Sigeric the Serious: Via Francigena, Furcari, Circa 990 AD

Submansio V – Furcari

In his travel diary, Sigeric mentions Furcari, a station on the way to and from Rome to Canterbury, as referred to as Forum Cassii in the Tabula Peutingeriana. In 990, the Hospice Santa Maria de Forcassi had been built on the ruins of the roman station, and was heavily used by travelers and pilgrims. It is the opinion of author Gianluca Di Prospero (Viterbo Secret Keeper, 2011), that Santa Maria di Forcassi was at some point managed by the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, and was part of a Templar churches circuit that dotted the territory around Viterbo.


Sigeric the Serious: Via Francigena, Suteria, Circa 990 AD

Submansio IV – Suteria

Before it was inhabited by the ancient Romans, central Italy, and in particular the regions of Tuscany and Lazio, were populated by the Etruscans. Coming from Rome on the  Via Cassia, Sigeric the Serious must have seen the ancient Etruscan necropolis visible from the street. The burial grounds were perhaps not as impressive and decorated as the ones from Cerveteri and Tarquinia, nevertheless they evoked the presence of Etruscans in Sutri.


Inside the church of Madonna Del Parto, a former etruscan tomb and place of worship for the god Mithras, carved into tuff-stone in Sutri

 Etruscans believed that death was the journey to the afterlife and they had a fear that the neglected dead may become malevolent; therefore, tombs were constructed with particular care and solidity. Thus, the dead would take pleasure in their last dwelling, enjoy their afterlife, and chose not to haunt the living. The weakening of Etruscan power resulted in the re-conversion of the Sutri necropolis  into a Mithraeum for initiation to the cult of Mithras, perhaps as soon as 100 B.C. Today, the tomb has become a church consecrated to the Madonna Del Parto.

Sutri was involved in the struggles between the Lombards and the Byzantines. in 728, Liutprand, King of the Lombards, offered the city and surrounding lands to Pope Gregory II. This donation is considered the beginning of the temporal power of the Church, the first step in the construction of the Patrimony of St. Peter.


Coin of Liutprand (712-744), King of the Lombards, gold

In the ninth century, the legend says that Berta, sister of Charlemagne, disinherited and exiled for having had relations with the Knight Milon, stopped in the town of Sutri, on her way to Rome, to give birth to her son Roland in a cave. The boy would eventually be appointed champion of France and would write the Song of Roland, an epic poem praising Charlemagne for his knightly deeds.

Sigeric the Serious: Via Francigena, Bacane, Circa 990 AD

Iste sunt submansiones de Roma usque ad mare:

… ; III, Bacane; …

Bacane, cited in the Tabula Peutingeriana with the name ad vacanas, and the remains of the ancient Via Cassia, were rediscovered by an archaeological team in the Valle del Baccano in 1979. The Mansio ad Vacanas was built in the first century BC by the romans, and was a place where travelers found hospitality and comfort provided by thermal baths, tabernae, warehouses, and places of shelter for animals and people.

By the time Sigeric travelled to and from Rome, ad vacanas may have had lost its roman prestige. But a good way to imagine what this stop may have looked like is to enjoy the amenities provided by the Hotel-Restaurant Il Postiglione, located on the old via Cassia in Campagnano di Roma.

Worth noting, Bacane was also called Burgus Sancti Alexandri in the 10th century, a settlement under the juridistion of the Pope, and named after Alexander, a martyr venerated since the third century AD.

Today, Pilgrims avoid taking Via Cassia, which has become a noisy highway for the most part. They favor instead a more bucolic route that follows the edge of the Parco Regionale di Veio, crosses the town of Campagnano di Roma, passes near Monte Razzano (1414ft), and through the Valle del Sorbo.


Map of the Campagna Romana, 1547, showing the now dried out Lago di Baccano and the small post of Bacane on Via Cassia.

