The MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage





An Australian pilgrimage trail in honour of St Mary MacKillop and her co-founder Fr Julian Tenison Woods.

For all posts on the MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage and an explanation of the undertaking, click here.

For all posts about the “Aussie Camino” from Portland to Penola, please click here. 

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Freising – Last stop on my Ratzinger Pilgrimage (10 November 2023)

Click here for today’s pictures on Google Photos.

It was raining lightly as I dragged my suitcase and backpack to the train station, but although I was 20 minutes early, the train to Freising was already waiting on the platform, so I was able to get on and get settled. The trip was quiet (electric) and quick, with beautiful scenery, no hassle, and few passengers. When I arrived in Freising, I found a demonstration going on in the main square, the Marienplatz. I thought I might finally have come across some of the disturbances I have been constantly warned about by Australian security regarding protests around the Gaza war, but it seemed to be about the rising prices of household energy… My first impression of Freising is that everything everywhere was being dug up and rebuilt or restored or fixed. Roads and buildings – including the Freising Museum – all gutted and excavated. It was a real obstacle course getting along on the streets. Even the main church in the town, with its iconic tower, was swathed in scaffolding and undergoing a remake.

But I arrived at my hotel in the heart of Freising. I’ve splurged a bit on this – it cost €95 (including breakfast) – so about $160. Still, it is very comfortable, and that’s what I wanted on my last day. I immediately went out looking for the Domberg – the hill on which the Cathedral is located, where Ratzinger’s seminary was, and where he was ordained with his brother in 1951. It took me a bit to find the right route up, and when I did, the Dom Gymnasium (high school) was just finishing for the day (1:00pm), so in one hit I saw more teenagers in one place than I have in all my time here in Germany (I see a lot of parents with a single baby or toddler, but there hasn’t been much evidence of older children). There was a caravan selling food, so I bought a cup of coffee (served in a mug) and eine Bretze (the proper name for a Pretzel) mit Butter for lunch (I had had a big breakfast of Bircher Muesli and Scrambled Eggs and sausages).

I pushed on toward the Cathedral. At first I was a bit dismayed. It too seemed to be experiencing major renovations. One of the towers was half covered in rigging. The entire Domhof – the plaza which you can see in the famous film of the Ratzinger brothers processing along with the other candidates for their priestly ordination – was cut off with barriers and digging equipment. Thankfully, there was still a small corridor that gave access to the interior of the Cathedral. The Cathedral is very old – although bits have been renovated and rebuilt and added on over the centuries (as it still is). The crypt has the tomb of the founding bishop, St Corbinian (670-730AD). The crypt was not open due to renovations, but a side chapel has a large reliquary of his remains. There is an entire collection of funerary stones of past canons of the cathedral around the cloister, and a much older chapel with some remaining medieval stained glass as well. In a side chapel, I saw a notice which said that the regular Friday mass is no longer offered in the Cathedral and mass should be sought elsewhere in town… The whole building had a decidedly unused feeling.

I left and went in search of the seminary buildings. I had not done enough study on where these were, but in Munich I had seen a poster advertising a Francis of Assisi exhibition at the Dom Museum, so I headed there. When I was purchasing a ticket to enter, I was told that this building was in fact the previous seminary, but “we don’t have anything of Ratzinger here.” I think if Pope Benedict could see it now, he would be a bit shocked. It is a bit of a mix between an art gallery and a museum, with some great medieval stuff, but also a bit of “modern”. The lower floor is the modern art section. The first floor has an entire realm of devotional and religious art running basically from about the 11th century to the Baroque period. This is a really good collection. The visiting Francis exhibition from Assisi was on the top floor. It was good – but I’ve been to Assisi and seen the museum there, so it was not anything that I haven’t seen before.

But two pieces of contemporary art in the gallery below caught my interest. The first is an installation called “The Chapel of Luke”, which sadly I missed going into because it closed early while I was looking at their St Francis of Assisi exhibition. But it appears to be a totally blank room which is infused with completely consistent light in a single colour – creating a kind of blank space. The second was outside, and was marked as the “Chapel of Our Lady’s Mantel” – inside there was just a shawl hanging on the wall, a bunch of stars (with a traditional place to light a candle as before a Shrine) and a window high up on the wall with the moon on it. That was it. All a bit weird. Evidence of another side of German “spirituality” that is a little less certain about the concrete details of the faith.

I was a feeling a bit off about this whole experience. Thus far, I had found nothing to indicate that Joseph Ratzinger had ever been here. I needed the toilet, however, and so headed back to the Dom where I had last seen a public convenience. On my way there, I snooped around a bit more around the building site – and caught a glimpse of a bronze plaque on the wall of the arch leading into the Cathedral yard. It was cut off by the building works, but I squeezed my way through the barrier, and – sure enough – it was an effigy of the recently departed Holy Father, marking his visit in 2006. Not a very good effigy, but at least it was marked. Back inside the Cathedral, after gaining the sought physical relief, I returned to the chapel of St Corbinian and prayed the rosary (using the set of beads that Cathy had given me for the trip).

It was now after 4pm, and evening was starting to set in. Leaving the Domberg, I tried to make my way towards a hill which I had seen from the Museum windows which had a set of medieval type buildings on top. I was a bit disorientated, and so wandered around for a bit until I saw a couple of signs that pointed to a “nature walk” and the “Weihenstephan”, which sounded promising. From here on in, the rest of the evening I seemed to be led to all the best bits of Freising as if by some divine tour guide. The walk, along a creek through forest parkland, was excellent, and then I took a left turn and found a path leading up the side of hill. This seemed promising so I kept on going. On the way up, I came to a strange kind of lookout over the southern part of town, with what looked like the apse of a ruined church and some kind of installation art. I was just trying to make out what the German sign said (it was a sheet of metal with cut-out lettering that was hard to read in the growing darkness), when the lights came on and lit the whole stage up. It turns out that this was the site of a chapel that had been built by St Corbinian and had lasted right up until the 1803 secularisation of the convents and monasteries in Germany. I had read about this in the Bavarian Museum in Regensburg. It all had to do with the creation of the Kingdom of Bavaria and the seizure of all lands owned by the Church and the religious orders.

A bit further up the hill, I came to the peak, and the “medieval buildings” I had seen from the Museum. This appears to have been the Weihenstephan Benedictine cloister until 1803, and today is a kind of “Hochschule” or university of applied sciences. There was a lookout at the top, looking south, from which it was possible even in the gathering gloom and the overcast skies to see the Swiss Alps to the south. Making my way through the complex of buildings, I found myself on the other side – and all the pieces suddenly fit together: I was at the home of the Bavarian State Weihenstephaner Brewery, whose beers I have often enjoyed and have a reasonable stock of in my fridge at Casa Schütz-Beaton! There seemed to be a Beirgarten/Wirtshaus there, but a large number of people were gathering and it appeared to be a social occasion I wasn’t invited to, so I made my way discreetly out onto a path leading back into the city (involved wandering through the back of the brewery and the university).

The walk home was pleasant – for once it didn’t rain. I was on the lookout for somewhere to eat. The chap at the hotel had recommended a place around the corner from the main street, but it looked pretty pricey to me, so I was a bit more attracted by the Augustiner restaurant. When I went in, however, I found it was quite small, and completely filled with young people in traditional Bavarian dress, lederhosen and all. The barman said I could get a meal here, but I’d have to find a place among the wedding guests and it would be a wait. So I decided to go back to the pricey-joint – the Weisbräu Huber. On my way, I saw someone come out of what looked to be a church door, and so poked my head in – and discovered a largish church – with a bunch of women praying the rosary around the statue of Mary. So I joined them for the last two decades.

The pricey restaurant, as it turned out, was excellent. The service was very efficient – as soon as I entered, I was shown to a table and had an English menu placed in my hands (I would have been quite happy with the German one). Quick as a wink, there was a half litre of Huber Weiss Dunkel before me, and before another wink my Liver Dumpling soup had arrived. For main course, I ordered the Bauernenterl, of “Farmers Duck”, which was a leg quarter of duck served with a potato dumpling, hot Blaukraut (made with red cabbage and apple), and a beer gravy. Excellent. The whole lot came out €26,50, and as I had exactly €30 in cash left that I wasn’t going to need for the rest of the trip, I paid with that which included an almost perfectly calculated tip (I admit it had taken me a while to get the hang of this practice).

So I was back in my room by 8pm and feeling very happy with the way my last day went. Tomorrow my plane leaves Munich Airport – which is just an 18 minute bus ride away – at 2:30pm, but check out is 10am here, so I don’t plan to do much else than have breakfast and head on out to the airport. But I’ve done all I wanted to do here in Germany (well, almost anyway) and a bit more besides. I’m very tired, and very keen to be back home. Lots of business awaits me there – marking for my theology class, intensive Core Curriculum teaching at ACU, editing the next edition of Footprints at the Archives, and getting stuck into writing two more chapters of my thesis. But I will be happy to be back with Cathy and the kids, and to be able to have a conversation without worrying about what language to attempt to speak.

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Another little Pilgerreise – to the Ratzinger graves (5 November 2023)

For the Google Photo album of today’s pilgrimage, click here.

For photos of my first day in Regensburg yesterday, click here.

So this one was unplanned – it really only formed in my head over the last couple of weeks, and it wasn’t really until last night that I decided I would do it. Joseph Ratzinger is buried with all the other popes in the crypt under St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. All the rest of his family are buried here in Regensburg.

Georg Ratzinger was three years older than his little brother, but they completed their seminary studies and were ordained together because of the complications of the war. Georg died on 1 July 2020. Just a few weeks earlier, the Pope Emeritus had visited his brother in Regensburg, sensing that the time for this last visit had come. When he left, they both knew it was the last time they would see each other. Georg was buried in the “Unterer Katholische Friedhof” just southwest of the main railway station (“ein Friedhof” is a cemetery – the word literally means a yard where people are laid to rest) in a plot endowed by the Domspatzen Foundation. The Domspatzen – or Cathedral Sparrows – is the name of the boys choir that sings in the Regensburg Cathedral, and which Georg Ratzinger directed for thirty years. Unfortunately it is currently school holidays in Bavaria, so the “sparrows” were not singing at mass this morning when I attended the 10am liturgy. The service was quite nice, to be sure, with eine Kantorin (a female cantor) leading the singing, and led by three concelebrating priests. The organ music was exceptional. As I have experienced before at mass in Germany, the custom of replacing parts of the ordo with sung versified hymns (a practice I know well from my Lutheran upbringing in Australia) is quite widespread in the Catholic church here as well. And so we had a very short hymn version of the Gloria in Excelsis, and a longer, quite nice, responsive version of the Apostles Creed. The sermon wended its way from the saying that you have one Father, God in heaven, to the fact that we are all brothers and sisters, and finally landing on the wonderful good news of synodality… at least as far as I could make out with my German comprehension skills. I would estimate an attendance roughly in the ballpark of a good day at St Philip’s Blackburn North – perhaps around 150 to 180.

I set off to find Georg’s grave straight after mass (well, I spent a little while praying in the blessed sacrament chapel, and took a couple of photographs, for which I was told off by one of the surpliced attendants – only worshippers are allowed in the cathedral during liturgies, and worshippers are defined people who pray, and people who take photos are defined as tourists, and tourists are forbidden in the church until after mass… so go figure). I had seen a picture of the grave online, so knew that I was looking for a grave along one of the walls, and that it was distinctively decorated with Gregorian music from the Te Deum, so it took me no more than five minutes to find. As I was saying prayers for Georg, it occurred to me that in fact we are in All Soulstide, and hence a visit to a cemetery and saying prayers for the deceased is an indulgenced act. I am sure that plenty of others have already offered up indulgences for Georg’s soul, and I have plenty of times offered up the indulgence for my own father, so this time I offer the indulgence for my uncle Carl who recently passed away.

The next cemetery on the list was at St Josef’s Church in Pentling – the little suburb of Regensburg on the southwest edge of the city where Joseph Ratzinger bought a house for himself, his brother and his sister Maria to live when he was a professor of theology at the University of Regensburg. All three of the remaining members of the Ratzinger family – Jospeh Senior, Maria Senior, and Maria Junior, are buried in the cemetery adjacent to St Josef’s.

