Henri Craemer | Santuario di San Francesco – Quiet Reflection and Peace
The beauty of Lake Pidiluco at the end of stage 21 of the Way of St Francis presents an excellent setting for contemplation and meditation. An examination of personal reasons for doing the Via di San Francesco follows.
Piediluco, Lago Piediluco, St Francis, Santuario di San Francesco, sanctuary, church, Camino, cammino, Sandy Brown, spiritual development, walking, hiking, bucket list, trek, Via Francigena di San Francesco, Via Francigena, Hugh Goins, Way of St Francis, pilgrim
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Lago Piediluco towards Labro, the hill-town to the left set against the backdrop of some serious peaks. (Photo: © Henri Craemer)

Santuario di San Francesco – Quiet Reflection and Peace

13 September 2017, Piediluco at about 15:00. We have a clear view across Lago Piediluco towards Labro and some serious mountains in the background.

The narrow medieval streets of Piediluco (Photo: © Henri Craemer)

The narrow medieval streets of Piediluco (Photo: © Henri Craemer)

With our chores behind us, Niels goes his way to see if there are any places to top up our provisions. I decide to stroll through Piediluco on this perfect afternoon to relax and enjoy the pure beauty of the environment. I can see how this area would inspire artists.

I’m probably walking the same streets as St Francis did so long ago. He passed through this area, ministering to the inhabitants, stopping over several times between 1208 and 1225. Santuario di San Francesco was built in the early 1300s on the site where St Francis and a few of his followers put up a building of mud to serve as a church. In 1999 it was turned into a sanctuary.

Santuario di San Francesco is much brighter than many other churches and cathedrals I’ve visited. The afternoon sun streaming through the high windows has something to do with it. It’s the kind of silence anyone in need would find comforting. Very soon I find myself alone in the church. I quickly take a few photos and decide to sit and soak up the atmosphere.



My mind turns to our journey thus far. Stage 21 is behind us. It’s hard to believe we’re three-quarters of the way to Rome. It creates a sense of achievement knowing that we’ve actually walked such a distance. Both Camino Ways and Sandy Brown put it at 377km according to. Niels and I have questioned the accuracy of the measurements of most of almost every stage, finding them longer than those noted on the website or in the book. Thus our journey is probably already well over 400km.

Inside Santuario di S Franceso (Photo: © Henri Craemer)

Inside Santuario di S Franceso (Photo: © Henri Craemer)


John the Baptist (Photo: © Henri Craemer)

John the Baptist (Photo: © Henri Craemer)

I ask myself, why am I really doing this? Some obvious reasons come to mind. For one, I couldn’t miss an opportunity to spend time with Niels – a very good friend whom I had not seen for two decades. He was the one who introduced me to the work of Edgar Cayce. This had a profound influence on my spiritual development.

Another reason is that I’ve always loved hiking. All my walks prior to this one, have been in Africa. The Drakensberg was my place of choice to hike and camp out. It’s one of Africa’s mightiest mountain ranges, that spans the eastern side of South Africa. That was where I introduced Niels to hiking.

How could I say no to an opportunity to walk in Italy? While I’ve always loved walking in nature, I saw the Cammino di San Francesco as an ideal opportunity to discover Italy for myself. The country is so very well known for its history and culture. Yet no one says anything about its scenery. Discovering such a beautiful landscape is a huge bonus.

The third reason was not so top of my mind when I started walking. Doing a Camino like the Via Francigena di San Francesco was vaguely on my bucket list. Yet the idea of walking along a path of one of the most revered Saints in Christianity had a definite attraction when the opportunity arose.

I wanted to test myself by doing something which most people would deem impossible for a 63yr old. Walking more than 500km should make anyone proud. It would show people that I have what it takes, regardless of my age. Age is neither a handicap nor a deterrent. Hugh Goins, whom I met briefly in 1987, planted the seed. He summited Everest, and the Eiger Northface after he was 70yrs old. There is something in me that wants to be like him. The Way of St Francis provided the ideal opportunity.

The vanity of this last reason shocks me somewhat. While I may not have been conscious of it before starting this trek, it has always been present. Most pilgrims are humble about their achievements. Yet here am I, wanting to have bragging rights. I feel ashamed. But then who is the perfect pilgrim? Is becoming whole within oneself not the purpose of a pilgrimage? Is that not what doing penance and forgiveness is all about?

All these reasons make me not only more determined to complete this trek, but also to carry on searching myself.

Lago Piediluco at 16:24. (Photo: © Henri Craemer)

Lago Piediluco at 16:24. (Photo: © Henri Craemer)



So, here I am now, still considering the question of why I am doing this. I am left with a strange sense of dissonance, a sense of incompleteness. There is a nagging sensation, the kind you have when you’re close to something, but you don’t quite get it yet.

In this solitude, so rich with the Love of a Higher Presence, an important realisation echoes in my mind. I don’t have to be perfect and I don’t have to know all the answers. To me, answers to questions have always come not only when I’ve needed them, but also when I was ready for them. There will always be more to discover as the pilgrimage within never ends.


Harmony and Counterpoint

The meditation in Santuario di San Francesco has left me feeling wonderfully calm. I return to find Niels already back. Just as I settle on my bed, I hear shouting and voices through loud hailers coming from the lake.

“That must be the rowers coming out to practice,” Niels explains, and goes to the balcony of the room. I join him. We see more rowers and their coaches coming out on the lake. This is the Italian national rowing team’s home ground. Niels explains the ins and outs of rowing, and how teams of two, four, and eight rowers need to be absolutely perfectly synchronised and in harmony to achieve the best results.

The frenetic activity on the lake is in stark contrast to the peace and silence of earlier. Yet I can see harmony in action as the teams on the lake push themselves. This is such a perfect counterpoint for my own inner peace.

Italian National rowing team practice. (Photo: © Henri Craemer)

Italian National rowing team practice. (Photo: © Henri Craemer)



*Conversions from Metric to Imperial


377km = ~234,5miles

400km = ~248.5

  • Cathy
    Posted at 17:54h, 06 June

    I am curious while you are posting stages from your Camino now when you walked it sometime back.

  • Henri
    Posted at 14:12h, 08 June

    Thanks for reading my blog, Cathy. I hope you’re enjoying it.
    You ask a very good question! I’ve chosen this style of writing for a number of reasons.
    I’m in the process of writing a book on my experience. Writing in the present tense will make it appear as if I’m walking The Way now. I realise that the reader needs a chronological context. That is why I start every entry with a date and quite often add a time of day too. The specific times noted in my pieces are 99% of the time when I took a particular photo. (I took about 1500 photos- probably 5000 too few.)
    Writing in the present tense serves a number of purposes. Firstly, it aids memory and recall. It’s a bit like running a virtual experience movie in my head and writing down what I see. In doing so I hope to draw the reader into the experience.
    Secondly, and flowing directly from the recall of events, is the aspect of self-examination. To me, that is one of the most important reasons for writing this account. Writing in the present tense places me psychologically back in a particular moment. In some cases the feelings and realisations are overwhelming. Mentally assimilating the experience is part of my continuing Camino. That is something I’ll cover in some future piece(s).
    From this mental examination flows a third reason: the aspect of healing and spiritual growth. It’s a technique used for this purpose by various schools of Psychological thought – Gestalt Psychology and Psychosynthesis being quite strong on this.
    Thanks for asking the question.