The Archangel Itinerary
The rediscovery of pilgrimage routes and their huge popularity (think, for example, of the thousands of pilgrims who do the various legs of the Camino de Santiago every year) is no coincidence. Rather, it reflects a series of needs of contemporary man. People today are seeking to address shortcomings in their spiritual lives, on a lay or religious level, without eschewing technology or scientific progress.
There is a growing awareness of the need to return to nature, to rediscover its power and rekindle our love of peaceful strolls, far from the chaos of city life and the frenzy of our everyday existence.
By taking things slowly, with no specific athletic goals, we can reflect and meditate on oft-neglected aspects of our existence. We are inspired to challenge ourselves, to rediscover repressed abilities.
This is the key to the success of the Santiago Trail, and the inspiration behind the pursuit to find traces of Via Francigena and other historical routes, promoted by Club Alpino Italiano [the Italian Alpine Club], among others, with a view to increasing awareness and protection of the relevant mountain regions.
With this in mind, the “Terre Alte” Group was inspired, with the help of members of the academic world, to rediscover the most historically reliable traces in the Central South of the great Via Micaelica [Route of St. Michael]: the oldest and only European pilgrimage route that ends at a Southern Shrine – San Michele on Monte Sant’ Angelo sul Gargano.
Prof. Otranto, a leading scientific scholar whose work has served as a point of reference for our research, stated in Osservatore Romano on 11.09.08 that, as far back as the 5th and 6th centuries, the Apulian Shrine was a site of pilgrimage for people from all backgrounds and walks of life.
Between the 6th and 9th centuries, it enjoyed a period of particular splendour, as is evident from the inscriptions (approximately 200 etchings or engravings in the oldest part of the complex, at least five of which are in runes). Throughout the medieval period, pilgrims from all over Italy – as well as Lombards, Spanish, French, English and Saxons – continued to tread the gruelling paths and shepherds’ tracks of the Gargano region, leaving traces of their presence on the walls of the grotto. And so the pilgrimage to Gargano was
transformed from a local, or Italian, phenomenon into an experience of European scale and significance, with this international appeal becoming its distinguishing feature.
The opening of the Via Micaelica, as the start of the “European-wide pilgrimage”, can be traced back to 708, when the Shrine of “Saint Michel au peril de la mèr” was founded on Mont Tombe, featuring relics collected from Gargano on the orders of Bishop Aubert, and constructed in its likeness.
In the 10th century, construction began on Sacra di San Michele, Monte Pirchiriano in Val di Susa, half-way between Normandy and Gargano, as the third major site of devotion to the Angel in the West.
And so the route developed, with the most important legs being Mont Saint Michel – Le Puy en Velay – Sacra di san Michele in Val di Susa- Rome – Benevento – Monte Sant’ Angelo sul Gargano.
The itinerary generally follows Via Francigena from Mont Saint Michel to Rome, Via Appia from Rome to Benevento, Via Traiana from Benevento to Troia and Via Francesca, also known as “Strata peregrinorum” o “Strata Michaelica”, from Troia to Monte Sant’Angelo sul Gargano.
During the medieval period, both Via Appia and Via Traiana were also called Via Francigena.
And so began the flow a pilgrims between France and the Gargano Shrine, regarded either as the final destination, or as an intermediary stage before embarking on the journey to the Holy Land.
It became difficult to reach the sacred sites at the end of the crusades; this may be why, for a long time, Monte Sant’Angelo became the final destination of the Pilgrimage. It was accessible via various routes, as is clear from the accounts of ancient pilgrims and from numerous essay.
The most common route, known as the Piemontese (San Michele e il suo Santuario, Foggia 1999), began in Rome, before heading towards Benevento, passing through Anagni, Frosinone and Montecassino. From Benevento, it continued in the direction of Ariano Irpino, before feeding into the various itineraries that led to Gargano. In his essay “I cammini dell’Angelo nella Daunia tardo antica e medievale” [Routes dedicated to the Angel in Daunia in late antiquity and the medieval period], Prof. Infante of the University of Foggia discusses the network of paths taken by the pilgrims to Gargano.
The Benevento and Foggia Terre Alte Groups have been working for a number of years, under the
supervision of Vilma Tarantino and Michele del Giudice, respectively, to recover the “Cammino dell’Arcangelo” (the final stretch of Via Micaelica) from Benevento to Monte Sant’Angelo; its objective is to give primary importance to trails, dirt roads and shepherds’ tracks, something that will hopefully also contribute to the revival of the internal areas of the Apennines.
The routes were identified by interviewing people who embarked on the pilgrimage long ago, by consulting abbey and parish archives, by researching historical and cultural references to particular itineraries, drawing on studies and research carried out by Prof. Giorgio Otranto and the teaching staff at the Department of Classical and Christian Studies at the University of Bari, by Prof. Pietro Dalena of the University of Calabria and by Prof. Renzo Infante of the University of Foggia, but above all by checking the routes “on foot” (as recommended by Giustino Fortunato), wearing through shoes and building up muscle.