It is another 4.5kms from the Unterer Katholische Friedhof to Pentling, but in fact, the University of Regensburg is itself is smack bang in between Georg’s grave and the Pentling house and graveyard, so I added that to my pilgrimage destinations. When Joseph Ratzinger took the appointment to Regensburg, he was leaving the prestigious Tübingen University position (where he was a colleague of Hans Küng) for a brand new university (he had that in common with Martin Luther, who took his position at the brand new University of Wittenberg!). Looking at the university today, it is architecturally almost indistinguishable from a university like Monash University in Melbourne. All concrete and brutalism – with some saving graces such as large grassed areas. In this sense, it is quite distinct from the very traditional medieval/Bavarian style of the old city. I wandered through the section that had “Philosophy and Theology” written over the doorway, and I certainly found it hard to imagine Ratzinger feeling at home in such a context. But it was the 1960s, and I guess it was all new then. Ratzinger had two motivations for his move to Regensburg – getting closer to his family and getting further away from Hans Küng. My alternative history guess is that if he wasn’t appointed to the post of Archbishop of Munich in 1977, he would have stayed at Regensburg until his retirement, and perhaps (if I had been a year earlier in my journey to this fair city) I’d have dropped in on him for a cup of coffee together.

Anyway, pushing on through the university, I walked through suburban Regensburg, largely housing blocks, but with a nice little liner park with little vegetable gardens in it. I then took the path towards Pentling that runs parallel to the freeway. It was under reconstruction, and there were barriers up, but no absolute signs saying “No entry”; so being a Sunday and no work going on, I just walked on through. At this point I realised that the weather was turning a little wild. The temperature had really dropped, and the wind was becoming quite gusty. Nevertheless, I was getting up a bit of a sweat with the effort of climbing the hill. I came up to a field of sunflowers (my daughter’s favourite), so took a few snaps of St Josef’s Church on the horizon across the sunflower fields. It was a relief to make it to the church, and to enter in out of the blustery weather. It was about 1pm, but there was still a bit of incense clouding the sanctuary as I entered. I must say this is a handsome little church in which I could very easily worship (see pictures). It is simple and dignified in every respect (with more sunflowers in the sanctuary). The only thing that surprised me a little – and it had no attendant explanation – was a rainbow display at the back of the church. So, okay. The rest of the art work was really very tasteful and easy on the eye. A modern church, but one that I could imagine Joseph and Mary Ratzinger attending for morning mass. Of course, it may have looked quite different in their day. The only indication of a connection with the Ratzinger family was a note on a double-board history of the church that Pope Benedict has visited in 2006.

In the graveyard next door, again it took me only a couple of minutes to locate the Ratzinger grave. It is quite simple, and rather nicely designed. The Pope Emeritus made his last visit here at the same time as his final visit to his brother in 2020. Joseph Ratzinger Senior died in 1959 just after Joseph Ratzinger Junior had begun his tenure as professor at Bonn, many miles to the north of Traunstein where his parents were living. Traunstein is closer to Salzburg than Munich, so I am not sure how Joseph Senior came to be buried at Pentling. His mother was living with her son Georg, presumably in Regensburg, when she died – Joseph had just taken a post at Münster – even further north of Bavaria than Bonn. Again, this is well before Joseph returned to Regensburg and bought the Pentling house. So I have a few questions about how both his mother and father came to be buried with his sister (who died in 1991 after living at the Pentling house all the last part of her life) in the St Josef church yard. Anyway, that is where they all are now, and that is where I went once again to pray for the repose of their souls.

I had one more place to visit – the Pentling house itself. It is just a short walk from the church, but you need to cross a bridge over the very big freeway that runs between the church and the little suburb. The house is now in the possession of the Papst Benedikt Institut. Today I could only look at it from the outside, but I hope to gain entrance sometime this week through the good graces of the Institut. We will see. In any case, this house is well marked and sign posted with pictures of family life at the house. You can see a picture of Maria Ratzinger leaning on the exact fence that is still there. And out the back you can see the little memorial to one of the pet cats. There is an inexplicable sign saying that there is a guard dog to be beware off – I saw no such animal. Perhaps it was a reference to another German Shepherd who lived there?

So now my pilgrimage was finished, but I had over 8km to get back to town. I had planned to take a country route back, and did so, except that it began to rain in a manner totally unpredicted by the so-called “AccuWeather” app. The wind got up too, and I thought that if I was to get very wet, I could well freeze out here. I’ve experienced cold weather at home, but this was really bitter. Thankfully, I had a very big warm weatherproof padded coat on, which I had packed for just such an occasion. Carrying it in my suitcase in Italy, I couldn’t even imagine having to use it, but here it was just the thing. Nevertheless, on the long walk back into the city, I had to shelter under a tree for a bit at the entrance of a bridge crossing the freeway, and then later again in a bus shelter, to avoid getting too wet. Finally, a rainbow appeared, and I made my way in through the back end of the city. This time, I wound my way past a brewery (which had an attached Wirtzhaus = pub/restaurant, but unfortunately it wasn’t doing meals in the middle of the afternoon), and a very nice park, before passing the front door of the Papst Benedikt Institut. This is where I will return in the morning and hopefully find a welcome.

So finally back to my little hostel at the Katholische Academie. Not many places are open for dinner, but there is a place across the road I might try, as I have not had any real food since breakfast…

Total distance walked for the pilgrimage today was 18.5km.

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Pilgrimage to Marktl am Inn and Altötting (28-29 October 2023)

Click here for the Google Photos album for these two days – warning: there are a lot of pictures!

When I learned that I was going to Rome for the ACU/IRCI PhD Seminar, I immediately began planning my short Via Francigena pilgrimage ending at the tomb of Pope Benedict. Similarly, as soon as my research tour was expanded to include Munich and Regensburg, I knew that I had to visit Marktl am Inn, the birthplace of Joseph Ratzinger (I apologise to the Rahner devotees reading this – next time I will need to visit Freiburg im Bresgau and Innsbruck). In my research I discovered that Altötting – the medieval Marian shrine of Bavaria (and more recently a destination for “Brüder Konrad” devotees) – was within a convenient single day’s walk from Marktl. With the help of my favourite hiking app, GaiaGPS, I marked out two routes: a northern route through farmland and small villages, and a southern route through forest and the sizeable town of Emmerting. The plan was to get out of Munich on the weekend in the middle of my two week German course, to catch the train from Munich on Saturday morning, visit Pope Benedict’s Geburtshaus and St Oswald’s church (in which he was baptised on the day he was born, Easter Saturday 1927), and then walk the northern route to Altötting. I would stay the night, go to mass in the morning, and walk back to Marktl by the southern route through the forest. Then I invited my Norwegian friend Martin (technically, my “godson”, as I was his sponsor when he was received into the Catholic Church in Melbourne way back in 2009) to join me for the weekend adventure from his home in Münster. I had not seen Martin since Cathy and I holidayed with Martin and Natalia in Florence in March of 2017. Martin accepted, and so the plan was set in place. Just a week before, unfortunately, Martin came down with some version of the flu. He was recovering by the end of last week, but still not really fit enough to join me on a 50km+ jaunt. Nevertheless, he still planned to come with me to Marktl and Altötting – he would just take public transport instead of walking between the two towns. On Sunday (today) he also needed to leave immediately in morning to get back home for work on Monday. Still, there was plenty of time for us to catch up.

After Goethe Institut class on Friday therefore, I met Martin at his hotel. We had dinner in a pleasant local Bayerische watering hole which also did simple meals to go with their beer. I had a very tasty meatball/rissole type thing with mashed potatoes and followed this up with some kind of cheese dumpling in a pool of tasty melted butter. Very nice, and I didn’t worry about the calories as I was sure to walk them off over the next 48 hours. It was my first time eating out in Germany, as up to now I have been eating in my room with supplies from local markets and supermarkets. The best thing, however, was that this gave us several hours to catch up on our lives since “before covid”. There had been many changes, including his marriage, the birth of his twin boys, retraining and starting a new career, and recently buying a house. My life also, as most readers of “this ‘ere blog” (I haven’t said that in a long time!) will know, is into its third phase now. So a lot to talk about. Actually, when I woke up in the morning, I not only felt the effects of the litre or so of beer I had drunk (I only had two beers, but they came in 500ml glasses…), I also had a sore jaw! I realised that I had not talked so much since leaving Australia several weeks ago.

(I am writing this at 6:45pm on Sunday night, and the bells of St Wolfgang’s have just wound themselves up and are announcing that 7pm mass is starting in quarter of an hour. The chiming of bells is a bit like being in Turkey, where the calls to prayer punctuate the time. Today, it was 12noon as I walked into Emmerting – and the Angelus was being run from the main bell tower in the town.)

On Saturday morning Martin and I met at 8am at the big München Ost railway station about 5 minutes walk away to catch the 8:16 train for the hour and a half train ride to Marktl am Inn (there was a stop over in and change of trains in Mühldorf am Inn – the ticket was €22 – €44 return – easily bought in the DB app). I took only a little overnight backpack – the lightest I have ever packed for a pilgrimage – and Martin had his overnight bag, as he was going home directly from Altötting. Again, the long train journey gave us even more time for catch up. So we arrived in Marktl just before 10am, and walked into town. First thing we did was have “second breakfast” in the local Bakerei. Herr Behery had given me breakfast at 7am, half an hour earlier than breakfast is usually served, and had really fresh bread rolls, so I had kept one to take with me (he kindly gladwrapped it for me to take with). Together with a bit of cheese and some salami, that became my lunch pack for the day. But the coffee and pastry triangle in Marktl was very nice. We got water from the local supermarket, and then went directly around to the Pope Benedict site.

Marktl is generally a fairly modern town, but the old section to the east, between the main road through town and the River Inn, is old and traditional in style. The Papst Benedikt Geburtshaus is practically in the centre of town. Ratzinger’s father was the local policeman, and the house is quite substantial, right next to the Rathaus and the parish church of St Oswald’s. It is easy to see how Ratzinger Senior, an extremely pious Catholic of the best sort of piety, was moved immediately to take his new born infant to the parish church one minute’s walk away to be baptised practically as soon as he was born, given that the easter ceremonies and the blessing of the font would have only just taken place (I admit, I had always wondered about this!). Unfortunately the Ratzinger house was shut for renovations – from 5 October to next Easter – so we could not go inside. The well stocked (thanks to Pope Benedict) Joseph Ratzinger Museum was also shut – it has rather restricted opening hours. BUT the church was open, as indeed most German churches are. We immediately went inside. The little church, which dates back to the 13th century, has been rebuilt more than once in its lifetime (most recently in the 1950s in a very modern style), usually because of the limits of the size of the building (although once due to fire started by a lightening strike which destroyed a lot of the town). Thankfully lots of items of the original church have been incorporated into the new church, and the whole original sanctuary has been preserved as a side chapel. Today, this is basically a shrine to St (whoops), Pope Benedict. The font in which he was baptised is located immediately in front of the delightfully colourful 19th Century altar done in the medieval style. I was struck by the fact that the two main statues in this space were 1) St Joseph, and 2) St Benedict. Coincidence? There is a large portrait of our beloved Holy Father in this space. In fact, portraits or even statues of Benedict and John Paul II are every where around this area. Martin and I were almost surprised to finally find a picture of Pope Francis in the Church of St Mary Magdalene in Altötting this morning! I guess they both visited here, whereas Pope Francis has been more focused on the peripheries…

