The itineraries that passed through Europe during the Middle Ages had a fundamental role, until the diffusion of the railways during the nineteenth century.
Santiago, Rome and Jerusalem were the extreme examples of a complex road network, which connected cities, markets and harbours. From this point of view, the Via Francigena must have been seen as a sort of “equipped route” which crosses the continent and not as a linear itinerary, which starts from Canterbury and leads to Rome. As a matter of fact, many pilgrims used to carry on along the Via Appia, the Latina-Casilina and the Appia Traiana, towards Christ’s Sepulchre or the Archangel Michael’s grotto, on the Gargano. Moreover, the coast cities of Puglia were used for a few centuries as points of departure for the Holy Land and they experienced a period of great glory thanks to the passage of pilgrims, armies and merchants.
Starting from the 13th century pilgrimage by sea started to establish itself, first along the Tyrrhenian routes, with a stopover in the port of Messina, then along the Adriatic coast, the “Sea of the Venetians”, which acquired the monopoly of pilgrim transport towards the Holy Land as of the 15th century.
The roads between Art and Faith
The pilgrims that walked along the Via Francigena had different destinations, however only one dream: the “pasagium ultramarinum”, the half land, half marine path, which led to the Holy Land, to Jerusalem.
The people who decided to set out for the South from Rome could choose different routes, which reunited in two important “hubs”: Capua and Benevento. From here, the most travelled route was the Appia Traiana, which led to the ports of Puglia: Siponto, Bari, Egnazia, Brindisi, Otranto, “finis italie”. Many were the unforgettable monuments that the traveller could admire along the walk: the Trajan Arch of Benevento, the elegance of the Cathedral of Troia, the oriental style of the Cathedral of Siponto, the narration of the world’s history in the mosaics of the Cathedral of Otranto were only a few of the many rewards for the efforts of the travel.
Pilgrims often diverted towards the north to climb the Gargano Mountain along “a road of big steps sunken in the rocks” until the sacred place of Saint Michael. Once there, they would invoke the protection of the Archangel Michael for the long and difficult journey towards Christ’s sepulchre. The devotion for the Saint, which according to the legend appeared nine times between the years 490 and 493, draws from the pagan tradition, from which it inherited some characteristics, such as the presence of water, a grotto and woods. These characteristics make the environment of Gargano the ideal location for a sacred place.