A Pilgrimage to Eternity: From Canterbury to Rome in Search of a Faith

A Pilgrimage to Eternity: From Canterbury to Rome in Search of a Faith

Tracing an ancient pilgrimage route from Canterbury to Rome, the bestselling and "virtuosic" (The Wall Street Journal) writer explores the past and future of Christianity "What a wondrous work! This beautifully written and totally clear-eyed account of his pilgrimage will have you wondering whether we should all embark on such a journey, either of the body, the soul or, as in Egan's c(The...

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Title:A Pilgrimage to Eternity: From Canterbury to Rome in Search of a Faith
Author:Timothy Egan
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A Pilgrimage to Eternity: From Canterbury to Rome in Search of a Faith Reviews

  • Joy Matteson

    This could have been another ho-hum religious travel memoir, of which there are many, except for Egan's marvelously irreverent and thoughtful religious and socio-political commentary raising it a notch above most in this genre. Egan takes the Via Francigena, the ancient pilgrim route from Canterbury to Rome, to ask the difficult questions in life: Is there a God? Is there a God who cares? What about human suffering? What about the abuses in the Catholic Church? Egan is a life-long lapsed Irish C

    This could have been another ho-hum religious travel memoir, of which there are many, except for Egan's marvelously irreverent and thoughtful religious and socio-political commentary raising it a notch above most in this genre. Egan takes the Via Francigena, the ancient pilgrim route from Canterbury to Rome, to ask the difficult questions in life: Is there a God? Is there a God who cares? What about human suffering? What about the abuses in the Catholic Church? Egan is a life-long lapsed Irish Catholic, and his prose does not shy away from these difficult questions. I thoroughly enjoyed this immersive read, both as a history and theology buff but also as a commentary on current religious climate in Europe. This is a must read for fans of Egan, atheists and non-atheists alike.

  • Laura

    Thanks, Goodreads, for a great giveaway!

    I found Timothy Egan’s account of his journey along the Via Francigena enlightening. He provides a wealth of information along his thousand-mile trek through the ‘Cradle of Christianity’ - offering historic context surrounding the abbeys, shrines, and all manner of religious architecture. Egan’s journey was a personal one tied to his struggles and questions of faith, which is set amidst a backdrop of the decline of religion in this region of Europe –

    Thanks, Goodreads, for a great giveaway!

    I found Timothy Egan’s account of his journey along the Via Francigena enlightening. He provides a wealth of information along his thousand-mile trek through the ‘Cradle of Christianity’ - offering historic context surrounding the abbeys, shrines, and all manner of religious architecture. Egan’s journey was a personal one tied to his struggles and questions of faith, which is set amidst a backdrop of the decline of religion in this region of Europe – where Christianity was created.

    I appreciated the travelogue aspect of the book with the vistas, scenery, and historic sites. I also enjoyed the voice of local citizenry who brought an understanding of the cultural surroundings and a different perspective to many locations.

    Egan’s adventures through Christianity – past and future – provide the reader an informative journey through an ancient time along a well-worn path.

  • Joseph J.

    Won in a Goodreads giveaway-with much gratitude. Timothy Egan was born of my generation into a family probably more Catholic than mine (my paternal grandmother was a New York Egan). Now like many of us he is disillusioned with-angry at-the church he was raised in without question. His family touched by the clergy abuse scandal, we journey along with him in a quest for reconciliation and discovery-and rediscovery-along the ancient Christian pilgrim's route, the Via Francigena. His trek through la

    Won in a Goodreads giveaway-with much gratitude. Timothy Egan was born of my generation into a family probably more Catholic than mine (my paternal grandmother was a New York Egan). Now like many of us he is disillusioned with-angry at-the church he was raised in without question. His family touched by the clergy abuse scandal, we journey along with him in a quest for reconciliation and discovery-and rediscovery-along the ancient Christian pilgrim's route, the Via Francigena. His trek through late spring and summer heat begins in Canterbury and proceeds through the traditional but depleted heart of Catholicism, France on to Rome. Along the way he encounters a culture indifferent at best to Catholicism and Christianity, and at some points hostile to the faith. He enters once thriving monasteries now echoing with the voices of a few remaining religious brothers. He visits the sites which knew the blood of the martyred Thomas a Becket and the stigmatic Francis of Assisi. He walks the places which knew Ignatius Loyola and Catherine of Sienna. He encounters the remains of great and obscure saints; some declared incorrupt, others bits in a reliquary or dust in an age darkened tomb. In Switzerland he reminds us that brutal excess was not confined to Catholicism's bloodthirsty rulers and corrupt Popes; the anti-Semitism of Martin Luther and the deadly oppression of John Calvin are part of the journey. Over grasslands and through forests, in the shadow of mountains or in crowded ancient towns, Egan brings his readers toward his goal of St. Peter's in Rome and the current Pope whose words and manner offer him some hope. Feet bloodied with blisters, he encounters clerics and villagers offering encouragement and hospitality. His diet is a discovery in itself of farm to table cultural delights: wine, cheeses, pastas and meats. He walks beneath ripening olive trees and across fallen hazelnuts. In the closing miles of his pilgrimage, Rome in sight, as he shares a table with fellow pilgrims of several nationalities, I wondered if there is not only hope for an anemic Christianity, but in their laughter and shared goals a light for a divided and troubled world. No pious religious tome, Egan's journey is accessible to the faithful, the cynical, and even the atheistic. We are left with-perhaps a miracle-that despite the swords and wars of misguided spiritual and temporal followers of Jesus Christ, the message of the simple carpenter survives and inspires a journey toward forgiveness and tomorrow.