So now it was time for me to get going and Martin to catch the train. I won’t go into excessive detail on this journey – only to say that very early in the piece, I realised I was on a designated cycling trail called the “Sieben Kirchen Weg” ( I found this out when I entered the little village of Mittling, and saw the sign outside the medieval church of St Nicholas there. Now, this is the sort of thing I tend to latch onto. I realised that the trail was basically the equivalent of the walk that I was doing. I stress that this “Weg” is a *cycling* trail. There is nothing to suggest that anyone would be as daft as to try to *walk* all the way from Marktl to Altötting along this route. I will also confess that along the entire way, I didn’t stand still long enough to actually study the route or the churches that made up the “seven”, with the result that I walked right past one (the Heilige Geist Kirche in Neuötting – I was too busy looking at St Nicholas’ church in Neuötting – nb. there are *three* churches out of the seven dedicated to St Nicholas!), added two the list that are not even on the seven churches trail (a little private chapel in Mitterhausen and the Church of St John near Pfaffenöd), and completely missed (until today) another St Nicholas Church on the outskirts of Marktl on the other side of the river (but I picked that one up today). Anyway, I got it into my head to do all of these, and hence, when I found somewhere around the little one-Bauerhof locality of Lohner that I had missed a turn at Schefpfing, I tried to go cross country only to find my way blocked by another one-Bauerhof locality, a place called Bemburg. I should have been able to go around this, but the old Bauer sitting outside his Hof said in indignant tones “Geradeaus!” pointing down the track toward Neuötting, with the result that I added about another four kilometres doubling back to see the little church of St Margarethe at Untereschelbach. This church, like the church of St John with its onion-shaped dome on the way, was locked, but visiting the little locality gave me a much better idea of the sort of community that made up these little named places through which I was walking. Generally it appears that these places are made up of a major “Bauerhof” or farm. These farms consist of numerous buildings – a house, which might also be a part of the barn, and a number of what we would call “sheds” in Australia, but which are built with the same solidity and design as the houses. In Untereschelbach, I saw at close quarters that one of these “sheds” was clearly a place where animals lived. I actually saw no animals (except once – three cows) outdoors in paddocks. But the big building in Untereschelbach obviously housed animals. Around this Bauerhof, there were a number of other houses, perhaps six or seven, and, together with the church, this made up the village. Martin told me that the likelihood is that the owners of these farms and homes have had them in the family for centuries. It was very hard for me to get my head around that…

Earlier, I had stopped for a break in the town (it was the biggest place on the route but I don’t think I saw any substantial shops) of Alzgern. Here, their church yard was crowded with people working on maintaining the cemetery which surrounded the medieval church of Maria Himmelfahrt (the Assumption). I was blown away by the interior – which was the most extreme baroque style including most of the walls and ceiling being covered by frescoes. Some of these places are real treasures.

I forgot to mention – for anyone thinking of following my route – that the first section out of Marktl up to the river Alz is actually on the side of a main road. This isn’t very pleasant, but there are side trails that go through the forest. Here I encountered for the first time a sign that basically said “This is a private road, but if you are a forest worker or a cyclist, feel free to use it at your own risk”! No mention of walking pilgrims, but I think that covers us too. This little trail, as I mentioned, took me right up to the River Alz – right up to the edge of the small cliff with the river below (do not attempt this in the dark). Thankfully the road bridge over the river had a walker/bike space.

The only other thing I have to add about this walk is that I had to keep reminding myself that I was walking in through German countryside. That sounds silly – everything around me was screaming “Bavaria” like it was painted onto a souvenir plate – but the whole mundane process of putting one foot in front of the other on a trail that led through open countryside was so familiar that I felt right at home. But of course, it was completely alien. And this was never more the case when I came across one of the seven churches with their origins in the 12th or 13th centuries. I was utterly blessed with the weather. It was crisp and cool and sunny in a way that I didn’t get up much of a sweat, but was always refreshed with the breeze along the way. This was the case for the whole weekend. The other thing I will add is that if you are lucky enough to score such a couple of sunny days in succession as I was this weekend, autumn is ABSOLUTELY the best time to do a walk like this. We in Victoria think that a visit to Bright in autumn is pretty specky, but that doesn’t hold a candle to Bavaria in the autumn. The colours of the trees are so vivid. In fact, I changed the setting on my iphone camera to “vivid” a couple of times today because it simply wasn’t doing justice to the brilliance of the colours and the light that I was seeing..

Okay, so that brings me eventually to my arrival in Altötting. Martin had texted to me say something along the lines of “Oh my God, I wasn’t expecting THIS!”, which meant he had done no preparatory research about our pilgrimage destination. He had gotten off the train, walked to his rather nice authentically Bavarian Gasthaus (the Hotel Planktl – I highly recommend it), and then gone to explore the town. He was blown away when he entered the main pilgrimage plaza in the centre of town. And it really is something. When I arrived, I went immediately to the little “Gnadenkapelle”, which houses the tiny black madonna and child which is the object of devotion. There was the most gorgeous singing coming from inside (see videos in the Google Photos album), and the Blessed Sacrament was exposed on the altar. The little chapel is divided into two sections – and I barely got into the area where the Madonna and Child are on the main altar. This morning Martin and I attended the 7am mass in the little chapel, and we were in the nave of the chapel so we didn’t see anything of the mass that was being conducted in the inner sanctum until we went to communion, and then I wasn’t really concentrating on my surrounds, but rather on receiving the Lord, so you won’t find any actual pictures of the the interior in my Google Photos album.

Then I went to check into my accommodation. I was completely knackered, as I had walked almost 25km (remember – I had to double back to see all the seven churches!). I was staying at the Gockelwirt Pilgerpension above the cafe of the same name, and it took me a while to find my way in and the right people to talk too. But eventually I paid my €35 (not including breakfast) and was given the key to room 1, a double room overlooking the square. The room was quite spacious with its own basin, and all in quaint Bavarian style. The hallways were all decorated as if they had not been touched since 1925 – very traditional religious, with no pope represented more recently than John Paul II. The shared toilet/showers, however, were very substandard. For less than €30 more, Martin had very comfortable accommodation at Hotel Planktl – equally traditional if not more so – and breakfast included. He had invited me around to his place for dinner, and we had a very delightful evening. I had “Hirschgeschetzeltes” – venison stewed in a gravy served with cream – with spaetzle noodles and hot apfelkraut (yes – it is what is sounds like) – quite yummy. And more beer, this time local stuff. When I walked back to my accommodation, there were pilgrims returning home from devotions in the square carrying lighted candles. I decided to go for a little wander. Pilgrims were still gathered around the Gnadenskapelle (which was now locked), and there was a bishop with them in choir dress and biretta laughing and joking with them. It all looked very friendly. The moon was out, and so I got a good shot of the chapel and St Mary Magdalene’s church with the moon in between. There was supposed to be a solar eclipse on Saturday night, but when I woke at 2:33am and looked out of my window at the moon, I could see no evidence. I probably missed it by about an hour – last night was the end of daylight savings for the Europeans, so the clocks went back an hour.

Which was good, because I slept rather fitfully and woke up at about 6am to see the sky was already light (it hasn’t been so since I’ve been in Germany). Martin and I attended the 7am mass in the Gnadenkapelle, as I said. After this, we went for a bit of a Spaziergang, to see the Churches of St Mary Magdalene and to find the Church of Brother Konrad – the local saint who had been the porter in the Capuchin monastery. The church had once been named St Annes, but was now dedicated to the saint. We discovered that this building had very recently received a complete makeover, including the tomb of St Konrad himself in the sanctuary. I lighted a candle for my friend Hildegard at St Philips and for her departed husband Gottfried with whom I used to sing bass in the choir. She was the one who said to me on the last Sunday before I left, “you must visit Bruder Konrad and pray for me” – prior to this I had heard nothing of him. After this, Martin shouted me breakfast at his hotel. It was the best breakfast I have had in three weeks! More catching up with stories our lives. After breakfast, I went back to my room to pack up – but I was distracted by the fact that I had not yet been inside the main church in the central square, the “Stiftspfarrkirche”. Mass had just ended and the organist was still playing, so I went inside for a quick look – see photos. I also discovered the garden with the Stations of the Cross nearby. There was also a big market going on in the square. There were lots of lovely things to buy, but a) I couldn’t carry them, and b) they were made of wood and animal products that would no way pass muster at customs in Australia. One such product were Wanderungsstöcke – wooden hiking sticks – for only €12,50. I would have loved to have have bought one home for myself, but the chance of it being rejected at customs was too great, and also I would have to carry it with me on my walk today and thereafter (I have my normal hiking stocks with me).

At this point I realised that Martin was probably waiting for me, as it was approaching the time he had to catch the train, so I quickly went up to my room, packed and checked out, and went around to where Martin was waiting. We went straight to the station, chatted for a bit, then the train pulled up, and said goodbye until we meet again. I joked that I would be back in 7 years for my european book tour!

Then I set off on the southern forest route. There isn’t a lot to say here, other than that the forest was totally delightful. I kept taking pictures, trying to catch the experience, but new I never could because of the combination of the light and the smell and the fresh air and the colour of the leaves. For the first time on this whole journey, I listened to music as I walked, and it was an added dimension. I sometime sang, sometimes danced, sometimes wandered off to the side just to stand surrounded by these beautiful trees. At first there were plenty of others around me, but as I went on today, and especially on the afternoon section, I was quite alone. I will dare to say that I enjoyed today even better than yesterday. The first section to Emmerting took two hours of forest walking in the morning. I visited two churches in Emmerting – the big modern one built in the year of my birth and the smaller more ancient one on the hillside on the opposite side of the river. Just before the latter, as I was heading out of town and thinking “I haven’t found anywhere to have lunch”, I saw a sign to a “Biergarten” and discovered a REALLY real Bayerischen pub, the sort with four old men inside telling each other the same stories they have since they were boys over a few Pils. I ordered Schnitzel and chips and a small bottle of locally produced Pils bier.

After this there was more forest walking – including a children’s trail with carved forest animals along the way – and a bit of making my way through a little borough called Schützing, with another Bauerhof moment when the road led right up to a private farm, but this time the farmer let me walk through his yard to the forest beyond. Then more forest, and voila! I was back in Marktl. As I was approaching the town, I saw, on the eastern side of the river, another church tower, and discovered one of the Seven Churches – another “St Nicholas” – this one rebuilt in the early 1500’s with some a rather gruesome display of 19th skulls in the porch… I visited St Oswald’s again to say goodbye, and then caught the 4pm train back instead of waiting for the 5pm train one which I was booked. In all, I walked 22.75km from Altötting to Martkl, in 4hrs and 17 minutes walking time.

If ever you are finding yourself in this area, I would highly recommend trying to walk one or both of the two routes I took on this journey. It was a real spiritual boost, and delight to both body and soul. Tomorrow, I am going to try to visit the Karl Rahner Archives again, and see what more might turn up…

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A “God Moment” in Munich (Thursday 26 October 2023)

Google Photos album for this evening here.

I’ve just woken up after midnight – after “first sleep” – and need to keep doing some “Hausaufgabe” before returning to bed for my second sleep. After the end of my first week in Munich, I find that I am very tired at the end of the day. The German course at the Goethe Institute is consuming much of my energy, and while I have made contact and arrangements to meet with a Jesuit priest and Rahner expert here, and also have arranged for a tour of the Catholic “Hochschule” (technical university) next Tuesday, I have not yet cracked open the Karl Rahner Archive, which is my main reason for being here.

In any case, I have decided just to make an entry in the blog about a funny thing happened last night – a “God moment” as my wife Cathy would call it.

I left the school at 5:45 and went home a different way from normal (just on a whim). And so it was that I came across a large modern (1950s?) church. I thought it would be locked up, but saw a couple of bicycles outside the rather industrial looking doorway. Inside the rather gloomy cavernous building, I saw candles burning down by the Marian shrine, and three elderly women. These turned to me when I walked in and they beckoned me over as they began to pray the Rosary! I quickly got my beads out and looked up “Rosary in German” on my phone, and joined in. They had a strange practice – which later I saw in their hymnal – of inserting the mystery after the “fruit of your womb, Jesus”. After the Rosary, they said the Angelus. Then, when finished, they asked where I was from etc. so conversation ensued. One lady spoke English and told me that at 7pm there would be mass over in the smaller chapel. So I went back to my hotel to drop off my stuff and get changed before returning.

On the way back I noticed first that the street was called “Sankt Wolfgangs Platz”, so deduced that this was St Wolfgang’s Church. There are other churches in the area, but this one clearly operated as the local parish church. The other thing I noticed was a nice Bavarian style restaurant and another nice looking Bavarian style pub. I considered that I might have dinner out tonight after mass.

