Days sixteen & seventeen: Riems

As we enjoy a couple of rest days in Reims, maybe it is a good opportunity to give some background on the via francigena.

The vf is significantly less well known than its cousins, the dozen or so pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela, of which the Camino Frances and Camino Portuguese are the best known. Very few people attempt, yet alone finish an end-to-end walk of the vf due to its length (which varies between 1,700 and 2,200 km depending on your source.) The Italian section is the most well traveled and therefore has services for pilgrims similar to the Camino Frances. In the French section of the vf, other than signage, the route is very undeveloped – although there are a number of volunteer organizations putting significant effort into developing the route.

The via francigena (way of the Franks) historically followed the Roman trade route from Italy, through Switzerland and across Northern France using roads developed by Emperor Augustus Caesar around 20BC. The best known documented use of the route is the journal kept by Archbishop Sigeric the Serious, who travelled to Rome in 989 to receive his pallium (the formal ecclesiastical garment bestowed upon an Archbishop to formally indicate his status within the church) from Pope John XV. On his return, Sigeric kept a journal which list the 79 overnight stops he made. That document is now in the British museum. Today’s route is faithful to the original, but many of the original Roman roads are now modern day roads or highways, so the formalized trail is marked as GR145. GRs generally avoid roads wherever possible, so the modern route is significantly longer than Sigeric’s version.

Map with Sigeric’s nightly stops

The following is a screen capture from google maps, showing farmland south of Chalons-en-Champagne, where the outline of a disused section of the ancient Roman road is still visible in the farmers’ fields. The modern day road at the bottom of the picture continues on for about 33km with only a couple of minor turns. Google maps: https://goo.gl/maps/GBc8YjeYc7o1qiHL9

For more information, here are a couple of Wikipedia links:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Via_Francigena

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sigeric_the_Serious

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