Symbolic pilgrim staff begins its 2000-mile journey

A hazel staff, hand-crafted in Ireland, will begin its symbolic journey from Canterbury to the heel of Italy on 16 June.

Starting at the famous “Kilometre Zero” stone at Canterbury Cathedral, the staff will journey through France, Switzerland, the Vatican to the very tip of Italy at Santa Maria di Leuca, celebrating the ancient medieval Via Francigena pilgrim route – a major cultural route of the Council of Europe – to Rome and beyond towards Jerusalem.

Covid 19 prevented any celebration in 2020 of the European Association of Via Francigena Ways’ (EAVF) 20th anniversary. But now, despite the pandemic, their Road to Rome is ready once again to set off! A relay of pilgrims will tackle the 3200km journey on foot and bicycle, arriving at Santa Maria in the autumn.

The journey, beginning with a Green Pilgrimage Kent Stakeholder event*, and attended by dignitaries from Dover and Canterbury, and representatives from villages and churches along the Via Francigena, will take place at the Cathedral on the morning of 15 June (timetable over page). The pilgrim staff will receive a blessing from Cathedral Dean Very Revd Dr Robert Willis before it starts on its way, carried by the Confraternity’s Carlo Laurenzi OBE, who will visit North Downs churches and villages on the Via Francigena to Dover.

Carlo Laurenzi OBE

The beautiful staff, made of hazel and created by veteran Irish pilgrim Michael Walsh in Tipperary, and commissioned specially by the Confraternity, will act as a kind of “Olympic torch” handed on along the route. It will cross the Channel to Calais courtesy of P&O ferry captain, Nick Jones, and be placed into the safe keeping of representatives of the EAVF – unable to participate themselves in the UK leg of the march because of Covid restrictions.

Michael Walsh

Walking pilgrimages along these historic and cultural routes, such as the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in Spain, and the Via Francigena, have seen a huge upsurge in the 21st century. The creation of the EAVF in 2001, the Confraternity of Pilgrims to Rome in 2006, and Green Pilgrimage launch in 2016 reflect their popularity, and their significance as symbolic of the ties that bind people beyond national boundaries.

Confraternity chair Carlo Laurenzi said, “This pilgrimage, and the Via Francigena through Europe, symbolises the fact that we are all part of a wider unity, connected to a world beyond our shores, something greater than ourselves and our island.”

* The events in Canterbury and Dover are funded by the European Union Regional development Fund Green Pilgrimage Project.