Almost as soon as I left the hotel to head back to the church, the bells of St Wolfgang’s began ringing. I had heard these on previous evenings at this time and not realised what it was for. Clearly they were summoning the parish to mass. Inside, about a dozen people had gathered for mass – all women except one younger girl and a man who was setting up for mass. Just before mass began, the organist entered and sat down at the organ. A few more people showed up, again, mainly women except for an additional gentleman – in total about twenty people. Then the organist announced the opening hymn and led us in singing it. The priest entered during the hymn – vested very neatly and correctly. I’d estimate he was in his late 40s. And so the mass was conducted, with sung Kyrie, Sanctus and Agnus Dei, and Entrance, Offertory, Communion and final hymns – although in most cases only one or two verses of the song. The Sanctus and the Lamb of God were both hymnic versions rather than the strict text of the liturgy – but that is a practice I was very used to from my Lutheran childhood, and goes back at least 500 years I think. Most of the songs and settings in the hymn book were of venerable age, dating to the 16th or 17th century. I was not familiar with any of the tunes except the tune for the Lamb of God – which was the same as is used in the traditional Lutheran liturgy in Australia. There was no sermon, and communion was in one kind. People knelt for the Eucharistic prayer and some received communion on the tongue. The only thing I thought was odd is that the altar was completely unvested, and a corporal cloth was spread out on which the sacred elements were placed.

After the mass, everyone dispersed fairly quickly, so there was no conversation with the locals. As I was heading home, I saw that the restaurants were rather full. I have been eating mainly in my room with food bought from local supermarkets. This has been more than sufficient and has allowed me time for working as well. In the end, I decided not to eat out. My “godson” Martin is arriving from Bonn tomorrow evening, and we will have a dinner together then. From what I can see of the weather report, the rain will pass tonight and we will have good weather for our pilgrimage to Altötting and Marktl am Inn on the weekend.

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Statistics for my short Via Francigena pilgrimage from Viterbo to Rome

I just did the stats for my short pilgrimage from Viterbo to Rome along the Via Francigena.

The total distance was 126.83km walking on the trail (plus an additional 17.5km sundry walking bringing the five day total to 144.3km). That’s 187,066 steps.

I climbed 1359m and descended 1755m, an average of 271.8 per day up and 351m per day down. This is a very hilly route, even though there are long stretches that are largely flat.

Day One (13 October 2023): Viterbo to Vetralla: 21.33km, +181m(-253), 4:35 moving time.
Day Two (14 October 2023): Vetralla to Sutri: 28.66km, +350m(-354), 6:38hrs moving time.
Day Three (15 October 2023): Sutri to Campagnana: 27.94km, +315m(-316), 6:28hrs moving time.
Day Four (16 October 2023): Campagnana to La Storta: 24.01km, +344m(-526), 6:21hrs moving time.
Day Five (17 October 2023): La Storta to Rome: 24.89km, +169m(-306), 6:55hrs moving time.

I would estimate that the journey cost me less than $100 a day in terms of food and accommodation.

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Via Francigena – Day Five from La Storta to Roma (24km)

(Click here to view the photos for today on Google Photos)

I was woken last night by the sound of water running down a drainpipe somewhere. It seemed to be raining fairly solidly, but when I got up in the morning, it was all clear skies with a nice fresh smell to the world. As Arthur sings in Camelot, “the rain must never fall til after sundown; by nine o’clock the morning mists are gone…”

I moved a bit slowly, aiming for an 8:30am start, given that I was beholden to no one for breakfast or my arrival time. I ate left overs from last night, to which I had added the two left over tomatoes and the rest of the cheese to make a thicker sauce. I forgot to mention that when the host called in for payment last night, she instantly commented on the “profumo” from my cooking! I showered and shaved, which I usually don’t do at the start of the day when on pilgrimage, because I wanted to be decent when I arrived at St Peter’s.

I set off back through the centre of La Storta, grabbing a caffè macchiato at the caffè where I got a stamp yesterday. The next 5.5km is all along the Via Cassia and it is 100% awful. Not only is the often no proper footpath on the side of the highway, but also there is rubbish everywhere and dog shit and such to watch out for. I visited La Storta’s church – but it was a game of “hopper” just to get across the road. And an effort to get up the huge flight of stairs. Not only do Italians put their towns on hills, they put their churches on the highest hill in those towns. The crazy thing is that despite the fact that this route feels like it is in the middle of the city – lined on both sides with shops and apartment buildings – it is really just running on the top of a ridge through otherwise open countryside. The people who live at the top of the apartment blocks must have a tremendous view, especially to north. I gather that the reason the VF becomes the Via Cassia here is more than just historical – there are literally no tracks or roads running parallel to the highway, leaving the main road as the only route. There are also practically no signs for the VF on this part of the journey, which leaves you constantly wondering if you have taken a wrong turn somewhere back. I had almost left La Storta before a sticker appeared on a light pole.

Then, soon after leaving La Storta and after crossing the bridge over the interchange with the “Grande Raccordo Anulare” freeway, an official VF sign appears pointing downhill on the south side of the Via Cassia. There is also a sign pointing to in the same direction saying “Le strade dei parchi” (the street of the parks) and “Insugherata”, which translates roughly as “oak groves”. This road goes down and down and down and down till you get to a creek (Tosso dell’Acqua Traversa) at the bottom of the valley and it turns right. (Nb. it crack me up whenever I see a sign saying “dossi artificiali” – indicating *artificial* humps in the road as opposed the real ones!) At the very bottom, there were men working with a couple of big diggers laying what looked like a drain pipe, and ahead of me, it looked for all the world like the VF route was blocked off with fencing around the construction works. I was horrified that I might have to climb up the hill again and take the main street all the way to Rome, but one of the workmen indicated that alternative access to the VF had been opened up through a nearby yard.

Now, at this point, and for the next 4km, the VF becomes something completely different from the first part of the day. The few signs and a picnic table are all dilapidated and broken. Everywhere is weeds. The VF itself becomes what looks to be a goat track – and perhaps it actually is. On both sides of the track is a jungle of blackberry briars and stinging nettles. Don’t try this route without good trousers. Thanks to the rain, the track was not dusty, but in some places there were puddles, and it strikes me that after any amount of rain it could become quite muddy. Above the thorns and thistles, I could still see (sometimes) the apartment buildings along the highway on the ridge above. I thought that the jungle was extensive, but at one point there was a break in the blackberry bushes, and I walked out onto a long paddock, in which there were hay bales recently made. It seems the jungle was more of a hedgerow. I thought about walking in the paddock rather than on the goat track, but the sun had come out and it was incredibly sultry – much cooler among the stinging nettles and overhanging scrub. After about 2km of this, the track shifts south again suddenly and opens up into a valley of pastureland. Literally pasture, because there was a flock of sheep with new born lambs being minded by a “cane da pastore Maremmano-Abruzzese”. Up on the slope of the side of the valley was the shepherd himself, just sitting and letting the dog guide the sheep and lambs. I felt like I had fallen back at least 200 years from when I was walking along the highway less than an hour ago! This whole section is known as the Riserva Naturale dell’Insugherata, and the last part of it, where the sheep were, is known as Macchia di Acquatraverso – the mucky bit (i.e. scrubland) around the Acquatraversa creek. I read later that this area was opened up as a park 10 or 12 years ago, but has been virtually neglected due to a dispute of local property owners. The owners demanded that fences be built between their property and the parkland, with the result that there are two or three actual entrances to the area and few people ever come here. Also, among the wildlife that can be found here are – believe it or not this close to Rome – wild boar. After one final turn towards the east, I came across the first sign that I was in Rome itself: a drain cover with the letters S.P.Q.R. on it – Senatus Populusque Romanus, the Senate and the People of Rome.

Then there are the first buildings at the bottom of a steep road to the top of the Monte Mario Alto. I was out of water at this stage, it was very hot, and so I rejoiced to see a minimart at the top in the piazza/parking lot. I bought a couple of bottles of cold powerade, not knowing where I would find my next drink. As a matter of fact, there was a fountain just in the next block at the top of the Via Giovita Ravizza. Here, for about 1km, the VF follows a main street lined with shops and cafes of all sorts (and a church), down toward the main road, the Via Trionfale. It then follows this main road for about 2km (passing the Universita Cattolica del Sacro Cuore), until finally, on the Via della Camilluccia just past the Giovanni Paolo II centre, it turns down and then up into the Riserva Naturale di Monte Mario, on which the buildings of the original Vatican Observatory are perched. It is from this mountain that the most famous point of the whole Via Francigena pilgrimage is located, the point where you come around the corner from briefly entering (and then leaving again) the Via Trionfale, and the entire vista of Rome opens up before you, including the first view of the pilgrimage destination, St Peter’s Basilica. But the push to get this hill is very strenuous, and the track a little treacherous in places. Again, very poorly maintained on this side of the hill. All that changes once you arrive at the view, and you are in a nice park. I caught a glimpse of the dome of St Peter’s just before getting to the famous viewpoint and knelt down and prayed the Gloria in excelsis. Just after this, Cathy rang, and so was able to share with me, via FaceTime video, the moment of the arriving at the scenic lookout. As is the way thought of all expected “great moments” on a pilgrimage, it was overshadowed by reality, as Cathy told me that the elderly lady we care for had come down with covid and was staying at our place till she recovered. Then my colleagues, Derek and Nathan, texted to say they were at St Peter’s waiting for me, and how much longer would I be. AND I thought I had lost my apple earphones and wasted a lot of effort going back the last 250m or so trying to look for them to no avail (I eventually discovered later that evening that I had stowed them in my shirt pocket). So now I was completely flustered, and raced down the steep wide winding path that descended the other side of the mountain as quickly as I could. This path is paved with very large stones that are uncomfortable for the feet. When I got to the bottom, it was then a matter of getting across the busy roads to the Viale Angelico which leads directly south to Vatican City, 2.5km away.

By now the day was well and truly hot, with a blazing sun overhead. I raced along this, covering the distance in about half an hour, but had to divert to go to the spot where I had precooked online for a fee of €5 (or so I thought) a luggage deposit spot in Via Germanico where I could drop my backpack and be free and unencumbered for my visit to St Peter’s. Being rather flustered, I let the two indian boys behind the counter of the small “hole-in-the-wall” stall use the Luggage Hero app on my phone to book my backpack in. I took with me only my hiking stocks (folded up and slung onto) my bumbag full of valuables (which I wear always around my waist facing forward under my tummy where only I could get to it), and my phone and ipad. Thankfully (as it turned out) they took a picture of the backpack as record of my booking…

Then I hightailed it to the border of Vatican City. There were no checks at the border, as there is when a papal event is on in the Piazza, but there was a very long queue to get into St Peter’s – reaching half the circumference of the square. By this stage, Derek and Nathan had stood in line, gone into the basilica, and then joined the line to go up into the Cupola. I stood with all the other tourists in the blazing sun (I was the only one wearing a wide brimmed hat!), and became drenched in perspiration from the heat and humidity. A text come through from my mother, who was just going to bed at home, and so I rang here on FaceTime video and shared the moment of being in St Peter’s Square with her. After we hung up, and I had waited in line almost half an hour, it occurred to me to find out where I had to go to get my testimonium – the certificate of having completed the pilgrimage (more than 100km of it, anyway). When I discovered the directions on the Via Francigena website (in the cloakroom area at the bottom and to the right of the main stairway into the basilica), I also saw a mobile phone number I could ring for information. I rang this number and the nice man on the other end told me, in good english, to skip the main line and go over to a small gazebo on the northern side nearer the entrance where I would get special admission for my testimonium. There were only about a couple of dozen people at this point, instead of a couple of dozen hundred, but nevertheless it didn’t seem to be going anywhere. This appeared to be specially booked groups of visitors, including priests who had come to celebrate mass with their parties. It seemed that every document was being closely scrutinised and I was beginning to think I’d have been quicker in the main line. Impatiently, I made my way to the front and waved my credential about until I attracted the attendant’s attention, and he waved me on through immediately!

There were two other pilgrims – a couple who spoke english – waiting there as well in the cloakroom area. We greeted each other. I had not met them before, but they said they saw me yesterday on the way. They had come all the way from the Pass over the alps, and so had done the length of Italy to Rome. I was thinking to myself at the same time that I should have just used the luggage stowage at the Vatican instead of leaving my backpack with the Dodgy Brothers and Luggage Hero, when the attendant asked to see my credential, then gave me a form to fill in with all my personal details and reason for doing the pilgrimage. He also gave me a blank testimonium to add my own details, added the final Vatican “il timbro” to my credential, and said “Congratulations” and that was that.

