2010 / august / 31

In the footsteps of St. Francis

This summer, Milena and I walked a part of the St. Francis walk. It was a pilgrimage from La Verna monastery in Tuscany to Assisi in Umbria, in the footsteps of the saint, eight hundred years ago.

Sunflowers 1

Superlatives abound: it was gorgeous, it was intense, it was exhaustive. It was a real experience, and in tracing the footsteps of a saint, certainly had a spiritual aspect. We had prepared ourselves by reading about Francis' life and background, and a selection of his writings. He was a child of his time, of course, and some elements of his philosophy are far removed from my own convictions. But he was one of those rare people who peacefully stood up and kept up for their conviction of peace, no matter the cost. As such he is an inspiration to me, on par with a Ghandi or Mandela.

Dust at dusk

Milena covers the journey well from the personal perspective. Head over to her blog for her travelogue.
Or to the video we put on youtube , which is a slideshow of the walk, while we together sing one of Francis' poems.
The photos don't come out quite as well there as on flickr, where I'm posting my own selection slowly but steadily to St. Francis set.

My experience was similar to Milena's. Different in details, but also moving. I didn't suffer quite as much with the heat and the weight, but since it was in a July heatwave, that doesn't make much of a difference. It was scorching hot, and there were times when I also thought it was insane to do what we were doing. However, the path didn't have easy exits to interrupt. No bus stops or guesthouses on the way. Hardly any sleepy villages. We wanted to be away from it all! Indeed, we were. So we just went on. I surprised myself the way I could keep our spirits up sometimes.
And after the hardships - the exhaustion, the terrible guest house on the first night on the road - I was so grateful for small kindnesses we encountered. The warm and ever so hearty welcome in Montagna, in Bed & Breakfast Alla Battuta.

Valle di Chiascio

The two times when we passed a garden where people spontaneously offered water.
And especially, arriving in Assisi on the last day of our itinerary. The path comes in at the back of the city, leads through a port in the city wall and you are face to face with the cathedral dedicated to Francis. We went inside, after a short break in which we changed into some, let's call it more presentable clothes. In an area at the back, away from the big crowd, are a number of artifacts, including.. a robe and a pair of sandals.


Standing there, feeling my feet after a mere week of moderate walking, I felt really humble. He walked pretty much his whole life, on sandals. All kinds of weather. I felt grateful to get just a little taste of that.

The St. Francis path - but which one?

Now this walk is not very well known, if not outright obscure. Information, especially in english, is hard to get by. To make things even more confusing, there are a number of walking routes associated with St. Francis.

Tau with sticks
the yellow tau, Angela's marker

Angela Seracchioli set up Di qui passò Francesco. This route starts in La Verna, passes Assisi, ultimately leading to Poggio Bustone in Lazio. Angela pioneered the route, painting the yellow tau signs herself. The first edition of this book was published in 2004, a new revised edition came out in 2010. The book's a good combination of practical information and background, and the routes are described well. The maps are good as well.

Angela's good idea was then shamelessly copied by many parties.

Off the beaten path
Sentioro Francescano, Gubbio to Assisi: after this path was set up in 2000, it has seen little maintainance.

The 'Sentiero Francescano della Pace' was set up around the catholic Jubilee year in 2000. This route leads from Gubbio to Assisi. It's endorsed by the tourist board of Gubbio; an detailed map is given out for free in the Gubbio Tourist Information point. sentierofrancescano.provincia.perugia.it

Signs #9
on the right a 'sentiero francescano' signpole. Note the GEA and tau marks on the ruin.

The Umbrian tourist board set up 'La Via Francigena di San Francesco', which roughly follows 'Di qui passò', with the key differences that it omits everything outside.. Umbria, and adds a detour to the regional capital of Perugia. www.regioneumbria.eu

The 'Cammino di Francesco' is a network of routes linking the Franciscan sites in the Valle Sacra around Rieti, endorsed by the Lazio regional tourist board.. it won't come as much of a surprise that these routes closely follow the walks of 'Di qui passò', and are restricted to Lazio. These are set up in such a way that you can do also many circular walks for day trips, though, which is nice. www.camminodifrancesco.it

The Tuscan tourist board set up four-stage circular walk from La Verna to Sansepolcro (again, following Angela's route), then back via Caprese Michelangelo, neatly staying within Tuscany. There were some nice sign boards on the route with information on nature and geography. Unfortunately they weren't in the best shape. I also haven't been able to find any website for this route. All in all, I wouldn't rely on this one!

Signs #3
yellow arrow from 'cammino di Assisi' - typically, not very clear.

Finally, there is the 'Cammino di Assisi' route, marked with painted yellow or green arrows. En route, we met an experienced walker who was following this itinerary, and got lost quite badly. The worst is, however, that this is again pretty much copied verbatim from Angela's route, without giving her *any* credit. The other routes at least mention the book (even if they don't admit to stealing the idea)... www.camminodiassisi.it

(thanks also to pilgrim.peterrobins.co.uk )

So, to summarize: use Di qui passò Francesco, especially the book. It's the most reliable, the signs well maintained, and most importantly, it's a labour of love, rather than money, and as such suits the spirit of pilgrimage.

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