Meeting a Pilgrim on the Via Francigena

We knew that we would have it hard departing Besançon into the Jura mountains bordering Switzerland. Signposted the Via Francigena, our route started with a switchback and a 20% gradient. Half way up the hill we met a man, tanned with two walking poles making his way steadily up. Weaving across the road on our bicycles, we managed to heave out a quick – ‘Bonjour’ as we passed.

One hundred metres later, we stopped, exhausted from climbing. Stopping ahead for a break, he swiftly caught up. Sweat was beading off his forehead and he told us that he was making his way to a chapel at the top of the hill. Going by the maps we didn’t have very far to go, welcoming the chancce for a break and a chat.

Via Francigena is a Catholic pilgrimmage that travels to the Vatican to witness the Holy See and the tombs of the apostles Paul and Peter. Being the second most popular pilgrimmage in Europe after the Camino de Santiago Trail. Via Francigena derives it’s name as “from France” where most of the pilgrims originated. However, the modern version starts in the United Kingdom, at Canterbury on a trail of over 780km.

The pilgrim, from Mexico, returned after completing the Camino several years earlier, he was now completing the Via Francigena before taking a third, to Jerusalem. For him, the Camino was where you meet your demons and where you made friends with other pilgrims. Now, Francigena was where he would make friends with God. Finally, his journey to Jerusalem would be travelling together with God. Those he met along his journey he found to be the salt of the earth and nicest he had ever come across. They fed him ‘bread and water’, (literally, not in the biblical sense) at many stops along the way.

Talking about our adventures seemed much less spiritual. However, he was particularly interested in what we would be doing after our big journey. Mentioning our upcoming marriage, his sage advice was that if we could get through these travels together that we would be able to last through anything as nothing reveals character more than travel.

Riding ahead, we leapt straight into a steep gradient. Tam let out a large expletive (very fitting thing to say around a religious man) and we persisted to the top. Here we found the chapel at the top off the climb. While capturing several photos of the spectacular view over the citadel of Besançon, we were again caught by the pilgrim. He offered for us to also stay with his host accommodation. Although very tired and interested in hearing more about his travels, we had a few more hours of sunlight to cover some distance. We departed the pilgrim leaning against the doors of the church, ready to meet the maker of his bed for the night.

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