Last summer, I opted to walk eight days on the Via Francigena, an ancient pilgrimage route coming down to Rome, which has become increasingly popular over the last few years, and recognised as a cultural route by the Council of Europe [external link]. The numbers are far lower than those of the Camino de Santiago, or so I’m told. (The Camino remains on my bucket list.) Less people, however, is not necessarily a loss.

I had been dreaming the Via Francigena for the last ten years or so. Finally, I decided I should, and completing the PhD a year ago provided a significant milestone to celebrate. So, I trekked circa 200km from Acquapendente to St Peter’s in Rome. Alone, on foot.

This photo, for me, captures something of that experience. I was walking between Montefiascone and Viterbo. I left Montefiascone early, at first light, to avoid the worst of the August heat. At one point, there’s a significant stretch of basolato (the large basalt surface) of the ancient Via Appia, still in remarkably good shape, thanks to good ancient Roman road building, and repairs along the centuries as the Roman network remained very much the principal road system.

I had almost caught up with a group of pilgrims. Although I wanted to walk alone, taking the chance to pray, it was great to journey both alone and with others. Alone maybe, but far from lonely. The quality of the picture, taken with my tablet, is far from impressive … though it’s graininess strangely adds something to the mystique of the place.

I also shared something of the meaning of pilgrimage in the post pellegrini ribelli (in italian), the homily I gave to the small group of pilgrims who joined me for mass at St Peter’s the morning after we arrived in Rome.

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