At the beginning of Lent, Estela and I plan every year to try to do something to try to bring ourselves closer to God, and to ready ourselves for the Passover and the Holy Week commemorating the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ. As in the case of all of us, this routinely includes prayer, fasting, avoiding bad habits and visiting our Church.
This year, we decided to include a week-long pilgrimage, but not in Mexico, nor in the the United States, but down a road that was used a little over a thousand years ago, by Sigeric the Serious, Archbishop of Canterbury, on his way, which he carefully documented, down from England, through France and down through Italy to Rome, in the last decade of the Xth Century, to receive his “Pallium” from the Pope.
The road he used was followed by pilgrims coming down from France over the next centuries, and the people on the southern side of the Alps referred to the road as the one “engendered” or created in France, so it has been called aptly the “Via Francigena”. The term “Via Francigena” was first recorded in a document a few years before Sigeric, in a document called “Actum Clusio” in 876 at the Abbey of San Salvatore on Monte Amiata, Tuscany.
The Via Francigena cuts through a corner of Switzerland, by the Hospice du Grand Saint Bernard (where the monks once raised and trained the Saint Bernard dogs), just before it opens up on Italian soil in the Valley of Aosta. Estela and I decided to trace the path in certain parts of Valley of Aosta and then along into what now is referred to as the Region of Piedmont.
In Val d’Aosta, we started our visit traveling northward, from Vigevano, in the county of Pavia, in the Province of Lombardia, through Piedmont, and then we stopped at the first important landmark in the southern entrance of the Val d’Aosta: Pont Saint Martin, a bridge built in Roman times, probably a decade or two before the birth of Christ, by the Emperor who gave the Val d’Aosta its name: Augustus.
It is quite probable that Sigeric the Serious used Pont Saint Martin, as well as many Christian missionaries coming here to Christianize the peoples of these valleys as early as the IV century.
The Valley is as spiritually inspiring as a beautiful Cathedral (or to some, possibly even more inspiring), as the mountains move us constantly to think of God the Father, Our Creator.