Sigeric the Serious: Via Francigena, Iohannis VIIII, Circa 990 AD

Iste sunt submansiones de Roma usque ad mare:

…; II, Iohannis VIIII;…

Iohannis VIIII was a burgus on the Via Cassia, corresponding more or less to present-day La Storta. The word storta (meaning: twisted or bent) refers to a series of curves that the Via Cassia makes through the village. The stop was also referred to as Sanctus Ioannes in Nono, since the way station was constructed next to a church dedicated to Saint John, and positioned at the nine-mile marker from the start of the Via Cassia in Rome.


La Storta station as seen today. Photo courtesy of Zona Newspaper.

When Sigeric made a stop in 990, the burgus Johannis VIIII was part of the Papal States Territories which was under direct rule of the pope. This lasted until 1861 when most of the Papal States Territories were conquered by the Kingdom of Italy. By 1870, the pope even lost Lazio and Rome, and had no physical territory at all, not even the Vatican. The situation was finally resolved in 1929 with the Lateran Treaty, establishing the independent state of Vatican City.


Political map of Italy in the year 1000

Nearby,  in the small town of Isola Farnese, lies the site of the Etruscan city of Veii.  By the time Sigeric was in the area, Veii had long been defeated, assimilated by the Romans, and eventually abandoned. The well-known statue of Apollo of Veii was later discovered in the Portonaccio sanctuary in 1916 by excavators from the Italian government.


The Apollo of Veii, painted terracotta, Etruscan, c. 510-500BC. Courtesy of the National Etruscan Museum.

Sigeric the Serious: Via Francigena, Urbs Roma, Circa 990 AD

Iste sunt submansiones de Roma usque ad mare:

I, Urbs Roma;…

Since the 6th century, the Via Francigena was an important road and pilgrimage route for those wishing to visit the Holy See and the tombs of the apostles Peter and Paul. The Via Francigena did not connect cities, but relied rather on abbeys. Ancient roman roads from the Via Agrippa route system may have been used by travelers, but the Via Francigena also meant several possible routes that changed depending on the time of year, the political situation, and the popularity of christian shrines located along the way.


At the end of the 10th century, Sigeric the Serious, Archbishop of Canterbury,  was ready to undertake the perilous trip to and from Rome in order to receive his pallium from Pope John XV. He recorded his route and his stops on the return journey.

In Rome, Siguric probably stayed at the Schola Saxonum, the quarter of the Anglo-Saxons in the Borgo of Rome. Founded in 726 or 727 by King Ine of Wessex, the Schola Saxonum was situated at the gates of St Peter, at the location of the still existing hospital di Santo Spirito in Sassia, and most likely consisted of a church, inns, baths, libraries, and other accommodations for pilgrims and businessmen. In the year 847, a fire broke out in the Borgo. According to the Liber Pontificalis, Pope Leo IV miraculously extinghuished the fire, thus saving the Schola Saxonum church and the people.


Fire in the Borgo, painting completed between 1514 and 1517 by Raphael and his students.

The old St. Peter’s Basilica was built over the site of the Circus of Nero between 318 and 322. The circus was the site of the first martyrdoms of Christians, and crucifixions would have happened along the center spine. Also at the center rose the Vatican Obelisk, a monument that originally stood in Heliopolis and was taken to Rome in 37 as a decoration for the circus. Siguric the Serious choosed to record only the churches he visited, but he must surely have noticed some of the still existing roman ruins.


Plan of the Circus of Nero, St. Peter’s, Via Cornelia


Atrium of the Old St. Peter’s, drawing by G. Grimaldi, courtesy of Columbia University

St Laurence and St Agnes were the object of a considerable cult in England at the time, so it is probable that Sigeric visited churches associated with them.  Additionally, he must have spent some time at St. John Lateran, which until 1309 was the official residence of the popes. The St. John Lateran Basilica had undergone a great restoration  between 904 and 911, so Sigeric was most likely able to enjoy some relatively recent mosaic scenes from the Old and New Testaments on the nave. He also spent time in the Lateran Palace where he probably shared a meal with the Pope, who may have given him the pallium then.