  • Geoffrey

    (Note: I received an ARC of this work courtesy of NetGalley)

    “A Pilgrimage to Eternity” has the core essentials for great travel writing - a journey through a region or well-worn trail unfamiliar to most of the intended reader audience, with every stop on the way bringing a wealth of information and insight on every waypoint’s particular history and present condition.

    However, although his trip’s focus is supposed to be a deep look into Christianity past, present and possible future,

    (Note: I received an ARC of this work courtesy of NetGalley)

    “A Pilgrimage to Eternity” has the core essentials for great travel writing - a journey through a region or well-worn trail unfamiliar to most of the intended reader audience, with every stop on the way bringing a wealth of information and insight on every waypoint’s particular history and present condition.

    However, although his trip’s focus is supposed to be a deep look into Christianity past, present and possible future, what potentially makes Tim Egan’s trek a particularly memorable one to follow along on is the author’s inner spiritual debate that lies at the core of it all.

    Raised in the Catholic tradition, Egan travels as a pilgrim searching for some sense of spirituality. But in his quest to find something more for his long-lapsed faith life, he acutely feels the full weight of a church history loaded to the brim with adherents behaving anything but Christ-like in near-countless horrific ways, along with the inevitable scarring from the seemingly never-ending sexual abuse scandals. Not only that, but he must also contend with his healthy modern-day skepticism that clashes with many a theological stance or miraculous claim. His situation is both uniquely his own, but also one that should feel more than familiar to many a few who find themselves long-lapsed in their own particular religious upbringing for any number of reasons. And while those feeling similar internal spiritual struggles, of course, may not agree with Egan’s own insights and conclusions, his own journey provides plenty of moments that could help a reader to start mulling over matters of faith and their own personal spirituality that may have been ignored for quite some time. Granted, I speak with the admitted bias of someone whose religious and educational background and current spiritual condition matches with Egan’s to an almost startling degree. However, I nevertheless like to think that if I was sparked into performing some self-reflection, then it’s not a far stretch to imagine that others may have similar encounters.

    Even if Egan's journey sparks no personal insight, or if a reader is perfectly comfortable with their own religious or nonreligious personal context, there is still plenty for “A Pilgrimage to Eternity” to offer. Egan’s writing makes the Via Francigena come so alive that he’ll do far more than merely inform about both it and what it has to tell about Christianity. He’ll quickly transport one to right alongside him on the trail, where one can go on a vivid journey through numerous centuries-old towns and cities all without even having to buy a new pair of hiking boots.

    This is a book that is definitely worth one’s time and attention. There’s a grand trek through a history-rich pilgrimage trail through the heart of Europe awaiting, with the strong chance that at least some readers will find themselves unexpectedly sent off as wandering pilgrims upon their own inner journey.

  • Linda Bond

    Persons of faith, seekers and those simply interested in Christianity will appreciate Timothy Egan’s foray into the history of this 2000-year-old path to God. In order to learn what he can about the past, the present and the possible future of this particular religion, he takes on a 1000-mile journey of his own, walking to Rome and St. Peter’s Square, touching on remarkable places as he travels, while highlighting the contributions of outstanding individuals like Martin Luther and Joan of Arc. T

    Persons of faith, seekers and those simply interested in Christianity will appreciate Timothy Egan’s foray into the history of this 2000-year-old path to God. In order to learn what he can about the past, the present and the possible future of this particular religion, he takes on a 1000-mile journey of his own, walking to Rome and St. Peter’s Square, touching on remarkable places as he travels, while highlighting the contributions of outstanding individuals like Martin Luther and Joan of Arc. The author brings his writing skill and the art of his voice to this book and it will only add to his reputation as a writer who thoroughly researches his work, and presents his narrative in an accessible style that enriches the understanding of all who read it. It’s a very special look at not only the history of a faith, but also into the heart of this very special seeker. Again Mr. Egan earns our respect and our admiration.

