The History of Via Francigena
After Claudius Caesar led the second Roman invasion in AD43 a network of roads was built to connect Rome with the province of Britannia. Canterbury (Durovernum) lay on Watling Street, at an intersection that connected the heart of Britain to the vital ports of Dover and Richborough, and the military and trade routes running through Gaul to Rome.
The connection between Rome and Canterbury was sealed in AD596 when Pope Gregory the Great responded to a request from Ethelbert, the King of Kent, to dispatch Christian missionaries. St Augustine led the mission which arrived in 597and succeeded in converting the King and 10,000 of his subjects. St Augustine was consecrated as the first Archbishop of Canterbury, and in AD601 was granted formal jurisdiction over the church for the whole of Britain.
The road to Rome became a thoroughfare for clerics, kings and merchants, but also for members of the public. These people would make their pilgrimage to the resting places of St Peter and St Paul, often continuing by land and sea to Jerusalem, making it the most important pilgrim route in medieval Europe.
The road from Canterbury to Rome has had many names:Via Romea, Lombard Way, Iter Francorum, and the Frankish Route, but by the end of the 9th century it was identified as the via Francigena.
In AD990, Archbishop Sigeric the Serious travelled the length of the Via Francigena to receive the Pallium from Pope John VX. A member of his retinue recorded his route, listing the 80 principal stopping places.
After the reformation, pilgrimages between northern and southern Europe became less important and, as a consequence, parts of the Via Francigena fell into disuse, other sections became absorbed into the national road networks.