From their texts, I knew that Nathan and Derek were still up on the dome, so once I had gone through security and entered St Peter’s, I immediately went downstairs to the Grotto Vaticano to finish my pilgrimage at the tomb of Peter and at the tomb of Pope Benedict XVI (aka Joseph Ratzinger, 50% of the theological duo on whom I am doing my PhD). Despite the fact that, of all recent popes, he has yet to be canonised, beatified, or even have cause opened for him, I have a very strong devotion to this man who I am convinced will one day be a Doctor of the Church and hence also recognised for the true saint that he was. I felt very privileged to be able to visit his grave so soon after his passing and in the middle of working so intimately with his theological writings and his life’s story. I knelt and prayed there for a while, and then went on to visit the tombs of Benedict XV, Pius XI, Blessed John Paul I, and Saint Paul VI. It was very hot and humid down there, so I gave up my plan to wait for the others to join me there, and followed the crowd outside into the fresh air. It was then that I realised that I couldn’t get back into the Basilica this way. Doubling back, when I got to the stairs leading back up to the main body of St Peter’s, I noticed that it was guarded with a sign saying “no exit”! This was a pickle – all the more so because I had no internet signal down there and could not communicate with my friends. I thought I would just have to sit it out and so parked myself on the floor near Benedict XV’s tomb. After a little while, the guard got up and went away. This was my chance. I waited for a break in the descending tourists and dashed back up the stairs. I had to stand aside for one or two coming down the narrow staircase, but they let me pass, and bingo I was back up.

It was still a bit of a wait before my young colleagues descended from the heavens above me, so I took another look around the Basilica. I had been here three times before, so knew what I was looking for. But I made some other discoveries as well. I visited tombs of Saint John XXIII, Venerable Pius XII, and Saint John Paul II. I then went back to the entrance to the Grotto and into St Joseph’s chapel – where, I was surprised to learn, the relics of Sts Simon and Jude are kept in an urn under the altar. So I added these two the the number of apostles whose relics I had visited, including St Peter, St Paul, St John (well, his burial site anyway…), and St Philip. Then I received a text saying my mates were down and looking for me. A bit of hunting about and I found Derek and Nathan at the high altar. Embraces and greetings followed. It was good not to be on my own anymore. Derek had questions about the basilica and some historical and religious points. They had been in St Peter’s yesterday, but didn’t have a guide. So undertook this duty and explained to them about the tomb of St Peter, the Bernini Baldacchino and Chapel of the Chair, and showed them other interesting features such as the Stuart memorial and the memorial for Queen Kristina of Sweden. Derek and I then prayed the rosary together at St John Paul II’s tomb in the chapel of St Sebastian. We were going to do this downstairs at Pope Benedict’s tomb, but it was too hot down there. Finally we did go downstairs, where again I played tour guide and showed them around, explaining especially the history of the 20th Century popes, and pointing out the remains of the columns of Constantine’s St Peter’s which are toward the exit of the Grotto. As we exited into the northern portico, we saw the brand new statue of St Andrew Kim, the Korean martyr, whose shrine my friend Sean is currently visiting on pilgrimage in Korea. This statue was only added just a couple of weeks ago, and adds a universal flavour to the exterior of St Peter’s.

It was now about six o’clock and so I took my friends around the corner to Borgo Pio, the Lygon Street of the Vatican, for dinner. It was good to share food and drink with these colleagues, although I am afraid I rather took on the role of raconteur, with the result that my gigantic pizza was barely quarter eaten by the time Derek and Nathan had finished their meals. It was good fun anyway. We parted about 7:20, as I had to pick up my backpack from the Dodgy Brothers in Via Germanico. I had had a beer and glass of wine and when I went to get out of my seat, I stumbled a bit as my tired legs had sort of seized up while sitting down for so long. My plan was to collect my luggage, and then get to the Ottaviano train station on the Metro, and take that to the Aurelia station, change to the city train route and take that to Trastevere back to my lodgings where I had left my suitcase last week. This is where things went wobbly again. When I got to the Luggage Hero depot, one of the Indians again filled out things on my app for me and then presented me with the bill: €46.75 (=$77)!!! I was flabbergasted and didn’t know what to do, but they were closing shop and said to take it up with the Luggage Hero people online. There was nothing I could do. I threw the bag on my back and headed for Ottaviano. There things didn’t work with the Metro train ticket machine, which didn’t want to accept either my phone or my credit card for some reason. So I headed to the human being behind the counter and he sold me a ticket for cash that was half the price that machine was trying to sell me. Once I was on the station platform waiting for the train, I was able to initiate the refund request on the Luggage Hero app. I was surprised to find that by the time I got to Aurelia Station, I had a reply: I had booked hourly (instead of daily), and was charged according for my five pieces of luggage (total €20.25), €8.25 Service Fee (??) and €13,25 insurance, PLUS a “tip” of €5 = total €46.75!! You will, of course, have spotted the mistake immediately. I was willing to wear the hourly rather than the day rate, but there was no way I had just completed the five day Via Francigena pilgrimage carrying FIVE pieces of luggage! Thankfully, by the time I got off at Trastevere Roma station, the nice person on the other end had revised my bill and the charge on my credit card to €13.35. I completed the climb up to the top of the hill at Vio Lorenzo Valle, let myself in with the keys Sabrina had given me almost a week ago, lugged by backpack and my suitcase up to the top floor, let myself in and collapsed on the bed.

And so ended the first section of my great adventure. Pilgrimages are like this. My B&B was not home, but it represented a return from the point which I departed last week. I’m glad that Derek and Nathan were able to join me this evening, or it would have felt more anti-climactic than it was. I fully understand why pilgrims who reach Santiago and the tomb of St James continue going until they hit the ocean at Finnesterre. Happily, now the next part of my adventure begins. A rest day or two, then the four day seminar at the ACU campus, then two weeks in Munich, a side detour to Pope Benedict’s birthplace and to the Marian shrine at Altötting (joined by my “godson” Martin), and then on to Regensburg for a week, before a night in Freising (where Ratzinger did his doctorate and habilitation), and then home. I will blog about the Altötting pilgrimage, but not the rest of the trip. I can’t afford three hours of every day writing this. But thank you for joining me on the journey. At some stage, I have to also write up the last two legs of the MacKillop-Woods Way (we’ve made it all the way to Port MacDonnell in South Australia and have only the final leg to Penola to go next year). But that’s it for now.

And always remember: “We are but travellers here” [NOT tourists] – St Mary of the Cross MacKillop.

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Via Francigena – Day Four from Campagnana di Roma to La Storta (24km)

For all my pictures from today, click here to see the Google Photos album.

I had a fairly good idea that today was going to be difficult. The distance was fair enough (in the end, at 24km, it was about 1.5km further than I estimated), but it was the ascent/descent that was the real stinger. Back when we were doing the MacKillop-Woods Way from St Mary’s birthplace in Fitzroy to her tomb and shrine in North Sydney, Sean and I did one day along the coast where we clocked up 440m/-413m ascent/descent due to repeatedly walking down into coves and back up again. Today on the route from where I was staying in Campagnana di Roma to La Storta, I clocked 344m/-526m. So, on average it was downhill, but there was a lot of upping and downing in between. And the Italians have an endearing habit of building their towns on hills, so if you are walking between town A and town B, you can be assured of a steep climb at the end of your walk, just when you are already completely buggered. When it comes to walking in Italy, you can reverse Newton’s Law, and say that what goes down must inevitably go up again.

But today’s “down” was, as you can see, considerably more than the “up”, and the downs could really be quite steep. I started off the day quite concerned with the stiffness in my right calf which my myotherapist was treating before I left Melbourne. Lots of uphill walking does this. However, by late morning, I had shifted my anxiety to the possibility of developing blisters on my toes and the balls of my feet due to the pressure they were experiencing on down hill walking (something like a ballerina balancing on her pointed toes, I imagine). I cannot imagine walking today’s trail without (1) hiking stocks and (2) pressure pants. The first add an exceptional stability as well as assistance with both ascending and descending. The second is something I learned from Luke Mills, the founder of the Aussie Camino between Portland and Penola. He swore by wearing sports pressure pants for keeping muscle tone. It’s like bandaging your leg muscles, knees and hips before they go all wonky instead of afterward. It is essential to leave them on for at least half an hour after you stop exercising, and (in fact) right now I am wearing the same pressure socks that I wore on the plane to stop high altitude blood clots as they work brilliantly as supports for my calves as well. I will probably sleep with them on tonight and walk with them tomorrow as well. My Tasmanian pilgrim companion Josh calls them “elf pants”, and I know they look silly, but I don’t want to end up like my fellow VF pilgrim Roland…

But, as I was saying, I was concerned about getting blisters on my feet, and so I bandaged the “hot spots” (your feet warn you of coming blisters by continuous overheating in the same spot). However, after a while it occurred to me that I had been carrying my “spare tyres” – my Roman sandals, and so I stopped for the requisite tyre change. This was just after leaving the little medieval town of Formello and it was at just that point that the VF trail turned, for the most part, from sealed roads to dusty tracks, so my feet were liberally covered in the fine dust of the road. The experience of walking on dusty roads like this for mile after mile is informing for reading the stories in the gospels about Jesus having his feet washed or washing the feet of his disciples…

Still, blisters avoided, that was not the last of my worries. My final concern was the advancing rain. The AccuWeather app said that there was a chance of rain from 1pm onwards, and indeed I could often see bands of rain to the south of my walking position (I think Rome copped a shower or two). At just one point – just a few kilometres out of La Storta, a few drops fell on and around me, and I thought “this is it”. I considered stopping and putting on my rain jacket, but then everything cleared up again. A handy tip for avoiding rain when you are on pilgrimage: pack lots of heavy rain wear. If you do this, you will never get wet because you will never use it. It only ever rains if you are unprepared for it. So carrying all that additional weight is not useless. In fact, the rain held off for the whole day. But the weather was different. There was cloud cover all day, and although the breeze was mild to non-existent, it was also generally cooler than it had been the previous days.

The day started quite well. I had been up during the night writing yesterday’s account of the journey between 2:30am and 5:00am. I slept solidly for the next 1.5 hours and then got up and packed. Gianna had prepared a very satisfying breakfast. She apologised for there being no eggs (I hadn’t expected any!) and so had made me TWO toasted ham and cheese sandwiches. Plus croissant and jam and cake and juice – and an expertly presented caffe Americano, with several shots of espresso in a coffee pot, a teapot full of boiling water, and milk in a jug to add. Unfortunately, when I had finished packing, Gianna was not around to thank, so I let myself out.

The one draw back of staying at Casa Margot is the climb back up the hill. Just to get out of the little housing area is about a 30m climb, and then there is another 70m up over the Via Monte Razzano to rejoin with the VF on the other side. The one plus is the incredible 180 degree views from the top of the hill, including the whole of the vista to the south (Rome was down there somewhere, only 50km or so away, but not visible to my eyes), Lake Bracciano to the west, and a view of Campagnana di Roma to the north. And of course, once up, you have to go down the other side. After joining up with the VF again, more views toward the east open up. I would almost say to anyone coming out of Campagnana di Roma on the VF that they should take the detour up Via Monte Razzano just for the views, although this would add extra ascent and descent to a day already overloaded with ups and downs.

I was intrigued to see a cross on the side of the road with the Roman numeral II on it. Hullo, hullo, hullo, I said to myself. This just be a part of an outdoor Stations of the Cross, and I’ve missed the first one. I further guessed that it might have something to do with the repeated signs to “santuario del sorbo”, a 15th Century monastic establishment and church further down the road. Not having a devotion book with me, I decided simply to do the genuflection at each cross and say the Salvator Mundi at each cross. I missed a few, but that was absolutely where they were headed. Of course, the monastery was on a hill, but thankfully it was only a short way up. Inside, I visited the Blessed Scarament, but then retired to the back of the church to take off my shoes and attend to the “hot spots” that could become blisters, applying protective bandaids in sore spots.

