Via Francigena

Day 1 – The first kms of Road to Rome 2021 in England

The stage


15 June

Today was a long day. Up at 6am, in true pilgrim fashion, except that the walk along the Via Francigena would not begin a good few hours yet.

Setting up the stakeholder event in the cathedral was easy, as the staff had done a good job – one less thing to worry about!

I remain concerned that I will lose Michael Walsh’s marvellous creation on the road to Dover!

Edward Condry, retired bishop of Ramesbury, gave a moving blessing of the stick in the cathedral’s crypt.

Refreshments and speeches on the campanile lawn. I was joined by the sector’s well-known proponent, Catherine Bradley, and the Right Reverend Dr Robert Willis, Dean of the cathedral.

Later the Dean gave a final blessing at the 0km stone. I led out the group of walkers from the cathedral complex. I was grateful of Vicky Field’s presence and guiding hand, as I was unsure of the precise route out of town!

Whilst still within the city’s boundaries we visited the ancient ruins of St Augustine’s abbey, and the oldest Christian church in the English-speaking world, St Martins.

I did mange to forget the stick inside the visitors’’ centre of St Augustine’s abbey, but that was the only time!

The open country saw us pass through the villages of Patrixbourne, Womenswold, and Shepherdswell. Volunteers at the three local churches kindly provided us with refreshments. 

At 6pm, after a long walk we head back to Canterbury, where I’m hosting a stakeholder event in the evening. I’m so tired after my shower I fall asleep, thereby keep the first of my guests waiting around for me, which makes me feel bad.

A fun evening all round our sector seems to be full of bright, decent people of all ages. I often wish it was a bit more diverse.

16 June

Up at 6am once more, I need to finish my notes and other arrangements for the ceremony in Dover. We arrive at the seafront next to the end point of where the North Downs Way and the VF combine. Pete Morris and Catherine Bradley are already there.

The ferry captain, Nick Jones, arrives on his motorbike, followed by his wife in her car. I hadn’t realised that he was on a motorbike, so would not be able to carry the stick to his ship!

By the start of the event the leader of the district council, cllr Trevor Bartlett, and cllr Pam Brivio, along with a number of senior staff, help create a buzzy atmosphere. During the speeches I hand over the stick to Captain Jones to transport across the sea to France. I felt a little sad to see it go, as it had been in my possession for about three months or so. It really is a thing of beauty.

After the speeches, the politicians need to leave. Nick Jones has to meet his ship. The rest of us grab a quick coffee on the seafront before going our separate ways.

Unexpectedly, we are offered a quick tour of the ancient pilgrim sites of the town like Maison Dieu and St Edmund’s chapel. What a lovely town.

I receive word from Luca just before 2pm UK time, that he has the stick, which he picked up in Calais harbour. Now the hard task begins, 3000kms taking some four months. I only had two days to sort out!

Gian Carlo Laurenzi

Chair, Confraternity of Pilgrims to Rome