Sigeric the Serious: Via Francigena, Sca Agatha (Santhià), Circa 990 AD

Submansio XLIV – Sca Agatha

There had been a pieve of Saint Agatha in Santhià since the 9th century. A century later, the romanesque collegiate church of Saint Agatha was already standing. In the 12th century, however, despite large sums donated by the Bishop of Uguccione, the collegiate falls into a deep crisis.  The romanesque building is then renovated by Giuseppe Talucchi (1782-1863) in the 19th century which explains its current neoclassical style. litografia2.jpg

Also of interest, Santhià hosts an annual carnival since the 14th century! It is known as the Carnevale Storico di Santhià and is probably the oldest carnival in Piedmont.


Large carnival float in Santhia,


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

Submansio XLIII – Vercel

Vercelli is one of the oldest urban sites in northern Italy, founded according to some around 600 B.C. Vercellae was the capital of the Libici, a celtic tribe; it became an important municipium, near which Gaius Marius defeated the Cimbri and the Teutones in the Battle of Vercellae in 101 BCE.

stilicho.jpgThe imperial magister militum Flavius Stilicho annihilated the Goths there 500 years later. Flavius (c.a. 359 – 409 C.E.) was a high-ranking general in the Roman army who became, for a time, the most powerful man in the Western Roman Empire. He was half Vandal and married to the niece of the Emperor Theodosius and has been nicknamed the last of the Romans.

After the Lombard invasion, it belonged to the Duchy of Ivrea. From 885 after, it was under the juridiction of the prince-bishop, who was a Count of the Empire.

The Vercel of the 990’s had strong Irish connections since the time of its Irish bishop St Eusebius, according to Veronica Ortenberg. The Hospitale Scottorum, attached to a church of St Brigid and documented in the 11th century may have existed in the 10th.

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

Submansio XLII – Tremel

Tromello is a small town about 15 miles west of Pavia. It is the home of Francesco Negri (1841-1924),  a pictorialist, the inventor of the telephoto lens, and who was known for his experiments in Louis Ducos du Hauron’s techniques of color photography. He was lawyer by profession.


Sigeric the Serious: Via Francigena, Pamphica (Pavia), Circa 990 AD

Submansio XLI – Pamphica

Dating back to pre-Roman times, the town of Pavia, then known as Ticinum was a municipality and an important Roman military site. It was said by Pliny the Elder to have been founded by the Ligures, while Ptolemy attributed it to the Insubres.  The importance of Ticinum grew with the extension of the Via Aemilia, which forked  at Placentia, one branch going to Mediolanum (Milano) and the other to Ticinum.


An Insubres chief from the time of Hannibal, ca. 200 B.C.

The city was the capital of the Kingdom of the Lombards from 572 to 774.

The ill-famed Queen Eadburh, also nicknamed the Saxon serial killer, had taken refuge in Pavia after having been driven away from both England and Charlemagne’s court and ended her days begging in the streets of the city.


Queen Eadburgh, England 787-802 A.D.

According to V. Ortenberg West, at the time of Sigeric’s visit, Anglo-Saxon pilgrims would have perhaps stayed at the xenodochium of Sta Maria Brittonorum, founded in 868. In the early Middle ages, a xenodochium was a type of hostel for foreigners or pilgrims, but the term could refer to charitable institutions in general.


Map of Pavia, from Theatrum Urbium Italicarum, Pietro Bertelli, Venice, 1599

Sigeric the Serious: Via Francigena, Placentia (Piacenza), Circa 990 AD

Submansio XXXVIII – Placentia

The etymology of Piacenza traces its origin from the Latin verb placere which means in english: to please. In fact, the French, and occasionally in English, also call the city Plaisance.

The area was populated by Etruscans before the Ananes, and then the Romans settled. Polybius is the only author to mention the Ananes. According to him, the celtic tribe dwelt between the Padus and the Apennines, the westernmost of the Cisalpine Gaul, immediately adjoining the Ligurians. It is possible that the Anamares mentioned by Polybius were the same people.


Map of the Gallia Cisalpina, ex conatibus Geographicis Abrah. Ortelij./Antwerp, 1595

Cisalpine Gaul was the part of Italy inhabited by Gauls during the 4th and 3rd centuries BC. Livy writes of an invasion into Italy of Celts during the reign of Lucius Tarquinius Priscus (king of Rome from 616-579 B.C.). This part of Gaul was finally conquered by the Roman Republic in the 220s BC, became a Roman province from c. 81 BC until 42 BC, when it merged into Roman Italy.


