The Cammino d’Oropa
(Another pilgrimage through Italy)
In the summer of 2019 I followed the medieval pilgrimage route of the Via Francigena (the Way through France) from Sienna to Rome and it kindled somewhat of obsession in me to walk more pilgrimage routes, especially those through my favourite country; Italy.
So this year, in September with only a week to play with I discovered the Cammino d’Oropa (the Way of Oropa) and as the UK government had not placed Italy on the quarantine list, I was free to Fly to Milan and trek the ~100km Cammino from Santhia to Oropa, where the pilgrimage ends at the magnificent Sanctuary of Oropa, at the foot of the Alps (pictured below)
In the weeks leading up to my departure I had been exchanging messages with other people on a Via Francigena forum in an attempt to find a pilgrimage that could be completed in a week and got to chatting with a chap called Alberto Conte who is the founder of the Cammino a d’Oropa, he conceived and mapped it in 2012. He is also the founder of the Slow Movement Association and of the Casa del Movimento Lento in Roppolo , where I had the pleasure of meeting him in person on the 2nd day of walking. Surprisingly for a route that has been open for 8 years, Alberto told me I would be the first foreigner to walk the route – or at least the first foreigner to officially do so. The route has its own credenziale; a document the pilgrim must add stamps to, collected at each village or town they pass through and can exchange for a testimonium (the certificate) at the journeys end.
The route is split into four stages, but transport links and a desire to take in an Alpine mountain climb meant that my route would still be covered in four stages across 5 days, but each stage would be considerably longer (and in one case steeper!) than the official route.
As was the pilgrimage in 2019, this journey was also a chance to have some introspective meditation on my faith and I memorised my cammino prayer in Italian; Dio mi dia forza di fare ogni passo del mio viaggio e ad ogni passo diventare piu vicino e te or Lord give me the strength to take each step on my journey and with each step become closer to you
For a more in depth description of my journey I’ve written a blog which can be found at www.converted.blog
The path I chose followed the Via Francigena in part, from Santhia to Roppolo, then picks up the Via Valdostano which travels north to Graglia and then onto Oropa – the end of the Cammino – from The Sanctuary pictured above, I then climbed two mountains just short of 3,000m each to reach Lago Di Barma where I stayed a night in a Rifugio (a mountain refuge). Thankfully the rest of the journey was all downhill to Fontainemore and onto Pont St Martin where I would catch my train to Rome for a couple of days R&R.
The whole act of the pilgrimage for me is about slowing down. Work, family life, the day to day things that take up so much of our minds, and our efforts very quickly ebb away and become non-existent when you are walking. There is only one thing to focus on which is putting one foot in front of the other and on a Cammino, getting to wherever it is that you will find food and shelter for the night. There is no point in considering what awaits you after the journey, it is not important.
In slowing down, the act of pilgrimage allows a real concentrated focus on whatever it is a person wants to focus on and for me that is faith, and my relationship with Jesus. For others it may be something else; personal relationships, family matters or whatever crossroads they find themselves at – each pilgrim has their own reasons for walking, including simply the pleasure of walking itself and the scenery which each person should consider themselves lucky to experience.
There are sections of the Cammino which take you on the side of roads and the traffic can be a little distracting, but these sections never last long and within minutes of finding yourself on a dirt track, or footpath through meadows, woods or alongside rivers and streams the distraction of the traffic is forgotten and the crunch, crunch, crunch of footfall on earth again hypnotises the owners of those feet into a metronomic trance where thoughts are free to form and the mind doesn’t so much wander, it wonders – it considers things of its own volition, it cannot be guided by you and it takes you where you need to go, not necessarily where you want to go. These are the periods of my Cammino I love and they remind me of a very true pilgrim saying ‘the Cammino gives you what you need, not what you want’ – I regularly found myself, after hours of walking and when coming out of that trancelike state, thinking to myself ‘well, I wanted to think about this or that but actually I’ve been thinking about the other’. When one is at home and in the thick of it, one’s mind runs at a different pace to one’s soul and one’s body, when on Cammino mind, body and soul all sit at the same table and eat the same spiritual food. It’s amazing, and highly addictive. I want to return to the path as soon as I am able.
One thing that struck me this year, so much in contrast to 2019 was the shadow of coronavirus; would it inhibit me from meeting new people? Would the kindness of strangers be diminished form what I had experienced on my walk to Rome? Would it detract from the enjoyment of the pilgrimage? Well, the short answer is, no. I met many new friends this year and perhaps I should feel bad about the closeness and fellowship we all shared, but I don’t. Loretta and her dog Farouk who welcomed me so warmly into her house; Alberto for showing so much interest in my reasons for choosing the Oropa; Diego and Daniella who despite not speaking a word of English (and me only speaking piccolo Italiano) allowed me to join them for three wonderful hours in a restaurant enjoying a meal together; the two German chaps I met at the Rifugio with whom I shared a few beers in the shadow of the mountains we had conquered; and Maria the lovely Italian girl who went out of her way to work out whether I had time to make it from the Rifugio to my train in Pont St Martin, including trying to explain Italian bus timetables to me. I embraced them all, they embraced me – none of us concerned with social distancing.
Meeting and embracing other pilgrims and new friends along the path is more important and more powerful than a virus, and these people will forever stay in my memory, as will the journey through Northern Italy, and the Alps. Providing the various governments in the world allow me to travel in 2021 I fully intend to undertake another pilgrimage; I don’t know where but wherever it is I know what it will give me - what I need.