The Commune of Calendasco threw a party in late September for the Confraternity of Pilgrims to Rome to thank its members for helping Danilo Parisi buy a new launch for his River Po ferry.
Vice-Chair Brian Mooney and his wife Gail represented the Confraternity, and were fêted with a concert of violin, drum, flute and bagpipe medieval music and a song-filled dinner at Danilo’s house on the banks of the river. The event was coordinated by Calendasco’s energetic young mayor Filippo Zangrandi, a keen supporter of the Via Francigena which passes directly through his commune. In addition to helping Danilo and planning for his eventual succession, Filippo is also promoting a project to convert an outer building of the partly-restored medieval castle in Calendasco into a pilgrim hostel. The celebratory concert was held there, attended by many who had come to support the mayor’s initiative to promote local culture.
Danilo, 73, has no intention of retiring. He resumed his ferry crossings on 20 August after a lapse of nine weeks when the service was suspended because the Po had virtually dried up. It is now flowing again, albeit at a lower level than normal, as Brian and Gail saw for themselves when they took a ride across with Danilo to collect a pilgrim. Footfall has bounced back with more than 200 crossings since the service resumed.
The river launch carries the CPR logo as a testament to the generosity of members and pilgrims from all around the world; 148 contributed €6500 euros to help pay for a replacement after Danilo’s boat had been vandalised and sunk during Covid lockdown.
Danilo, one of the most loved and best known characters on the Via Francigena, has ferried in excess of 11,000 pilgrims across the River Po since he reintroduced the service in the 1990s. The river crossing was part of Sigeric’s itinerary. Danilo keeps a register of every pilgrim he carries. Their names, and details – their route, age, gender, nationality and occupation – are all inscribed in four magisterial books bound in leather and board.
His Liber Peregrinorum is a veritable treasure trove of the Via Francigena – an unmatched record of the early history and growing popularity of the reinstated pilgrim route. Each year Danilo mines it for an updated statistical analysis of long-distance pilgrim journeys to Rome which is published by the CPR (see previous CPR newsletters).
Pilgrims who cross the River Po on Danilo’s launch find the experience one of the highlights of their journey. If nothing else, the cool air generated as his boat speeds 3.5 km down the river is a relief from the stifling summer heat. But it is the warm welcome in the shaded courtyard of his farmhouse, the friendly banter he shares with pilgrims from all walks of life, and the ceremonial signing of his book, and the stamping of the pilgrim passport, that make the encounter so memorable.
Danilo charges a modest amount – enough, if he is lucky, to cover his fuel costs and other expenses. He runs the ferry for the excitement of greeting and helping people, and for the love it.
Danilo ferries both cyclists and walkers. It is advisable to book your ride by calling him in advance on +39 0523 771607.