As I was coming down the hill, I met the only other pilgrim I saw all day. She was perhaps a little older than me and was from Switzerland. I cannot remember her name or if she even told me (it struck me as we said goodbye that she used my name). Her first question to me about “gnocchi” – as in the pasta – as she pointed to her knees. Later I looked this up and realised that it means “lumps” or “bumps”. It could have been a reference to blisters but then I realised she had probably seen the strapping around my right calf (which I had forgotten all about – thanks Voltarin tablets!). She did tell me that she has been doing the VF for about 7 or 8 years, two weeks at a time during her holidays each year, the Covid years excepted. She was heading up the hill to santuario, so we said “Buon cammino” and parted. She was staying tonight at Isola Farnese rather than La Storta, so there is little chance we will cross paths again. [Footnote: In Italian this is how to spell that greeting – in Spanish it is “Buen Camino”. I’ve actually been more often greeted by passers by (especially cyclists) with “Buon viaggio”: Good journey.] Some time later along the trail, I was surprised to find that there was a rock with the Roman numeral VII and a cross on it. I guessed that there is another “Stations of the Cross” coming from the opposite direction to the monastery, although I had seen no others and saw no more.

Just after the monastery, the VF enters a National Park, the Valli del Sorbo. At this point, the “Itinerario Via Francigena Commune di Campagnano di Roma” – which officially started at Settevene – comes to an end, and the Via “pro loco Formello” begins. The Formellites have erected very nice little milestone style markers for the VF, pointing in both the direction to Canterbury and toward Rome. The distance to Rome is marked (the distance to Canterbury would have been a nice touch but was seen as redundant!). The first one appears just as you enter the park at 36km to Rome, and the last one I saw told me I was 26.9km from Rome. At the entrance to the Park, there was a creek and a small waterfall which I went down to investigate (and photograph). The slopes were very slippery with dust, and to do this with my full pack and wonky legs with my iphone in my hand was probably not a clever idea, and in fact I did slide the last metre or two (a small bush prevented me landing in the shallow water). It isn’t wise to take risks on pilgrimage. I, however, am not wise. The park entrance and exit both have livestock grills, and I was surprised to find signs of cattle in the area (which seemed to me odd for a national park), although I didn’t see any. It was more like walking through a paddock than a park. There were a couple of modernist sculptures about.

On the other side, it was a climb up to the hill on which the town of Formello was located. I had had a big breakfast, so here I bought three biscotti and a peach ice tea (thè pesca) and sat down to eat and drink it beside the busy road which runs through the town (the Via Formallese, which connects with the Via Cassia further south). I changed my shoes for my sandals, and was just leaving as I noticed the Swiss pilgrim had caught up and was in the pasticerria across the road. I could have been friendly and walked with her for a bit, but she was just stopping and I was just going. Formello has its own “medieval” section, which included a Museum. I went inside the forecourt, which had some interesting statuary and sarcophagi – and most interestingly some ancient Etruscan burial markers dating from the 8th century BC. However, pilgrims are not tourists, and I had to keep going if I wanted to beat my third worry about the rain. The ancient church was sadly closed for renovations.

Of course, what goes up must go down, and there was a steep descent at the other end of the old town down into a long narrow valley, which is a public park. The VF is the path that runs through the park. The route from here went through agricultural land – not olives and orchards, but ploughed and dusty fields, obviously in need of the coming rain. The surface of the VF trail changed often and was in some places quite stoney and irregular. I met a number of people walking their dogs – each one with at least three in tow. The Italians sure do like their canine pals. I passed a couple of signs commenting on some ancient Etruscan feature or other (such as a grave yard, or agricultural tunnels for diverting water through the rock hills), but none of these were visible from the trail. The path is nicely marked with the traditional rough-cut wooden fences. And there is a lot of up and down and winding round at this point, as the trail follows the Torrente Cremera, a rushing creek which flows into the Tiber closer to Rome. Here the wooden fences serve a good purpose: sometimes the trail is right next to rather high cliffs above the stream. Finally, at the far end of the park, the VF comes out on a road on the top of a high hill affording great views of the countryside. Then it goes into another paddock, this time owned by the Agricultural University of La Storta, and finally comes out just below the locality of Isola Farnese, which indistinguishably merges with La Storta.

La Storta is virtually a suburb of Rome – in fact, my hostess for the night gave the address of my room as “Roma” rather than “La Storta” – and looks entirely modern. However, according to Wikipedia, this is one of the places which the original Via Francigena pilgrim journalist, Archbishop Sigeric (d. 994), mentions in his account. Also according to Wikipedia, it is called “La Storta” meaning “the curve”, as there is a bend in the Via Cassia here. Roman roads being straight and all, you know. Cathy rang just as I was entering onto the busy main street, and we talked as I made my way to my accommodation. I had been in contact with the hostess of “Annie’s Room”, which appears to be a number of rooms in an apartment building, and asked about the option of using a kitchen to make my own dinner (last night’s dinner being so pleasant and cheap I wished to repeat the experience). She messaged me back to say that she had upgraded me to from a room to the “kitchen apartment” and had left the keys in the door of the apartment for me to let myself in. She would come around after she got back from work at 8pm to “do check in” – i.e. to get paid (I had made my reservation on but, like the Hotel Sutrium, it was pay at the property).

As I walked through La Storta, I noted were the liquor store (a sort of Dan Murphy’s) was, the Frutta shop, and did a google search for “supermercato near me” – which located a rather upmarket delicatessen style shop next door to a caffe/bar. It was shut, but I had determined to get to my lodging first and dump the backpack and wash the dust of my feet and every other part of my body first before doing the shopping. I went into the caffe bar, however, to ask for “il timbro” for my credential. They were a bit confused at first, but then worked out they could do it – and stamped it with their own store stamp, which didn’t clearly indicate their La Storta address. The location of Annie’s Home is just a few blocks west of the main street (= the Via Cassia), and walking there along the Via Braccianese gave me an initially poor impression of the area. Later, as I walked back to the shops by a different route, I realised that the place was actually fairly upmarket (judging by the cars and some private housing areas) for apartment style living. However, I was still under the impression of it being a shady district when I let myself into the apartment through a door which could have done double duty on a bank safe. I was still talking to Cathy on the phone as I did this (hands free – talking and walking!), and using the WhatsApp video function showed her around the two roomed apartment as I was discovering it myself. Again, my initial impression was not great – the apartment has only one window (apart from the one in the bathroom), heavily barred and looking out nowhere. Cathy thought it looked very nice – but the place smelled musty due to not being well ventilated. There was an air conditioner, which worked well before malfunctioning later on. Nevertheless, the qualities of the place grew on me later, and I do feel thankful for this space. It has a double bed, a single bed, and a couch, so it could actually accommodate a small group of pilgrims.

I said goodnight to Cathy, and discovered that the shower was very hot and effective on sore legs, feet and shoulders. Looking clean and civilised and with the moustaches waxed, I headed out to do the shopping. I got a little carried away, and ended up spending €18 euros – about $30. I spent €5.50 at La Frutteria for much more than I really needed, but the nice lady was giving me a fine little lesson in naming Italian vegetables. I bought four large vine ripened pomidori (tomatoes), a large peperone (capsicum), and two zucchini (thankfully we use the Italian name for that already). Another €4.30 went to the Dan Murphy’s equivalent. I noted before I left the apartment that there was no bottle opener, so I bought a 500ml can of Polish “Barley Lager – Extra Strong 9.0%”, and two 250 bottles of Italian red wine with screw tops. Practically every other wine bottle in the huge establishment were corked rather than screw tops. Also, there was no beer fridge – I had to put the can in the freezer for a bit before drinking it later. Across the road was another caffe bar, la Dolcecassia, so I went in to see if they had a proper “il timbro”. To be polite, I also went to the bar and ordered a caffe macchiato, which was served with the customary glass of cold water to drink before hand (to slake thirst and cleanse the palate so you can enjoy the minuscule coffee which you down in one gulp). The coffee was actually very good, and the DID have the proper official VF stamp. That box ticked, or stamped rather, I headed back to the apartment. The deli was on the way, but had closed for siesta and I had to wait until 4:30 before it opened. The nice man behind the counter showed me the selection of prosciuttos on offer, and I bought a couple slices of what looked like his best. He also sold me a small cut of nice firm cheese (he offered a taste beforehand). Together these set me back €8.20, which was quite a bit – but they were very nice in my dinner.

So, I went home, and although it was only 5pm, I started cooking. I didn’t have to buy pasta, as there was half a packet of cellentani – a corkscrew shaped pasta – in the cupboard. Apart from that there was some salt, some olive oil (in a suspiciously ancient slightly rusty green can with no label but only an olive design on the outside kept under the cupboard with the dishwashing detergent – I tasted it and it seemed fine), and some old spices designed to sprinkle wedges or chips. So, I fried up the ham, and then tossed in the other ingredients to make the sauce. I only used two of the tomatoes, which were deliciously ripe, and saved the other two for lunch tomorrow. I drank the lager while cooking – very nice – with a bit of the cheese for nibbles – also very nice. When the whole lot was finished, I mixed in the pasta and put some slices of the cheese on top (no grater in the house). I had more than I could eat, so I decided that the left overs would be breakfast (this isn’t the kind of establishment that does breakfast). I then began writing up this blog, and catching up on the Australian news and emails and so on while drinking one of the little red wine bottles (the other will go into my back pack tomorrow). So while the whole dinner cost me a bit, it was good, and I have leftovers, and still cost me less than eating out would probably have done.

Luisa, the lady who runs these rooms, turned up promptly at 8pm. She had a little bit of English, but spoke the words in such a garbled fashion that I realised how silly I must sound when I am attempting to speak Italian. It really IS all in the pronunciation. (This morning, Gianna was trying to teach me to say “confortevole”, and made it clear that I was not rolling my Rs enough or doing the bouncy up and down on every syllable sufficiently!) Nevertheless, she did make clear that she would be happy with only €40 for the whole apartment rather than the originally advertised €43 for just a room – about $66. When I compare this to the experience of staying in a cabin on a trip in Australia and doing your own cooking, I realised you wouldn’t get away with that for under $100 as I have done tonight.

Anyway, that was day four. Tomorrow I arrive (back) in Rome. Just before going to bed, I made contact with Derek and Nathan, who are both in Rome, and arranged to meet up tomorrow at the Vatican and have dinner together afterwards.

And none of my fears and anxieties for today – sore leg, blisters, and rain – came to pass. Lord, Jesus, I trust in you.

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Via Francigena – Day Three from Sutri to Campagnana di Roma (15 October 2023)

For all pictures of today’s journey, click here for the Google Photos album.

As I write this on Sunday evening, I am sitting on a balcony of a bed and breakfast called “Casa Margot” on the very south end of Campagnana di Roma. It overlooks what I am guessing (from the shape of it) is a broad valley formed as a volcanic crater. Right through the middle runs the Via Cassia, from which a constant traffic noise is the only blot on the landscape (literally). This road, which has ancient Roman origins, has been my constant companion on the way. Usually it maintains a respectful distance, but sometimes it becomes a little too familiar and even downright invasive of my private space. I am glad to say that I also met its old pal, the Via Annia (aka the Via Ameria), equally venerable in age, but entirely unspoilt by traffic other than my two feet .

In many ways, today’s route was less pleasant than yesterday, but it was no less full of blessings, and I personally experienced no mishaps. The Hotel Sutrium does not have colazione included, but this was, in a sense, freeing. It meant I had not time constraints on leaving. I was still aiming for 7:30, but it didn’t matter that it was closer to 8am when I left the room. My big concern was the fact that, due to a humidity level of 94% (according to AccuWeather) not only did the clothes that I washed last night not dry at all, but neither did the clothes that I brought to Sutri already only half dried from the day before. This meant needing to pack wet clothes. That was no problem, as I use a system of large sealable plastic lunch bags for my luggage, except that wet clothes weigh a ton and also would cause a problem for my clothing management for the next few days if I could not get them dried tonight.