    I met this book at Auntie's Bookstore in Spokane, WA

  • Kathleen Gray

    This is an amazing combination of travel writing and history. Many are familiar with the religious pilgrimages through Spain and France but I, for one, did not know the Via Francigena, which goes from Canterbury to St Peters Square. The detailing of that walk alone would have made for a great read but Egan goes a step further and explores the changes in Christianity over many years. I don't quite know how to capture what he's done except to say that this is incredibly educational- I found myself

    This is an amazing combination of travel writing and history. Many are familiar with the religious pilgrimages through Spain and France but I, for one, did not know the Via Francigena, which goes from Canterbury to St Peters Square. The detailing of that walk alone would have made for a great read but Egan goes a step further and explores the changes in Christianity over many years. I don't quite know how to capture what he's done except to say that this is incredibly educational- I found myself looking for more information about several of the shrines. Thanks to edelweiss for the ARC. A wonderful read.

  • Lori L (She Treads Softly)

    A Pilgrimage to Eternity: From Canterbury to Rome in Search of a Faith by Timothy Egan is a very highly recommended spiritual, historical, and physical travelogue.

    Timothy Egan was raised Catholic but has experienced over time a lapse of faith and disillusionment with the Church, especially after the sexual abuse scandal. Egan has decided that, "It’s time to force the issue, to decide what I believe or admit what I don’t." He embarks on a pilgrimage, visiting historical sites along th

    A Pilgrimage to Eternity: From Canterbury to Rome in Search of a Faith by Timothy Egan is a very highly recommended spiritual, historical, and physical travelogue.

    Timothy Egan was raised Catholic but has experienced over time a lapse of faith and disillusionment with the Church, especially after the sexual abuse scandal. Egan has decided that, "It’s time to force the issue, to decide what I believe or admit what I don’t." He embarks on a pilgrimage, visiting historical sites along the 1,000-mile journey from Canterbury to Rome following the Via Francigena. "One reason I want to follow the Via Francigena is to experience layers of time on consecrated ground."

    As he travels, Egan shares the historical and religious significance of the sites he visits and the events that occurred there. He walks where significant Christian figures and saints once traveled, meeting other pilgrims along the way. He starts in Canterbury, visiting the chapel where Queen Bertha introduced Christianity to pagan Britain, and makes his way along the major medieval trail leading the devout to Rome. He travels through France, Switzerland and Italy, discussing the monasteries, cathedrals, shrines, sites of miracles, and various relics along the way, while sharing the history of many of the important figures in the church who once walked in the same areas. Egan's pilgrimage ends in Rome at St. Peter's Square in the Vatican City.

    The writing is excellent in this fascinating, interesting, and personal account of Egan's travels as he shares his circumspect thoughts on his journey and the history of the church. I was engrossed in following Egan's pilgrimage from start to finish. This will likely be much more interesting to those who are or were raised Catholic, but the rest of us can also find much to appreciate in Egan's historical details and following him along his journey. But this is much more than just a travelogue, it is also a memoir. Raised Catholic, and having a Jesuit education, Egan has many personal memories tied to the historical sites he visits. He openly and honestly shares his doubts, struggles, and sometimes failures when dealing with questions of faith. I really appreciated his candid honesty and regret for not raising his children in a faith.

    Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House.

  • Julie Stielstra

    A devout, engaged, educated Irish Catholic woman has given up all her ambitions to stay home and raise a brood of seven. Active in the church her whole life, she lies on her deathbed from a brain tumor, and quietly says to her son: "I'm not feeling it, Timmy... I'm not sure anymore...I don't know what to believe or what's ahead..." It reminded me of my grandmother at the funeral of my grandfather (lifelong staunch Dutch Reformed, both of them) when they closed the lid of the casket. She sobbed a

    A devout, engaged, educated Irish Catholic woman has given up all her ambitions to stay home and raise a brood of seven. Active in the church her whole life, she lies on her deathbed from a brain tumor, and quietly says to her son: "I'm not feeling it, Timmy... I'm not sure anymore...I don't know what to believe or what's ahead..." It reminded me of my grandmother at the funeral of my grandfather (lifelong staunch Dutch Reformed, both of them) when they closed the lid of the casket. She sobbed and cried: "Now I'll never see him again!" All those years of faith and belief, a promised afterlife... and when it came to the end, it faltered.