The objective was to first join Benevento, the holy city of Langobardia Minor, with Monte Sant’Angelo, and then, over the course of a number of years, working with other associations operating in the Lazio region, to link Benevento with Rome, thus completing the Via Micaelica.
Our research and pursuit of ancient trails did not fail to present a few unpleasant surprises. Many trails, dirt tracks and shepherds’ paths included on I.G.M. [Italian Military Geographic Institute] maps and alive in the “historical memory” of past pilgrims had disappeared, either because they had been privatised, rendered impassable by agricultural mechanisation or transformed into paved roads.
This meant that long detours were required to take in the nodal points (ancient hospitalia, small churches, abbeys, aedicula) visited by the pilgrims before reaching their destination.
Working in synergy, in terms of both studies and research and concrete knowledge of the places, we eventually managed to put together the itinerary that was launched on 25 April 2009. Consisting of nine legs, it begins in Benevento and leads to Monte Sant’Angelo, passing through Sannio, Irpinia and Daunia on its way to Gargano.
“Harsh terrain” – according to Vilma Tarantino – “sometimes inhospitable, suspended between East and West, history and legend, faith and mystery. Its enchanting landscapes are subtly revealed to the unsuspecting wayfarer, who has already been seduced by the quiet beauty of those remote,
ancient spaces of no return. For us, finding that path has meant discovering the mysterious heart of customs that have been buried, but never quite lost. Our idea has also been rewarded by the coincidence involving the great Saint of Pietrelcina, who used to travel between Sannio and Gargano, making him the first modern pilgrim on Via dell’Arcangelo”.
The itinerary followed on the inaugural journey, which took place between 25 April and 3 May 2009, included the following legs:
- Leg I: Benevento-Pietrelcina
- Leg II: Pietrelcina-Buonalbergo
- Leg III: Buonalbergo-Aequum Tuticum / Ariano
- Leg IV: Aequum Tuticum-Troia
- Leg V: Troia-Lucera
- Leg VI: Lucera-San Severo
- Leg VII: San Severo-Santuario di Stignano
- Leg VIII: Santuario di Stignano – S. Giovanni Rotondo
- Leg IX: San Giovanni Rotondo – M. Sant’ Angelo.
As you leave the hills of Sannio and Irpinia, rich with history and archaeological interest (from Ponte Valentino to Ponte delle Chianche along Via Appia Traiana, to Aequum Tuticum, a Samnite city that was later romanised) you travel through Daunia, with the Statio di Aecae (featured in the Tabula Peutingeriana) to Troia, famous for its Cathedral and known for its four hospitalia for pilgrims, to Lucera, rich in references to Federico II, and on to San Severo. Having passed through the Apulian “meseta” [plateau], we reach one of the most moving sections of the Gargano itinerary: the Convento Santuario di San Matteo, previously a Benedictine abbey dedicated to San Giovanni de Lama, the church and shrine to Padre Pio at San Giovanni Rotondo, the ruins of Sant’Egidio and San Nicola, the small church of Madonna degli Angeli [Our Lady of the Angels] and finally the Grotta dell’Arcangelo [Cave of the Archangel].
Michele del Giudice, who has been working on the project since 1998, describes the route as follows: “It is a moving itinerary, because it takes you through a landscape that is constantly changing, highlighting the natural and mystical beauty at the heart of the luxuriant and arid nature of Monte Gargano, with its unique scents and colours, and the history encapsulated in its ruins, that still exude a sense of Christian love and compassion, and the simple, kind folk of that place… The Cammino dell’Archangelo (the final section of Via Micaelica) can serve as a vehicle for social betterment in an area that is increasingly far removed from the economic and cultural opportunities and stimulus that its population craves.”
As already mentioned, the collaboration with the Faculty of Humanities, Agriculture and Economics of the University of Foggia has been very effective in this regard.
We hope that the collaboration between the Club Alpino Italiano, the academic world and local organisations in the various areas along the route will stimulate the rediscovery of an area whose culture, art and tradition deserve recognition, appreciation and protection.
As soon as it is possible to definitively set out the routes (which can already be seen on the map), and ad hoc rest stops have been made available for hikers, the team will work with the relevant organisations to provide signage in accordance with CAI guidelines.
We are, of course, aware that Monte Sant’Angelo can be reached via other routes and using various means of transport, but we believe that our decision (to prioritise historical trails and shepherds’ tracks that travel through internal areas), which reflects the ethos of the CAI, can contribute to the recovery of our beloved regions.
Vincenzo Di Gironimo – Il Cammino dell’Arcangelo
CAI sezioni di Benevento e Foggia
Comitato Scientifico Centrale
Gruppo di ricerca Terre Alte
To: Puglia Region, Loc. Tre Spoletti
Distance: 70 Km