The first restoration of St. John Lateran was credited to Pope Sergius III between 904 and 911. The apse mosaic, subsequently restored in the 13th century, represented a bust of Christ surrounded by the Dove of the Holy Spirit and angels. This upper part of the mosaic has survived, having been incorporated within the restored apse. The facade mosaic depicted Christ between Michael and Gabriel.

D’Artagnan’s trip to London: Windsor, April 1625

The duke was at Windsor hunting with the king. 

On their arrival at the castle they learned that Buckingham and the king were hawking in the marshes two or three leagues away. In twenty minutes they were on the spot named. Patrick soon caught the sound of his master’s voice calling his falcon.

Alexandre Dumas, The Three Musketeers, 1844

It took D’Artagnan 3 days to travel from Paris to London. Once there, and completely exhausted, he still needs to ride to Windsor, 23 miles west of the duke’s home in London.

James was the recognized heir of the English crown, and in 1603 when Queen Elizabeth passed away, he came from Edinburgh to London for his coronation. By the accident of heredity, England and Scotland were now united under one single kingdom. King James the First was openly bisexual.  It is alleged by several history books that George Villiers became his favorite and lover, and is believed that the dukedom of Buckingham  was re-created in 1623 to thank Villiers for his services. In Alexandre Dumas’ book, Buckingham is however depicted as in love with Anne of Austria.


Portrait of the Duke of Buckingham, 1625, by Michiel J. van Miereveld

Medieval hawking was a favorite pastime for the English nobles. The laws of ownership as detailed in the Boke of St. Albans are as follows: King : Gyr Falcon ; Prince : Peregrine Falcon ; Duke : Rock Falcon ; Earl : Tiercel Peregrine Falcon ; Baron : Bastarde Hawk ; Lady : Female Merlin. All birds were subjected to a rigorous course of training by a falconer.


Latham’s Falconry, published in 1615.


D’Artagnan’s trip to London: London, April 1625

D’Artagnan did not know London; he did not know a word of English; but he wrote the name of Buckingham on a piece of paper, and everyone pointed out to him the way to the duke’s hotel.

Alexandre Dumas, The Three Musketeers, 1844

October 1621, Francis Bacon alienates the duke of Buckingham by refusing to sell York House. A month later he consents to part with York House to a man called Cranfield, a creature of Buckingham’s. The duke’s hotel as mentioned by Alexandre Dumas, was most likely York House and one of a string of aristocratic mansions that once stood on the Stand, the route from the City of London to the royal court at Westminster.

According to the London Compendium, only the Water Gate remains of York House, and Villiers Street covers the ground of parts of it. The streets surrounding were renamed after the Duke, using all parts of his name, thereby leading to the creation of George Court, Villiers Street (the duke’s name was George Villiers), Duke Street, Of Alley, and Buckingham Street.


York Water Gate, built in 1626. The gateway marks the position of the north bank of the Thames before the construction of the Victoria Embankment in 1862.


York House engraved after an original drawing by Hollar, published by W. Herbert and Robert Wilkinson, London, 1808.

D’Artagnan’s trip to London: Dover, April 1625

D’Artagnan was worn out with fatigue. A mattress was laid upon the deck for him. He threw himself upon it, and fell asleep.
On the morrow, at break of day, they were still three or four leagues from the coast of England. The breeze had been so light all night, they had made but little progress. At ten o’clock the vessel cast anchor in the harbor of Dover, and at half past ten d’Artagnan placed his foot on English land, crying, ‘Here I am at last!’

Alexandre Dumas, The Three Musketeers, 1844

On his way to London to retrieve the jewels of Queen Anne, D’Artagnan spends the night on the deck of a boat. When he wakes up three or four leagues from the coast of England, he would have been able to see the white cliffs of Kent, and perhaps the distant shape of the Dover Castle behind the morning sea fog (4 nautical leagues equal 12 nautical miles, the shortest distance across the strait is about 18 nautical miles).


View of the white chalk cliffs from Cap Gris Nez in France.

