On the occasion of EAVF’s General Assembly, the 26th of April at 5 pm, a special ceremony takes place in Canterbury’s Cathedral: the blessing of the “Via Francigena. Road to Rome” stick that traveled across 3,200 km in 2021, along the entire itinerary.
The “Via Francigena. Road to Rome” stick, after almost one year, returns to the ‘km zero’ – the majestic Cathedral in Canterbury, departure point of the Via Francigena. The stick was the absolute symbol of the long march that crossed Europe from north to south in four months, between 15 June and 18 October 2021, to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the EAVF. A journey full of emotions, encounters, unexpected events, extraordinary moments and difficult moments, joy and tears. In the year of the 2021 Olympics, the stick was also metaphorically an important symbol of dialogue between 658 municipalities and 4 countries, as it was carried firmly in the hands of pilgrims on their way, as if it were an Olympic torch.
The story of this hazelwood stick is beautiful. The idea of making it a symbol of the ‘Road to Rome’ initiative came from Giancarlo Laurenzi, a pilgrim, President of the London-based Confraternity of Pilgrims to Rome. But where did this object come from? It was made by Michael Walsh near Holycross Abbey in Tipperary, Ireland. The stick was seasoned, cleaned and prepared for the long journey with more than 10 layers of boiled linseed oil. The subsequent decoration on the stick, with the recognisable icon of the pilgrim symbol of the Via Francigena, was engraved by an artist from London, Julie Helen Sharp, and the rope grip on the handle was prepared by specialist craftsman Declan O Shea.
The stick, blessed before the beginning of “Road to Rome” by Brother Celsus Tierney, set off on 15 June from km zero in Canterbury, in front of the Cathedral, to walk the distance to Dover in the company of enthusiasts, pilgrims and representatives of the Confraternity of Pilgrims to Rome and of the Kent County Council, who handed it over to Captain Nick Jones (P&O Company) in the port of Dover on the morning of 17 June. He transported it on the ship to Calais, on the French shore on the other side of the English Channel. Welcoming the stick at the port were EAVF’s President Massimo Tedeschi, Calais municipal delegate Dominique Darré, EAVF’s Director Luca Bruschi and the event’s social media manager Myra Stals. This moment was particularly emotional.
From there, the continental journey of the stick began, passing into the hands of the various representatives of local institutions and associations, as well as other pilgrims who accompanied the Road to Rome group on the four-month journey. An epic journey, narrated with photos, videos and a travel diary that put people and local communities at the centre of this experience.
Six months after its exciting arrival in Santa Maria di Leuca, Puglia, the stick returns to Canterbury where a ceremony is scheduled for Tuesday 26 April in the Cathedral. On this occasion the staff will be blessed by Reverend Robert Willis in the presence of representatives of the European Association of Via Francigena ways, the city of Canterbury and the Confraternity of Pilgrims to Rome. It will be an emotional and symbolic moment which strongly links the journey of the Road to Rome to the meeting of peoples – sending out a strong message of peace at a delicate moment in history, with the ongoing war in Ukraine, at the gates of Europe. The stick of the Via Francigena is meant to become a symbol of peace and hope.
After the EAVF Assembly on 27 April in Canterbury, the stick will return to Italy, in Fidenza (where the EAVF headquarters is located). This geographical position is perfectly in the middle of the whole European journey. As well as being a beautiful reminder of the Road to Rome march, the stick will continue to be a symbol of unity between peoples. It will continue to meet pilgrims from all over the world.