All packed, I headed out into the main square of Sutri, to find that the bar/caffè was open and being patronised by groups of cyclists – and the Italian pilgrims I first encountered yesterday morning at Vetralla. I ordered a caffe Americano con latte and an apple pastry, and was invited to sit rather than stand at the bar. I had only had my pack on for 10 minutes, but it was already a relief to put it down. The bar host brought me a perfect caffè Americano – which is basically a deconstructed long black: one shot of espresso in the bottom of the cup, a jug of hot water, and a smaller jug of milk. By the nature of things, you end up getting one and a half coffees. While I was sitting there, just an ever so light amount of precipitation drizzled down. It didn’t last long, but the clouds remained for most of the morning. In addition to a middling strong cool breeze, this made the weather quite conducive for walking for most of the day. At this point I’ve had fine weather all the way. There is rain forecast for tomorrow night, but hopefully that will come once I’ve reached my destination. And it is due to wind up by 8am on Tuesday morning.

I wound my way out of the town, and then followed the VF signs which indicated that I should exist from the southern gate through which I came in last night. This took me directly to entrance onto the archeological park in which the famous Sutri Roman amphitheatre, built sometime in the first century AD or perhaps even BC. In its day it could seat around 7,000 people. But this morning, the gates to the park were chained and padlocked closed. That wasn’t a problem, as the wall around it was low, but then the gate into the amphitheatre itself were also padlocked closed. I don’t know if that was because of the early hour (is 8:30am early?) or because it was a Sunday, but it was a bit of a disappointment not to be able to go in.

At this point, the VF forks into two paths, with the “Variante Sutri” going off to the east, before returning to the main route a couple of kms on. But it is about 2km longer than the main route, so I followed the VF signs up a nearby lane way, and was just thinking “this is nice”, when I found myself on the “Strada provinciale Bassanese”, a rather busy two lane road with NO VERGE to walk on and BLIND CORNERS. I made my way along as best I could (praying for all past pilgrims who met their end on this stretch of the VF…) until I thought “this is madness”, and opted to do something equally mad but less dangerous, ie. follow a track I could see on my GaiaGPS map through some scrubby bush on the hill above me. This track was rather better defined in the satellite map than it was in real life – it was very overgrown with weeds and blackberry bushes and I would have feared for snakes if this was Australia. But I got through well enough – only to come out the other end in someone’s back yard! The yard had a high wire fence and the front gates were locked. Bugger. But, thank God, in the far corner was a section where the fence had been bent down and I was able able to hop out onto the street – which was the Via Cassia. My advice to future pilgrims: DON’T take the official VF route after the amphitheatre but stay on the Via Cassia – as there is a good footpath alongside the road at least.

But now, just to show that “all things work together for good to them that love God”, as St Paul told the folks living just down the road 2000 years ago, this delay and my silly decision to go bush-bashing meant that just as I jumped the fence, I saw my german friend from last night, Roland, hobbling on his way having jut come around the busy patch of road I had bypassed. After joking together about the stupidity of directing pilgrims on that route, I realised that he really was in a bad way with his left knee. He had strapped it up, but he didn’t look like he would make it up the next hill, let alone to Campagnana. I asked if he had a leg brace, and he said no, but he would go to a pharmacy tomorrow and get one. Tomorrow will be too late, I thought, and so (on the principle that although I may have needed it in the future, he needed it now) I got mine out and gave it to him. He was both gratified and touched. But we pilgrims need to look after one another. I farewelled him after we took photos of one another, and pushed on.

The official route continued on uphill on another two-lane road, with equally less verge on the side for walking, but at least this road was not as busy as the Strada Bassanese – mind you, it was a Sunday morning and I am sure it could get quite busy in its own right. At this stage, I realised why the “Variante Sutri” exists, and if you have the time and a light backpack, you might consider taking it as an alternative to the road walking if you are doing this route in the future. Anyway, the biggest difficulty I had on this stretch was remembering that cars drive on the opposite side of the road to Australia, and which side I should be on to avoid them. After about 1.5km, the VF veers to the left and again it is a country track through orchards leading onto a dusty gravel road until you arrive at a water fountain and trough in the front entrance to a Golf Club about 6.5km out of Sutri. On this stretch I encountered, for the first time, swarms of little insects. They were not much bother unless you happened to walk right through the middle of them, but it reminded me of Alise’s question the other day about what the big differences are between walking in Australia and walking in Europe. Well, there are no flies for a start.

The Italian pilgrimage group were all gathered around the water fountain, and I had no need at this point of water, so I didn’t stop. Also, at this point, Cathy rang me, so I kept walking and talking to here. But the mobile connection was not good, so we gave up, and when I came to a seat a little bit further on, I stopped for my first rest and foot check of the day. As I did so, the Italians again overtook me. There were quite a few cyclists on this stretch, and even some horse riders. Unfortunately there was no view of the Riserva Lago di Monterosi off to the left, but the golf course gave unrestricted views of the countryside to the right. At about the 10km mark, there is the town of Monterosi. Practically the first place you come to in town is a cafe/bar heavily promoting itself to pilgrims, and here again the Italian group were gathered. For the first time we engaged in conversation and I discovered they were a group of Florentines, walking the VF from their splendid city. I asked about colazione and was told that, this being Sunday morning, only coffee was on offer. Not needing a coffee, but rather some juice and something to eat, I headed further up the street. I came across a church, and decided to go in and see if mass was on, only to be surprised to find the church full of young families and children. I sat for a little while, but they were being addressed by their leader and it didn’t seem as if anything liturgical was about to take place so I left. The sign on the church door indicated that it had something to do with a celebration of St Joseph. But it was nice to see the church full and with such a young crowd.

Ahead in the street I saw a sign hanging outside a shop which said “Arte del Pane”, and thought “That’s what I’m looking for”. It was indeed. I bought two little cream cornettos and a strip of pizza con mozzarella and some juice, and went and sat in the piazza opposite, where the 16th century church of San Giuseppe (St Joseph) was located (coincidence?). The gates to the church was closed but you could see through to the interior. As I ate my Hobbit second-breakfast, I called Cathy again, and this time we had a better connection. When finished eating and while still chatting to Cathy, I headed down the street only to realise that I should have taken a left turn at San Giuseppe’s. Cathy said I needed to concentrate and she needed to go to bed, so we ended our conversation and followed the route out onto a short section of the VF that is right alongside the four lane freeway which is the Via Cassia at this point. Thankfully the trail is well established and separate from the road itself, otherwise this would be very dangerous. Before very long, the VF takes another left turn and heads off to the east along through the countryside. Along here, I came across something I was expecting to see at some point: a grove of eucalyptus trees! How delightful to smell the aroma of home! I picked a sprig and stuck it on my backpack…

Here then, just after the 14km mark, was another “variante” on the VF – but not one that is very well known (it wasn’t even marked on the map in the guidebook that Alise was using). This is part of what is locally known as the “Anello di Campagnana”, or the “Ring of Campagnana”. Together with the main VF route, it forms a walking trail of about 21km in an elongate ellipse with Campagnana di Roma at the southern end. While not well noted in VF guides, it is well marked on the ground, and stickers and signs indicated that this is an approved VF variant of the route. Overall it cuts about 2km off the route for the day. But it seems very few people take this option. I didn’t meet a single person on it all the way. I did see my first sign of wildlife other than birds and lizards – a hare! (Actually there were many signs along the way posted by the local fauna organisation saying that hunting was only allowed if authorised. Not sure what they hunt here. This doesn’t seem like wild boar country, although I did see a sign on the road warning of deer crossing the highway a bit further back. I don’t know what the main VF route is like, but (besides the absence of other pilgrims, cyclists and – especially – cars) I would recommend this for one reason: it not only follows the ancient Via Annia (aka, the Via Ameria), it IS the Via Annia. Or at least for about a km. The actual Roman road is a part of the track, with large paving stones and very clear kerbs. (In places where there are no stones on the road, there are suspicious stone fences nearby.) And a real treat – which I almost missed because the little sign indicating it was broken off – a ROMAN BRIDGE! Walking over it it seems like just a little rise in the trail, but if you go off to the side, you get a wonderful look at this simple construction. I marvelled at how it has stayed up all this time, given how thin the top of the arch is (see photos).

At about this stage, I became aware of a sound I had not heard since the Grand Prix was last held in Melbourne: the sound of racing motor cars. It was quite loud and went on for quite some time disturbing the peace of the afternoon. I looked up on the internet and found that there was a race track nearby with an event on today. A great pity because it really did spoil the rural idyll I was experiencing. The Roman road as such runs about a kilometre, until just after passing a large villa which offers itself as a “Farm Stay” holiday. There the Anello di Campagnana/Via Ameria/VF variante comes out onto a newly sealed section of road which runs down to the Strada provinciale Settevene. After this, the VF becomes nothing more than a foot worn trail through a paddock for a bit, and then down over a creek called the Treja, and up into the locality of Settevene.

I paused here for a while to rest my feet, and eat the apple I have been carrying with me for the last two days. From here it is a bit of a plod. The VF comes onto the busy Via del Pavone (the main road into Campagnana). There was a service station on the road not far from the VF, and if it wasn’t a Sunday this would be a place to get coffee and food. But it is a Sunday, so instead “there is machine”. I was able to get some cold Powerade, which was nice. After crossing the road, the VF goes along the country lane named Strada di Fontana Latrona, named after the fountain about 2.5km down the lane. Here fresh cold water can be had in abundance. The fountain also seems to double as a horse trough, given the posts nearby for tethering horses. Then the trail just winds it way up the hill into Campagnana. Just on the outskirts of town, I found a pink grapefruit on the side of the road. It was perfectly fresh and perfectly juicy and delicious, even if a bit tart. My vitamin C dose for the day.

One downside to taking this route is that it doesn’t enter the “old city” section of Campagnana. But a positive is that it went past a mini mart and a fruit and vegetable stall, to which I came back after visiting the old section of the city. In the main piazza of the old section, I visited the “Chiesa del Gonfalone” built in the 15th Century. The doorway was only half open and so narrow that I had to take off my backpack to squeeze through (thoughts about camels and needles occurred to me…). Inside, I paid a visit to the Blessed Sacrament and thanked God for getting me through this part of the journey, the longest day by far, which had caused me some anxiety when planning it. Across from the church on the other side of the piazza, a cafe bar was open, and the man inside had “il timbro per le mie credenzionale”, so at least I now have the stamp to prove I was in Campagnana.

I had been in conversation with my B&B hostess for the evening on Whatsapp, and she said there was no where to eat or buy food close to her place, but I was welcome to used the kitchen. So I returned to the mini mart and bought a packet of “ditale rigati” pasta (macoroni style) and a bottle of Ceres strong ale, and had them fill one of my 16oz water bottle with chardonnay form one of the four €1.20 per litre vats at the back of the store (total €4.20). From the fruit seller I bought tomatoes, zucchini and capsicum (total €1.20). So for about $9, I had my dinner, including beer and wine. I stowed all this into my pack, which was, by now, quite heavy, and made my way up the hill to the southern suburbs of the city. This was quite a way off the VF, and off the tourist roads too, but at €30 for the night WITH colazione, it was by far the best deal on offer (the price of accommodation in the main centre was almost as expensive as in Rome).

And again, this too turned out to be fortuitous, for who should I see hobbling down the hill, still wearing my knee brace, but Roland from Germany! We greeted each other like long lost friends, both surprised by the encounter. K didn’t quite get the story right, but it seemed to involve the offer of a ride from a kind woman, and a bus from Monterosi, but the bus didn’t go to Campagnana, so he had to walk the last section, and hence was coming into town from this strange direction. I think he will be bussing most of his way to Rome from here. He has a place in the old city, so I showed him where to get his credential stamped, and he farewelled me with a bear hug embrace.

After this, it was only a short walk up to the top of the hill, from where the great vista of the valley opened up, and then down again a bit to the unit/apartment/house where I am staying. I had been talking to the hostess, Luisa, on Whatsapp, but was greeted by her neice Gianna on on my arrival. Again, her english is better than my italian, but with a little of both we communicated well enough. The unit is at the bottom of a set of 18 units (I really am going to have a big climb out tomorrow), and is absolutely everything I would expect an Italian country cottage to be (see photos). The view on the deck, with three well fed and friendly cats, was just the place to rest with the bottle of beer I had bought. Also: somewhere to hang my clothes to dry. With the addition of olive oil, paprika, salt and pepper, I cooked up my pasta and the sauce and sat on the balcony to have my dinner. An early bed time by 7:30pm.