    Egan, a thoughtful, brisk, and gifted writer of history and commentary, is shaken. His wife is Jewish, he is mostly lapsed, and they have raised their children as freethinkers. But that astonishing human quest (including his own) for meaning, for "spirituality," for faith or belief or whatever it is, nags at him. So with a copy of Christopher Hitchens (!) in his pack, he sets off to make the pilgrimage from Canterbury, England to Rome. And it's quite a journey.

    Over 300+ pages, he ponders Thomas Becket, Augustine, two Francises (Il Poverello of Assisi and the current pope, whom he hopes to meet), Crusaders, saints obscure and famous, church architecture, the Roman and papal empires, Jewish persecution, the unspeakable savagery with which Christians have treated not just Jews and infidels but each other and children, and the courageous and humane clerics who aid the helpless, who illuminate beautiful books and till gardens. He considers the age-old question of theodicy: why would an all-powerful God permit the Holocaust? the Massacre of Wassy? The serial abuse of young boys by his own parish priest with harrowing results? How could the Catholic Church be responsible for both a furious estrangement and salvation in response to tragedies - just within Egan's family?

    To Egan's credit, he examines the questions: carefully, deeply, humanely, and has no easy answers. He expertly interweaves history, the lives of emperors, monks and saints, stained glass, and vaulted naves. There's a crash course in how theological bureaucracy politicized the simple gospels. He strides across the plains of northern France and contemplates the killing fields of the Great War, takes the occasional train to hilltop towns amid vineyards, the Great St Bernard Pass in the Alps, and down into the flinty sun of Italy where every meal seems to be an adventure of its own. He meets good-humored monks in pilgrim hostels, shares the road with other walkers with their own motivations, peers in amazement at an "incorruptible" lady saint, looking like Snow White in her glass casket after 300 years. Always thinking, always musing, always trying to unpack why we humans do this, why do we need this, in all its contradictions of glory and monstrous violence?

    This atheist loved every page of this book. It's the kind of trek I would like to take, and the kind of book I wish I could write. Having done a mini-pilgrimage of my own to the grave of St Francis in Assisi, there were many moments when I wanted to dash off an email to Egan, and tell him something or ask him something... or spend a day or two on the road with him, with a carafe of local wine in a little restaurant in the evenings. He comes to his own conclusions: the journey seems to have settled him a little. He will keep the joys, the comforts; he will reject the evils, and let the rest go to be thought over more, or by others. I am grateful he chose to share his travels with us.

  • Bookreporter.com Biography & Memoir

    Whether read as a travelogue, history or personal spiritual quest, A PILGRIMAGE TO ETERNITY will enlighten and entertain its audience.

    Timothy Egan’s journey along the Via Francigena, the ancient pilgrim route from Canterbury to Rome, takes us across several countries and multiple centuries, all the while engaging us in a debate about God’s existence and purpose --- and quoting liberally from St. Augustine, Diderot, Oscar Wilde and many others. The wealth of information and insight on

    Whether read as a travelogue, history or personal spiritual quest, A PILGRIMAGE TO ETERNITY will enlighten and entertain its audience.

    Timothy Egan’s journey along the Via Francigena, the ancient pilgrim route from Canterbury to Rome, takes us across several countries and multiple centuries, all the while engaging us in a debate about God’s existence and purpose --- and quoting liberally from St. Augustine, Diderot, Oscar Wilde and many others. The wealth of information and insight on every waypoint’s particular history, local saints and current condition is impressive without being overwhelming. Egan also writes about his family and explains his own, very personal reasons for undertaking this 1,200-mile pilgrimage.

    Starting in Canterbury at the chapel where Queen Bertha introduced Christianity to pagan Britain, Egan makes his way along the major medieval trail that led the devout --- at one point, two million a year --- to Rome. As he travels through France, Switzerland and Italy, he shares details about the monasteries, cathedrals, shrines, sites of miracles and various relics he encounters, as well as the histories of many important figures in the church who lived and died in the surrounding area.

    Egan's pilgrimage ends at St. Peter's Square, where he hopes to arrange an interview with Pope Francis. These attempts to land a private meeting add to the narrative drama, as do his efforts to keep going in the face of injury, dangerous weather conditions and sometimes his own despair.

    During his voyage --- which is conducted on foot and by car, train and bus --- Egan is joined at various stops by his children, wife, local hosts and other pilgrims, which gives readers a chance to see the locales (and locals) from different perspectives. As not all the fellow travelers are as intent on spiritual rejuvenation, it also broadens the lens through which we view the passing scenery. But there’s no mistaking this for a Lonely Planet tour of European hotspots: Egan’s focus is squarely on Christianity, both historically and personally. And when read as such, this journey is both mesmerizing and uplifting.

    Reviewed by Lorraine W. Shanley

  • Corin

    Interesting mix of history, philosophy, and travelogue.

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