Via Francigena : Rome, here we go !

Pilgrims and ramblers rub shoulders on this medieval route that links England to Italy, passing via Champagne-Ardenne.

All roads lead to Rome, they say. There’s one road for which that definitely holds true, and it’s called the Via Francigena.
This Latin name is usually translated as “Road of the Franks,” or “road leading from France”. The Via Francigena is an ancient route that was used by pilgrims in the Middle Ages to get to Rome, one of three holy Christian sites, along with Jerusalem and Santiago de Compostela. Some similarities can be drawn today between St. James’ Way and the Via Francigena, for while the former enjoys an unrivalled auraamongst walkers and other ramblers, be they driven or not by faith, thelatter is following in the footsteps of its famous predecessor.
Indeed, it has been growing in popularity and frequentation rates, especially since its inscription on the list of European cultural routes in 1994. And Champagne-Ardenne happens to be crossed by this prestigious Via Francigena, where it follows a course dotted with numerous points of interest and various curiosities.

Sigeric’s odyssey, step by step

The current route of the Via Francigena was inspired by the one taken by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 990. Named Sigeric, this prelate headed to Rome to go before Pope John XV to receive his pallium, a liturgical vestment meant to symbolise his investiture and Episcopalian role.
When he returned, Sigeric left a diary of his journey, listing the 80 steps that were necessary for him to reach the end of his 1,800km trek across Europe. The lands crossed by the Archbishop correspond to modern-day England, France, Switzerland and Italy. Yet this Via Francigena, the earliest mention of which is from 876, is in reality much older.
Its origin goes back to the 7th Century, when travellers opted for this secondary path so as to avoid the military conflicts that were tearing
up the future Italy, and ensure their safety. The Via Francigena isn’t a road, in the proper sense of the term, but several paths, and whose route changed over time and with circumstance. The Via Francigena was nevertheless still the main line of communication between the North and South
of Europe, as much for pilgrims as for soldiers and merchants.
The Via Francigena thus played a part in forging European identity and unity, a quality that earned it the label of “cultural route,” awarded by the European Council 20 years ago.

From the Via Francigena to GR© 145

The Via Francigena islabelled as a Grande Randonnée trail : GR© 145. You’d better get walking – there are plenty of surprising discoveries to be made on the way !

This This GR© 145 has scattered its red and white markers (1) over around 400km in Champagne-Ardennes. Its diagonal route more or less fits the path Sigericis likely to have taken in 990. The long winding path notably crosses through the following townsand monuments :
Reims and its cathedral. A plaque identifying the Via Francigena can be found under the Fléchambault bridge, close to the Saint-Remi basilica. The “Road of the Franks” there crosses with a path that’s on St. James’ Way.
Châlons-en-Champagne and its collegiate church Notre-Dame-en-Vaux, a monument inscribed on the UNESCO world heritage list.
Vitry-le-François, whose large square plaza and orthogonal design are a legacy of the 16th Century.
Brienne-le-Château, a town in which Napoleon’s memory resides.This is where he went to military school, close to the great lakes of Champagne.
Bar-sur-Aube: its Champagne vineyards and Cistercian Clairvaux abbey. Châteauvillain, a Petite Cité de Caractère© labelled town with a medieval atmosphere, and not far from there, the Mormant abbey, an old commandery of the Templars. Langres, a fortified town perched high on a spur, with medieval ramparts that make it the Carcassonne of the North.

 

More info

Accomodation, visits, events...

Office de Tourisme de l’Agglomération de Reims
51100 Reims
Tel. : 0892 701 351 (0.34€/min)
www.reims-tourisme.com

Office de Tourisme de Châlons-en-Champagne
51000 Châlons-en-Champagne
Tel. : (0)3 26 65 17 89
www.chalons-tourisme.com

Office de Tourisme de Brienne le Château
10500 Brienne-le-Château
Tel. : (0)3 25 92 82 41
www.ot-brienne-le-chateau.com

Office de Tourisme du Pays de Bar-sur-Aube en Champagne
10200 Bar-sur-Aube
Tel. : (0)3 25 27 24 25
www.tourisme.barsuraube.com

Office de Tourisme du Pays de Langres
52200 Langres
Tel. : (0)3 25 87 67 67
www.tourisme-langres.com

Many websites and blogs exist that are devoted (in full or in part) to the Via Francigena, proof of the prevailing interest that it creates on either side of the borders.

To name a few:
Le guide pratique de la Via Francigena (“The practical guide to the Via Francigena”) : 
www.viefrancigene.org/fr
renaissance.de.la.via.francigena.overblog.com
 

 

Interview Bernard Aubry

President of the Champagne-Ardenne Regional
Rambling Committee