The Via Francigena
Since ancient times Vercelli has been an important hub for communication and cultural exchange with the rest of Europe. Already in the Roman era the city was a major reference point for travellers and in the Middle Ages it became an essential stopover for pilgrims travelling on the Via Francigena.
TheVia Francigenais a medieval route of pilgrimage and trade which runs from Canterbury to Rome. It crosses the south-east of England (Kent), France, Switzerland and a part of Italy, passing major places such as Reims, Lausanne, Aosta, Ivrea, Vercelli, Pavia, Piacenza, Lucca, San Gimignano, Siena, Viterbo, and, of course, Rome. It has been estimated that a fit walker is expected to take about three months to complete the journey from Canterbury to Rome. The whole Via Francigena is about 1,900 km. long. The origin of the Via Francigena dates back to the mists of time. According to the tradition, in 990 the archbishop of Canterbury, Sigeric the Serious, went to Rome to collect his pallium from Pope John XV. While returning to his cathedral, the archbishop noted all his overnight stops, which were to become the backbone of what is now called the Via Francigena. During the Middle Ages Vercelli was marked by the presence of a variety of hospitalia, which used to cater for thousands of travellers and pilgrims coming from Italy and other European countries. One of those hospitalia (Santa Brigida degli Scoti, or St.Bridget of the Scots) was only for people coming from the British Isles. Another hospital used to cater for people coming from France.