28th June 1901: Rome Beckons

At daybreak, Belloc reached Montefiascone. The path to Rome did not run through the city, however, so he ignored it.

Next, he came to Viterbo. The road didn’t go through this city, either, but after a brief debate with himself, Belloc decided to enter it. Viterbo was a famous place, after all; and on a more practical level, he needed ‘wine and food for the later day in the mountain’ (Hilaire Belloc The Path to Rome (Ignatius Press 2003) p.427).

Viterbo was teeming with life but Belloc stayed only long enough to buy his provisions. He may have been a man who loved – needed – companionship but right now the call of Rome was stronger on his soul.

As the morning wore on, the heat increased but thankfully remained below the furnace-like levels of ‘the oven of the Garfagnana or in the deserts of Siena’ (The Path to Rome, p.429). Indeed, the air was so cool in the horse chestnut forest that Belloc walked through that it reminded him of home.

Upon leaving the forest, Belloc came to a ‘a bare heath’ (The Path to Rome, p.430). He started to sing. Two carabinieri passed him; they also were singing. The two parties saluted each other, friends in song.

Belloc stopped to eat at a house. A woman served him while an old man sitting nearby refused to speak to him. Belloc did not hold this unfriendliness against the man.

… I should dearly have liked to have talked to him in Lingua Franca, and to have heard him on the story of his mountain: where it was haunted, by what, and on which nights it was dangerous to be abroad.

The Path to Rome, p.430

In was still morning when Belloc arrived at the Campagna where – am I correct in saying this? – the armies of Rome once trained. He looked into the distance for city itself, the dome of St. Peter’s, but the Sabinian hills blocked his view. Something which he did see was Soracte.

… Soracte, of which I had read as a boy. It stood up like an acropolis, but it was a citadel for no city. It stood alone, like that soul which once haunted its recesses and prophesied the conquering advent of the northern kings.

The Path to Rome, p.433

Soracte, which played such a big part in the life of another famous English travel writer, perhaps the greatest, Patrick Leigh Fermor.

The Campagna seemed too small to be the place where the destinies of the world were worked out. Belloc could barely fathom this. He ate his food and drank his wine and did so in a reverie as he tried to make sense of what he had seen.

After eating, Belloc turned off the road and fell asleep. When he woke up, it was evening. He started walking and entered Ronciglione where he ate once more. He spoke to a lot of people – but about Rome.

Belloc kept walking. He passed Sette Vene – where he had intended to stop for the night. Nothing mattered now except Rome. Eventually, though, he did stop. And now, he stayed at an inn. Belloc flit ghost like between the tables before settling down at the end of one where he ate a good meal, and drank good wine. Belloc took strength from the atmosphere of the place.

Unfortunately, there was no room at this inn, either; the inn keeper kindly showed Belloc his granary. It would do for the last night of the pilgrimage to Rome.

23rd June 1901: Sillano and After

I don’t know for sure that Belloc stopped in Borgo a Mozzano but it is on the direct line to Rome so seems a fair bet that he ended the day there.

The transition between yesterday’s ‘entry’ in The Path to Rome and today’s is very vague. For the first time since the start of his pilgrimage, Belloc neither says ‘I went to sleep’, nor, ‘I woke up’.

Instead, he ends yesterday’s ‘entry’ with the quotation that I tagged on to the end of yesterday’s post, and opens today’s with a flight of fancy about the soul being able, in ‘very early youth’ (Hilaire Belloc The Path to Rome (Ignatius Press 2003) p.374), to remember its heavenly origin.

From whence comes such an unorthodox thought? It’s because Belloc sensed something of heaven in the sight and smells of the Sillano valley last night. As might be expected, they made a deep impression on him. Belloc describes the feeling as ‘the blessing of Sillano’ (Ibid), and says that ‘here was perhaps the highest moment of those seven hundred miles – or more’ (The Path to Rome, pp.3734-5).

Unfortunately, this great moment has a negative consequence for the reader – Belloc now loses patience with the story of his pilgrimage; he apologises if he now ‘press[es] on much more hurriedly to Rome, for the goal is almost between my hands, and the chief moment has been enjoyed, until I shall see the City.’ (The Path to Rome, p.375).

Belloc laments that he has to tell the story of the ‘next sixty miles of way… as of a real journey in this very repetitive and sui-similar* world’ (Ibid) rather than being able to ‘wander forth at leisure through the air and visit the regions where everything is as the soul chooses’ (Ibid).

That would certainly have been preferable. Perhaps, then, he might have decided to come back to his book and told us about some of the friends he made during that time, and friendships that were created. As it is, today’s ‘entry’ contains no mention at all of either.

For the record, Belloc spent the day walking in punishing heat. He passed through a town called Castel-Nuovo (possibly Castelnuovo di Garfagnana) where he found numerous bridges before arriving in a town called Borgo (the second of this name that he has come across on this pilgrimage, though he avoided entering the first). By the time he got there, it was evening, and he decided to stay the night.

*I have never seen this word before. As ‘sui’ is Latin for ‘of itself’, I assume that Belloc is emphasising the sameness of the countryside that he passed through