Pilgrimage to Rome

The Via Francigena was made a European Cultural Itinerary by the Council of Europe in 1994 (in the same way that the Camino de Santiago was in 1987), and another group with local government and European Union funding, the European Association of Via Francigena (AEVF), was set up in 2001 to help foster development of the route.

Local associations in England, France, Switzerland and Italy have all taken a hand in waymarking the route – sometimes with mixed results.

Pilgrimage to Rome was revived when Pope Boniface VIII declared 1300 a Jubilee (Holy) Year, whereby a visit to Rome would merit a plenary indulgence, and with it a complete remission of sins. Pilgrim numbers soared, and the practice of declaring Jubilee Years at intervals of 50 and 25 years continued to attract large numbers until the Reformation when the new Protestant churches turned their backs on the cult of pilgrimage.

Over following centuries, however, the numbers of pilgrims to Rome crept back up – despite the vicissitudes of wars and revolutions in Europe – until, with the arrival of mass transportation in the early 20th century, visiting Rome had become a rite of passage for millions of Christians.

In the 2000 Jubilee Year, 25 million pilgrims visited Rome by one means or another. Today’s foot pilgrims have, therefore, swung full circle, making a conscious choice to travel under their own steam and at their own speed, on a journey in which not only the end, but also the means, are of great significance.