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.


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