Overall distance today was just on 28km. Up and down were almost exactly equal, at 315m up and 316m down. Those measurements come from my GaiaGPS app which I highly recommend (I have learned not to trust the iPhone’s “flights climbed” measurements.)

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Via Francigena – Day Two from Vetralla to Sutri (14 October 2023)

Pictures relating to today’s journey are on Google Photos and can be viewed using this link.

This morning at Albergo de Benedetta, a lovely spread was offered for breakfast. I was the first pilgrim in the breakfast room, and the nice lady immediately asked if I wanted a coffee. When I said yes, she replied (with correct assumption): “Caffe Americano?” “Si, con latte”, and a fresh long black with a little jug of milk arrived at my table. Besides myself, there was a large group of Italian pilgrims in their sixties (at my guess) staying at the Albergo. They were happy to chat among themselves, so I ate on my own and set off straight after breakfast at anbout 7:45am. Another warm sunny day – 26 degrees – was expected.

Having spent a good amount of time wandering Viterbo yesterday afternoon, I did not linger today. I tried the supermarket, because I wanted to get a few things, but it was not yet open. No 24/7 here. At first I headed out on the wrong road (the highway) and had to double back. The road up to the village of Giardino was a continual gentle rise of almost 100m above Vetralla. Some very nice villas along this stretch. At the top was a Benedictine monastery. As I entered Giardino, there was a small modern church. Inside, very liturgically modern, with a blessed sacrament chapel in a separate room. I sat and prayed for a while for the day’s journey and for fellow pilgrims and all we love at home.

Beyond Giardino, the VF enters an oak forest and skirts along and through it for a couple of kilometres. It was shady and cool. In fact, as it turned out, most of the day was walking in pleasant shade. Combined with the fact that there was a bit of cloud cover, the walking was actually easier than yesterday, despite the greater distance and more ascent and descent. Yesterday Alise told me that the one thing she was frightened of on the journey was encountering a wild boar! And there were signs up saying “Caccia al cinghiale”, which basically translates as “hunting the boar”. I never met one. Makes a change from looking out for snakes… The forest here is quite vast, and covers the volcanic slopes of the Lago di Vico, the large lake in the crater. Still being on these slopes, the trail continue to rise for the main until about 490m. This amounts to an overall climb of almost 200 metres till around 13km from Vetralla. After that, it is all pretty well even countryside, sloping downwards to Sutri.

After the forest, there was some country laneways with farms either side and barking dogs.Most excitable was a group of five Maremmas who were very bouncy and happy. Good fences are the pilgrim’s friend.

The trail crosses the two lane Via Cassia highway again – not a very safe crossing, as the cars are thick and fast. Annoyingly there is a little old church right on the highway that is practically inaccessible (I say practically, because I did it with some difficulty, wanting to get a good photo). The trail from here has been diverted from the past – many maps show it going through the orchard, but it heads along the highway for a little bit until reaching a high quality Pasticceria/Bakery on the roadside. I went in to see what they had, and wanted to buy everything in the shop. It was about 10:30am at this point, so I purchased half a strip of pizza con funghi – cheese and oyster mushrooms. There was some complications with the inevitable language barrier, and it was the first place where I needed to use cash to make a purchase (they had credit card facilities, but they were not turned on). The various pizza strips were precooked and on display – they wanted to know if I wanted it warmed up, but I couldn’t think of the word for “cold” (it’s freddo) – and could only think of “calda”, which is, of course, hot. So even more confusion… Anyway, I took my lovely pizza slices on the road with me and was lucky to find a seat by the trail just a little further on on the edge of the orchard. Rest time and breakfast. Pizza washed down with a few mouthfuls of the red wine I stowed last night. At this point I was passed by the Italian pilgrimage group from the Albergo, and a number of cyclists. It was only about 5km outside of Capranica, so locals were now using the trail (it was a Saturday morning after all).

I got a little lost at this point. Generally the whole trail today is very well signed, but at this point, where the diversion has been made recently, the sign was missing and I ended up against a fence in the back of the orchard. I made my way back to the trail, which lead through more orchards. I passed the Italian pilgrims again, who had stopped for their morning tea (or more probably coffee) under the shelter of a farm shed. I passed an enormous oak tree – I really like oaks – and then came across a woman raking up things off the ground. Here – and for the rest of the journey today – I noticed that there were what turned out to be chestnuts in their spiny husks all over the path. I am not familiar with chestnut trees, but I believe they are native to this area, and they were absolutely everywhere along with the oak trees in the forests. At this point too was one of the most interesting sights along the trail today: two ruined towers (marked on my map as Torri d’Orlando). The internet tells met that one is a funerary monument from the Roman era of the first century B.C. and the other was a bell tower belonging to a Benedictine church dating back to the tenth century.

Then back through olive forests, and a short walk on the road, passing olive harvesting (manually with rolled out nets under the trees). More lovely country lanes with nice villas led eventually into Capranica. The VF enters in at what we would call the “arse end” of this beautiful medieval city through the (not very attractive) living area. The benefits here were that I passed both a pharmacy and a small supermarket to find what supplies I needed. Being warned not to drink the fountain water in this city (for some temporary reason), I bought a couple of bottles of Gatorade which were very refreshing and refilled my bottle with this. Also, the spoon that I bought yesterday came in useful because I could buy and eat yoghurt. I was just setting myself down on a bench in the shade outside a hairdresser’s shop, when Cathy rang on Whatsapp (which we are using to communicate as the cheaper alternative – just make sure you have a good data roaming deal with your telephone company).

We talked for about half an hour as I ate my light lunch, and then I set off still chatting with Cathy (using my bluetooth earbuds) and so she “joined me” for my walk through the old city. I described what I was seeing and doing as I went along, and sent her pictures of what I was seeing (again, Whatsapp). So for the entire walk from one end of the town to the other, she shared the journey in real time. We might do more of this. I passsed three ancient churches walking through the city – all of them locked fast. One had a sign on the door, and I recognised the word “entrare”, and thought it would be instructions about how to get inside. Instead, my iphone translated it as a notice saying “entrance requiring masks and gloves” and to “maintain my distance”… Well, no worries there. At one point, I diverged from the main street to follow down the stairs of one of the side lanes, and came out on the top of the town walls overlooking the valley below, with an excellent vista of the north east side of the city. I didn’t find anywhere in Capranica to get an “il timbro” in my pilgrim credential.

At the far end of the city, there are stairs and a ramp leading steeply down into the valley and outside the walls. At this point I said goodbye to Cathy (she needed to go to sleep as it was after midnight in Australia), and headed off towards Sutri. In Italy, what goes down must go up, so there was another very steep hill to climb. After a short way along a gravel road, the route diverged off on a track through farm land, and then into a forested area that runs all the way along a creek called the Fosso Mazzano to Sutri – a distance of about 4km. At the very start was a lovely cool and peaceful glade with benches to sit on by the creek. AND, at this spot, yes, the very spot, Hilaire Belloc’s “straight line” from Toul to Rome crosses the VF once again. I could just imagine him pulling his old boots off and cooling his feet in the cool creek water. I was tempted to do just that, but instead decided to push on. The trail from here for the next few kilometres is through real forest – and it gives the impression of being much thicker and more substantial than it actually is. Changing literary metaphors from Belloc to Tolkien, I felt I could imagine myself as one of the hobbits walking through Mirkwood. It was the kind of forest where one would not be surprised to meet elves…

I did a silly thing at this point. I saw a wooden sign pointing off up the slope on the other side of the creek (over a very primitive looking but stable bridge) saying “Castellaccio”. Anything to do with “castles” interested me, so I followed the sign. I was told later that the word means “Ugly Castle” and that “it was probably made by boy scouts”. The climb was very steep and the path (such as it was) a bit treacherous. My knees were already complaining and I realised this was not the best thing to be doing carrying a full backpack. After about 180 metres, I reached the “castellaccio” – a great, obviously man-made, chuck out of the side of the cliff. It looked like the kind of place that bandits would hide out. In fact, I wondered whether original pilgrims really came this way along the creek through the forest, because it looked exactly the kind of place to get robbed by forest dwellers. I followed a little bit further up the trail, thinking there might be more to see (I never did take to heart the saying “curiosity killed the cat”), and found myself at the top of and at the very edge of the 20 or 30 foot cliff opposite the castellaccio. I noticed too that the leaves underfoot were very slippery, and thought it was probably best to turn around and go back. My knees voted in favour and so we abandoned any further exploration.

There were still several kilometres of the path through forest along the creek to go. Today yielded a rating of ascent (descent) of 350m (-354m), which is quite a bit, even if you cut out the little ugly castle expedition. This section was to blame for a bit of that, as it undulated up and down in a way reminiscent of walking on the sand dunes of the Aussie Camino from the lighthouse around to Bridgewater. Up and down and up and down of rises of a couple of metres, making it very hard on the knees.

Finally, you come to end and come around the corner and the medieval cathedral city of Sutri makes its appearance before you. Of course, as always, it is up on a hill, so there is one last climb to make before you reach the main square. It was just on 4pm when I arrived, and there were already quite a few people in the square, and I could see that the eating places were opening up. Different from Vetralla. I headed for the Piazza San Francesco where the Hotel Sutrium was located, which I had booked on about a month ago. First I went into the church to give thanks for a safe journey (and to take pictures). The sign on the door did not look promising for mass tonight or tomorrow. I then checked in to my small double single bed room with private bathroom. I paid my €45 for the night (no breakfast included), and asked if there was anywhere to go to mass tonight. My host was a bit uncertain, but the one thing for certain was that there was no mass at St Francis.

I did my usual ablutions and washing, and then it was 5:30 and I had to go looking for mass. I had written a note in Italian saying “I am an Australian pilgrim who cannot speak Italian. Can you please direct me to a church where the Holy Mass is being celebrated tonight?” My host at the desk suggested I try Saint Sebastian’s, but that was closed, and the sign on the door for mass not times not very clear. (I realised later that “prefestivo” included Sundays, ie. Saturdays). So I kept on walking and showing people my little note. No one was able to help until one lady called out to a younger girl who acted as translator for us, and said that I should try the Duomo, the Cathedral. That was at the other end of Sutri, and it was now 5:45, so I hightailed it and made it to the Cathedral just as mass was beginning. I slipped into a pew towards the front and was immediately greeted by fellow pilgrim Giovanni, whom I had met at breakfast in the Albergo in Viterbo the day before. He had walked most of the day with the Swiss pilgrim Alise, but she had gone on to her accommodation five kilometres further out of town.

After mass (which was very normal and ordinary in every way, with a mixture of singing and speaking the liturgy and a very long sermon and Eucharistic prayer II), Giovanni told me that he and another pilgrim – a German named Roland – were staying in some rooms with a kitchen at a place that had once been a seminary (and is still called Il Seminario). He was planning to cook dinner and so invited me to join them. We stopped at a bakery to get strudel, and a little grocery store to get ham and cheese and olives. He assured me they had a bottle of wine! When we arrived at Il Seminario, Roland announced that he had invited another guest, a Swiss pilgrim – and of course, it was Alise – who had arrived at her booked accommodation only to find no one there, and when she phoned they were not even in town – they said she didn’t confirm her booking. So she had walked back to Sutri and was lucky enough to find alternative accommodation. So that made four of us for dinner: pasta with tomato and mozzarella, salad, olives, ham, cheese, bread and wine – all accompanied by conversation in German, English and Italian. I felt like a real pilgrim at last. We finished doing the dishes at 9:30 and Roland looked like he really needed to go to bed (his bed was in the kitchen!) so I said goodnight and came back to my own accommodation. It was really a wonderfully rich encounter and makes me glad of God’s good providence along the way.

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VF – Finally, the Pictures for Days 0, 1, 2!

Finally I am staying a place with really good wifi, and all my pictures for the last three days getting to and starting the Via Francigena are now on Google Photos for your viewing pleasure:

VF Day 0 – Melbourne to Viterbo (Wednesday and Thursday, 11-12 October 2023)

VF Day 1 – Viterbo to Vetralla (Friday, 13 October 2023)

VF Day 3 – Vetralla to Sutri (Saturday, 14 October 2023)


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