Reflections on the second charity walk on the Via Francigena, UK section
October 11, 2017
On 7 October 2017 the second charity walk, organised by CPR Canterbury Representative, Julia Peters, in aid of Save the Children, took place on the Via Francigena UK (Canterbury to Dover). The event raised £770 including gift aid for Save the Children, supporting their important work in providing essentials such as food and clothing, as well as education, for many vulnerable children across the world.
Pilgrims arrived at Canterbury Cathedral at 7.45 am where they were given a wonderful send off by the Lord Mayor of Canterbury, Rosemary Doyle. The Lord Mayor expressed her particular interest in the event, as she been involved in the development of the Via Francigena and its promotion over 10 years ago when the zero kilometre stone of the Via Francigena was placed within the Cathedral Precincts. Other notable attendees included: Velia Coffey of the Canterbury Council and Vice-President of the European Via Francigena Association, who has twice cycled to Rome, also came to wish the group well, Luca Faravelli of the Via Francigena Association who had travelled from the Association’s headquarters in Fidenza, Italy, and CPR member Philip Singleton, who has walked the entire route from Canterbury to Rome. After an inspirational blessing by Canon Clare at the Zero Kilometer stone, the group of 20 pilgrims set off on the Via Francigena, just as Archbishop Sigeric would have done in 990 AD as he began his long journey to Rome.
The charity walk aimed to give pilgrims an immersive experience of pilgrimage and so included a visit to each of the churches the route passes on the way to Dover. These included St. Martin’s, Canterbury, and the churches of Patrixbourne, Womenswold, Shepherdswell and Whitfield. An organisation of volunteers known as the Dover Greets also opened the doors of the lovely St. Edmund’s Chapel in Dover, where the walk officially ended.
This is the second charity walk, but the third pilgrimage walk that Julia has organised along this section of the route. As a result of these organised pilgrimages, Julia now has established a network of local people who are interested in promoting the Via Francigena and who are willing to support events such as these. On 7 October, the churches gave talks on the architecture and history of the buildings, they provided coffee, tea and cake, and Womenswold served a lunch of homemade soup. There was clear enthusiasm expressed for the events and for the Via Francigena by the parishioners who volunteered in the churches for the charity walk. By building on this interest and willingness to support the VF, Julia hopes to see further local engagement along the route from Canterbury to Dover in the future.
May 23, 2017
Francis Geere, one of the great friends of pilgrims and a champion of the Via Francigena, has died aged 73, from a heart attack while driving near Metz in eastern France. A retired diplomat, Francis lived in the village of Nans-sous-Sainte Anne, south of Besançon, where over many years he made all pilgrims welcome. Married three times, with two children from each of his first two wives, Geere was a chorister at Exeter Cathedral as a schoolboy where he developed a life-long passion for singing. His postings with the Foreign Office included India, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the Congo, and Switzerland.
Paul Chinn has written this tribute.
He was a much travelled English consular official who retired to live among the beautiful slopes of the Jura in France where he brought with him his love of languages, travel, landscape, history and above all people. He was a champion of the Via Francigena and an aid and friend to me and many, many pilgrims passing through Franche-Comté. The route will be the poorer for his passing.
Francis and his trusty mountain bike explored every inch of the roads and pathways between Langres and Sembrancher in Switzerland, constantly seeking to find routes as close as possible to the roads taken by Archbishop Sigeric, and yet practical and safe for the modern day pilgrim, whether on foot or bike His photographic recall of maps and intimate knowledge of the historic sites of the region led him to challenge the received wisdom of Sigeric passing through Yverdon Les Bains on his return from Rome and made a strong and now accepted case that the sub-mansion of Antifern was indeed close by Jougne on the Swiss-French border, and not content with this he mobilized his diplomacy to persuade management of the Conifer scenic railway to allow pilgrims to pass along the track side path.
His dedication to helping pilgrims was unmatched. He would willingly travel by car for dozens of kilometres to pluck an exhausted pilgrim from the wayside, whisk them to his home, La Maison Rose, in the little village of Nans-sous-Sainte Anne close to the waterfall source of the River Lison, to ply them with one of his memorable curries and a little Jura wine, before returning them refreshed to the route the following morning.
Mini-Pilgrimage on the Via Francigena
May 11, 2017
Part of a series of events focusing on the use of cultural routes to restore meaning to disconnected heritage sites, the mini-pilgrimage (6-7 May, 2017) was organized to provide an authentic taste of what thousands of pilgrims who walk or cycle the routes of the Camino de Santiago or the Via Francigena experience each year. Essential elements include: following a historic route that was once travelled by medieval pilgrims, comradery, good food, a libation or two (in this case in the form of a good Kent cider), and the magical ingredient of the generosity of strangers.
The UK has only 20 miles of the 1800 km route from Canterbury to Rome. Despite this small section, the Via Francigena in Kent has much to offer walkers and pilgrims. Starting at the UNESCO World Heritage Site which includes Canterbury Cathedral, St. Augustine’s Abbey and the church of St. Martin’s, it winds its way down country lanes and across fields, through delightful villages with their historic churches and quaint cottages, along the Downs to the port of Dover. Nestled between the stark white cliffs on either side, travelers have departed the British Isles from this port for centuries – as the magnificent bronze-age boat in the Dover Museum attests. The mini-pilgrimage on the Via Francigena was a means of introducing participants to this historic and natural heritage.
To read a full account of the mini-pilgrimage please visit: kentontheviafrancigena.com
Thank you to Brian and Gail Mooney for coming all the way to Canterbury to support the event!
Julia Peters (CPR Canterbury Rep.)