On the road along the Via Francigena from Acquapendente to Montefiascone with the Australian pilgrim Carol Neville. A journey discovering the “camino” during the “Francigena Marathon” event.
It is 7:30 in the morning, Pentecost Sunday, 4th June and I am running late. But hurrying towards Piazza Girolamo, I am stopped in my tracks by a crowd in green t-shirts winding like a large green serpent through the ancient streets of Acquapendente. United by purpose, 2000 strong, they are filled with the spirit of ‘Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war …’. With determination they are headed to Montefiascione, 42.5 km away.
I arrive at the Piazza to find it almost empty, and stop at a bar for my typical Italian breakfast – an espresso coffee and cake. In the Piazza I proudly have my pilgrim credential stamped with ‘Acquapendente’. I use the word ‘proud’ because to receive the Via Francigena Testimonium in Rome, the pilgrim is required to walk the 142.5 km from here to Rome.
Today is different! It is a special Via Francigena marathon event with the goal of arriving in Montefiascone at a point exactly 100 km from St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The super fit are walking the whole 42.5 km, but I have chosen to walk the last 17.7 km from Bolsena to Montefiascione. So I am going by car to San Lorenzo Nuovo, 10 km away. By the time I arrive the Piazza is filling with green shirts, all having their pilgrim credentials stamped and topping up with water, bananas and cakes.
Driving to Bolsena I enjoy the views of Lake Bolsena and am amazed by its size and beauty. I am very excited to receive my green shirt and Bolsena stamp in the shadow of an enormous castle! This is a remarkable place with winding streets and ancient buildings. Since antiquity pilgrims have come to visit the tomb of the early Christian martyr Santa Cristina and to pray at the site of the Eucharistic miracle. As I enter the Church of Santa Cristina, in my green shirt, I feel connected to the countless number of pilgrims who have prayed here and add my prayers to theirs.
It is approaching midday and the heat is building up as I join the constant stream of pilgrims heading to Montefiascone. I enjoy the views of Lake Bolsena and walking in the cool of the forest to escape the heat of the day. And the stops with food and water keep me walking through the uphill sections with little shade.
At last, after a long, hot, tiring walk I arrive at the place near Montefiascone which is exactly 100 km from St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Along with many other pilgrims we receive a certificate celebrating this achievement. Then, we hurry over to the sign to have our photographs taken in this highly significant location.
My journey continues for several more kilometres ending in a steep upward ascent through ancient winding streets to the highest point in Montefiascone. Here is the place where all the pilgrims in their green shirts are resting, eating, and drinking the famous est! est!! est!!! wine. Wearily, I sit on a seat at eye level with the enormous dome of the Duomo di Santa Margherita, and stunning views to distant horizons. Resting at last, I enjoy my food and wine and reuniting with fellow pilgrims.
And so my marathon ends! But a new journey begins for me as I am continuing my pilgrimage heading off by myself to walk to Rome … but this is another story!
And of course, I cannot wait to join the marathon again next year, but with an Australian contingent, of ‘Christian soldiers’! Not to mention an attempt to walk the whole 42.5 km.
A huge thank you to Sergio Pieri for organizing the event, including me at the last minute and for his amazing hospitality!
If you want to join the marathon next year I have a few tips on my new website