Via Francigena Arts Trail

Dover Arts Development is delighted to have been awarded the contract to deliver the project management of three new public art commissions for the Via Francigena section of the North Downs Way National Trail, between Canterbury Cathedral and Dover Seafront. The contract was awarded by open tender issued by Kent County Council (KCC).

The Via Francigena is the ancient Pilgrimage Route between Canterbury and Rome and is classified as a Cultural Route (similar to the Camino de Santiago) by the Council of Europe.

Ambitious in quality and speaking to pilgrimage & local heritage with contemporary relevance, the artworks will provide an opportunity for rest and contemplation as well as highlight the natural landscape and inspiring views.  Two of the installations is to be located within the Canterbury District and one within Dover District.

The artists installations will promote the special characteristics of the Via Francigena and its pilgrimage heritage as a route for reflection, renewal, and inspiration as well as adhere to these three overarching criteria:

  • Genuine authentic Kentish provenance; rooted in real research, heritage, pilgrimage, and landscape
  • Contemporary relevance; speaking to the modern world and local communities
  • World class artistic quality; ambitious in quality

This opportunity is suitable for artists, craftspeople, architects and designers with proven experience of working to produce long-lasting works in the public realm to a tight brief and limited budget.

The deadline for Submissions was April 16th 2021  and the selection process is now complete.

The Project is funded by the Interreg Europe Green Pilgrimage Project. The Via Francigena Arts Trail will form part of a longer Arts Trail created by The EXPERIENCE Project, being delivered by the Kent Downs AONB Unit. There is more information here on the National Trail website

DAD is working with The Kent Downs ANOB and Peter Morris, the North Downs Way (NDW) National Trail manager who collaborated on the CHALKUP21 Art and Architecture trail between Folkestone and Deal which follows the North Downs way between Capel le Ferne and Dover Seafront before continuing on the English Coastal path to Deal.

Peter Morris says, ‘It’s great to be working with DAD again. Previously we’ve worked on projects mainly in the built and urban settings. The Via Francigena Arts Trail project has a rural focus and will be really interesting to see how artists interpret the landscape and pilgrim heritage of this section of the route. We can’t wait for these pieces to be installed, providing more people with more reasons to visit the trail’.

The Via Francigena public art works will be the latest in the contemporary commissions DAD has helped to realise in the South East.

The most recent is the pioneering places commission for the West Wing Battery at Fort Burgoyne on behalf of the Land Trust; Emily Peasgood’s sound piece ‘I would rather Walk with you’ awarded in December 2019 has been delayed by the pandemic but now rescheduled to open in autumn 2021.

The first was in 2010, again for the North Downs Way, a commission for an end of Trail marker on Dover seafront. This resulted in the now much-loved carved granite  START/FINISH line, which forms itself as a monument to achievement as the walker poses on the line and in a photograph completes the sculpture; the artist, Alma Tischlerwood, saying “You have to strike a balance between lively innovation and maintaining the traditions of the locality”.

The Via Francigena Art Trail will contribute towards the creation and promotion of off-season experiential tourism products and sustainable, rural tourism, closely aligned to a wider sustainable tourism project delivered by the Interreg Channel (FCE) EXPERIENCE project managed by the Kent Downs EXPERIENCE team.


About the Via Francigena

The Via Francigena; a pilgrimage to Rome:

Beginning in the precincts of Canterbury Cathedral, the Via Francigena is a medieval route to Rome used by pilgrims for centuries travelling to the tomb of St. Peter.  Revived as a walking pilgrimage route in the 1980s, the modern route is based on the journey taken by Sigeric, Archbishop of Canterbury who travelled to Rome in 990 to meet Pope John XV and receive his investiture pallium. The 79 stages recorded in Sigeric’s diary, held in the British Library, trace his return journey to Canterbury.  Many of the roads Sigeric travelled have since developed into motorways and so the modern route takes pilgrims away from busy roads, along footpaths through fields, canal towpaths and mountain trails.  

Pilgrims on the Via Francigena experience some of the most beautiful natural and built heritage of Europe including the North Downs Way to Dover, the Great War battlefields of Northern France, the Champagne region, Lake Geneva and the mighty Alps, the Apennines, the picturesque hills of Tuscany and finally Rome and the Vatican City.  

There are a variety of motivations that inspire pilgrims to undertake this journey to Rome: for spiritual reasons, as a physical challenge, an opportunity to disconnect from the pressures of the everyday, to be immersed in the cultures and landscapes along the route, to socialise with fellow pilgrims or to walk in the footsteps of historic pilgrims. Motivations can also be for an intensely personal reason, such as to process a trauma, to grieve, to invite an opportunity for self-discovery or to improve mental health. A pilgrim may have several motivations, some that are not even entirely clear to them as they embark on their journey. It is only once a pilgrim has reached their destination that they gain an understanding of the full impact of their experience.

Today the Via Francigena is a European Cultural Route as designated by the Council of Europe in 1994. Velia Coffey, former Deputy CEO of Canterbury City Council sits as Vice President of the European Association for the Via Francigena (EAVF), the body formed in 2001 to manage and promote the route internationally. In Kent the Confraternity of Pilgrims to Rome supports pilgrims and promotes the route which shares the same status as The Way of St James, maybe better known as the Camino de Santiago. The Via Francigena is the UK’s only long-distance walking & cycling European Cultural Route.  

About the Kent Downs & North Downs Way

The Kent Downs AONB is one of a family of 46 AONBs across England, Wales and Northern Ireland which cover one fifth of the UK. An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is a designated exceptional landscape whose distinctive character and natural beauty are precious enough to be safeguarded in the national interest. On par with National Parks, AONBs are protected and enhanced for nature, people, business, and culture. The Kent Downs AONB offers dramatic views, vibrant communities, a rich historic and cultural heritage and diverse wildlife and habitats making it a worthy landscape for national protection. It is the eighth largest AONB and, along with the High Weald AONB, covers 33% of Kent’s land area providing a wealth of opportunities for people to explore, enjoy and benefit from this outstanding landscape.

The North Downs Way is one of only 15 designated National Trails in England and Wales and has a diverse appeal for many unique reasons. Passing through 153 miles of stunning and diverse landscapes and through the protected landscapes of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and the Kent Downs AONB the North Downs Way makes for a great place for a family day out, a short walk, ride, a really good ice cream or a life-changing long distance walk. 

About the Interreg Europe Green Pilgrimage Project 

Green Growth and Pilgrimage: The continued fragility of Europe’s economy means that growth and development policies often take precedence over environmental policies, threatening our cultural and natural heritage assets. The Green Pilgrimage (GP) project will show how growth and development policies can economically exploit AND protect natural and cultural heritage. Key to this is our focus on the power of pilgrimage- recognized today as one of the fastest growing segments of the travel industry (UNWTO, 2015) with more than 300 million pilgrims every year.

‘Now is the time to harness the power and potential of religious tourism to make a positive difference in the world.’ United Nations World Tourism Organisation

The Power of Pilgrimage: Ancient pilgrim routes such as The Way of St James to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, report an annual 10% increase in numbers, particularly among the non-religious. Harnessing this increased popularity to protect natural and cultural heritage is a common challenge faced by those responsible for Europe’s major pilgrimage routes. GP will show policy makers how to protect natural and cultural heritage whilst developing jobs and growth along pilgrim routes through developing low impact tourism, digitalization, pilgrim accommodation and strengthening local traditions. This reconnects pilgrims with their environment, landscape, and culture.

This project looks to create services and attractions in both popular and less well explored sections of the trail. 

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