Illustration of Gauls on an expedition, from A Popular History of France From the Earliest Times, Vol I, by Francois Pierre Guillaume Guizot

In the Middle Ages, Piacenza was sacked during the Gothic War (535-554), a war between the Eastern Roman Empire and the Ostrogothic Kingdom of Italy. After a short period of being reconquered by Roman Emperor Justinian I, it was conquered by the Lombards, who made it a duchy seat. After its conquest by the Franks in the 9th century, the city began to recover, aided by its location along the Via Francigena. In 850, there was a hospice in Piacenza founded by Bishop Donatus of Fiesole, dedicated to St. Brigid.

Sigeric the Serious: Via Francigena, Floricum (Fiorenzuola d’Arda), Circa 990 AD

Submansio XXXVII – Floricum

Fiorenzuola d’Arda was originally called Florentia, but later changed to this diminutive form to distinguish it from Florence. In the Middle Ages, Florentia was one of the Piacenza Province most important fortified centers.


Beautiful panorama of Fiorenzuola by Sergio Valtolla, photo found on

The economic health of Fiorenzuola d’Arda is strong and mainly based on agriculture. A cereal research institute (Istituto Sperimentale per la Cerealicoltura) is implanted in town and performs the latest research in terms of wheat, corn, oats, and barley cultivation from conventional breeding genome to analysis of cereals. Learn more here.



Sigeric the Serious: Via Francigena, Sce Domnine (Fidenza), Circa 990 AD

Submansio XXXVI – Sce Domnine

The town of 24,000 inhabitants was renamed Fidenza in 1927, recalling its Roman origins: a camp called Fidentia on the Via Aemilia. Before, it was called Borgo San Donnino, named after the martyr of Parma, Saint Domninus.

According to tradition, Saint Domninus, a native of Parma, died just outside of Fidenza in 304 AD. The Fidenza cathedral is dedicated to him. The legend says that Domninus converted to christianity which enraged Emperor Maximian. Pursued by imperial soldiers, Domninus was finally caught on the banks of the Stirone. His relics were deposited at the cathedral of Fidenza.


Fidenza Cathedral, photo courtesy of

In art, Domninus is depicted in military attire, and holds the palm of martyrdom. The Fidenza cathedral includes sculptures representing the life of the saint which are attributed to Benedetto Antelami or his students.


Sigeric the Serious: Via Francigena, Philemangenur and Metane, Circa 990 AD

Emerging from the Apennines, entering the Po Valley from the right bank, following the river Taro.

The Val di Taro was of strategic importance during the Middle Ages, as it was traversed by the Via Francigena. About 12 miles of the river course between Fornovo di Taro and Ponte Tarovconstitutes the protected area of the Parco fluviale Regionale del Taro.


Showing the Parco fluviale Regionale del Taro in green

The Po Valley overlays a system of deeply buried ancient canyons surviving from the tectonic collision of an offshore land mass, Tyrrhenis, with the mainland. The valley has filled up 7-5 million years ago with sediment mainly from the Apennines and the Alps.

Until about 1950 the Po delta was prograding into the Adriatic Sea. Due to human alteration of geologic factors, such as the sedimentation rate, the delta has been degrading and the coastline subsiding, resulting in ongoing contemporaneous crises in the city of Venice, for example, where much of the irreplaceable architecture is likely to be lost due to soaring sea level in the next centuries.

Sigeric the Serious: Via Francigena, Sce Moderanne (Berceto), Circa 990 AD

Submansio XXXIII – Sce Moderanne

Situated along the Via Francigena, Berceto marks a stage particularly rich in mystery. In 1971, after performing excavations, a tomb was found in the romanesque Cathedral of Berceto (anciently Cathedral San Moderanne),  under the presbytery. The tomb was completely devoid of indications but was most likely from the 11th century and its simplicity suggests a monk’s burial. Moreover, a special artifact was found inside the tomb: a glass goblet. The Holy Grail? The cup from which Jesus drank during the Last Supper? Another detail worth noting, is the bas-relief at the main entrance depicting the scene of the Crucifixion, with a child collecting the drops of Jesus blood in a vessel.

In the year 718, it is said that the bishop of Rennes, San Moderanno, on his way to Rome, and along the way acquired the relics of San Remigio. Near Berceto, he stopped to rest and hung the bag with the remains on the branch of a tree. He forgot the bag and went back for it, only to notice that the branch had grown out so much that it made it impossible to recover the remains. Only after Moderanno promised to keep the relics on the site, did the tree bend down so a monastery could be build on the miraculous soil. The cathedral was completely rebuilt in the 12th century.


Church of Berceto, courtesy