s Pass between Switzerland and Italy due to deep snow. Hegyi and Naylor also walked most of the way later in the spring, starting from Canterbury.
“We all had different experiences,” Kreiss said.
“We hope to cover something on the history of this particular pilgrimage walk. It dates back at least to the Roman era, and some of the walk in England, France and Italy is on old Roman paving stones. I don’t recall seeing Roman roads in Switzerland, but I’m sure the route follows old Roman roads. After all we know, ‘All roads in Europe lead to Rome.’ The present walk is based on 10th Century documentation from Archbishop Sigeric, of Canterbury, who walked to Rome in 970 to meet with the Pope and then walked home again. His scribe made a record of each town they slept in, and that is the basis of the 79 stages of the current Via Francigena. The Via Francigena was made an official Cultural Itinerary by the Council of Europe in 1994, and has been developed, more or less, by national and regional organizations in the four countries it covers,” Kreiss said.
“Walking it is probably similar to walking the famous Camino Frances in Spain to Santiago 30 or 40 years ago. People who live along the route often recognize you are a pilgrim as you walk along, and there are some places to stay which are only available to walkers with the special pilgrim’s credential (the little passport which you get stamped every day, so that when you arrive at the Vatican, you have proof that you walked the route). But it is more solitary than the Spanish camino and distances are sometimes longer between towns and accommodations. Probably less than 200 folks walk the entire route each year. Large numbers of walkers do some of the Italian portion.”
Kreiss said the five hikers will talk about their personal motivations for doing this walk, what to carry, what to expect, and about what we experienced along the way. They will talk about the variety of paths underfoot, the types of lodging, and of course the great food.
“We hope to inspire Sitkans to consider this long walk, or one of the easier pilgrim walks in Europe,” Kreiss said.