The Ancient Via Francigena
Sigeric from Glastonbury played a major role in today’s Via Francigena pilgrimage. In ancient times travel from England to Rome was by foot or riding on a donkey. Pilgrims left England somewhere Dover and crossed the English Channel in ‘flobarts’. They arrived in Wissant and then continued through France to Switzerland. Hence the name Via Francigena, or road through France. Then they walked through Switzerland and crossed Grande-St-Bernard Pass into Italy. Fortunately for us, a character known as Sigeric the Serious left a record of his journey to Rome in 990 CE. Today, the Via Francigena follows his exact same journey!
Sigeric and Glastonbury
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in the British Library has information on the life of Sigeric. He was born near Glastonbury around 950 CE and educated and ordained at Glastonbury Abbey. Archbishop Dunstan was restoring the Abbey and the Benedictine rule of monks at the time. Sigeric showed great promise and was rapidly promoted. In 975 he became Abbot of St Augustine’s. Then in 985 he became Bishop of Ramsbury. But most importantly, Pope Gregory elected him Archbishop of Canterbury in 990. So he had to leave Glastonbury and live in Canterbury!
Before Sigeric could carry out his duties he had to make the long journey to Rome. He had to receive a vestment known as a Pallium from the Pope. However, on his way home he wrote a diary recording all the places where he stopped. The journey covered 1687 km in 78 stages and averaged 22 to 30 km for each stage. Today, the Via Francigena follows the exact same path taken by Sigeric in 990. As a result, we truly walk in the footsteps of pilgrims past
Sigeric at Glastonbury Abbey
Today you can visit Sigeric at Glastonbury Abbey! At the entrance to the Abbey there is a bronze statue of him riding his donkey. A little girls is greeting him and giving him an apple. So, visit Glastonbury Abbey and take your imagination back into the monastic world of Glastonbury Abbey in 990 CE!
Today Glastonbury Abbey lays in ruins! The Abbey had not been built when Sigeric was there. However, despite its long history the spiritual nature of the Abbey remains. During my recent visit I was fortunate to be a part of the Pilgrimage of our Lady of Glastonbury. We processed through the streets of Glastonbury and joined in a very peaceful Mass amidst the ruins of the Abbey. The spirit of Sigeric and the monks of Glastonbury still lives on in this place of pilgrimage!