The Channel had been known for the presence of its pirates, potentially ready to attack and ransom any boats of their liking. France and England did not have a navy at the time, causing inability to control the seas and protect their coasts. Richelieu created the French Royal Navy in October 1626, while the British Royal Navy was established in 1660, following the restoration of King Charles II. Defeating pirates (and corsairs, privateers, etc…) still took a long time and was very expensive. 

Between 1625 and 1637, for example, Flemish admiral Jacob Collaart was responsible for the capture or destruction of at least 150 fishing vessels, bringing 945 captured sailors back to his base for ransom, in Dunkirk. In spite of his rank of admiral and allegiance to the Habsburg, many agreed that he followed a piratical career. Collaart was captured in 1636 by Johan Evertsen (another admiral under the Dutch), and died one year later in Spain. For more pirates from the English Channel, try this.


Detail of Battle between the Dutch Navy and Pirates by Bonaventura Peeters 1614-1652 Flemish Oil on Canvas, located at the Ventura County Maritime Museum, California

D’Artagnan’s trip to London: Calais, April 1625

At a hundred paces from the gates of Calais, d’Artagnan’s horse gave out, and could not by any means be made to get up again, the blood flowing from his eyes and his nose. There still remained Planchet’s horse; but he stopped short and could not be made to move a step.

Alexandre Dumas, The Three Musketeers, 1844

Above the main gate of Calais, D’Artagnan could have read the following inscription: “When shall the Frenchmen Calais win, When iron and lead like cork shall swim”.  Funny proclamation since the British had given Calais back to the French before D’Artagnan’s alleged visit.


The Siege of Calais, January 9th 1558, Francois Edouard Picot, 1838

In May 1632, Louis XIII and the cardinal of Richelieu spent some time in Calais, after having received information about a secret plot aiming to sell the city back to England. They made plans to transform the entire city into a fortress and added a great military port to it. But, Richelieu only achieved a fraction of his original plan mainly because France’s finances were weakened by the attempts to recover the Duchy of Lorraine.

In 1658, Louis XIV hires Vauban who renovates the walls of Calais, including the Citadelle, Fort Nieuley, and Fort Risban in the north/east, all of them are still in existence today.


Calais, Plan-Relief, 1691

D’Artagnan’s trip to London: Saint Omer, April 1625

And both, with free use of the spur, arrived at St. Omer without drawing bit.  

At St. Omer they breathed their horses with the bridles passed under their arms for fear of accident, and ate a morsel from their hands on the stones of the street, after they departed again. 

Alexandre Dumas, The Three Musketeers, 1844

D’Artagnan and his squire Planchet are headed to London, via St Omer–let’s not forget that Porthos was left behind in Chantilly, Aramis in Crèvecoeur, and Athos in Amiens.

The St Omer of 1625 is part of the Spanish Netherlands. Ignored by the Pyrenean Treaty of 1659, it will only be given back to France in 1678 with the ratification of the Peace Treaty of Nijmegen.


Map showing St Omer as a part of “Belgium”. Leo Belgicus. KAERIUS, P. [Amsterdam, 1617]

The spoken dialect was Flemish, and the food D’Artagnan enjoyed on the stones of the street was probably equally influenced by the Spanish-Dutch presence. The food business was big in these times since not everyone had an oven at home, especially among the poorer members of society. Pies and pasties were the perfect street food. They contained meat or fish and a good amount of ginger, saffron, and white pepper. (See The Medieval Cook by Bridget Ann Henisch, 2009).


15th century illustration of street bakers

Still in existence today, another traditional dish of the area is the Tarte au Libouli. The Libouli or boiled milk designates the cream that covers the tart. The tradition of making tarts in the Flanders-Artois began at the end of the Middle Age, and was associated to familial reunions and special events. Women would cook the tarts in a baker oven, and since most families did not have enough money to buy a pan, the tart was placed directly on a tray with the leavened dough coarsely folded over the edge to stop the cream spilling out. There are many recipes available online for this tart, here is a good one.


Tarte au Libouli, courtesy