Pilgrimage with Simon Reeve Episode 2: France to Italy

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Pilgrimage with Simon Reeve Episode 2: France to Italy

Simon Reeve follows in the footsteps of thousands of travellers from previous centuries, as he travels from northern France to northern Spain, and then crosses western Europe to arrive in Rome.

In the Middle Ages, pilgrimage shaped much of Europe, as inns and churches sprung up along routes and villages near popular shrines developed into towns. To see how this is still happening, Simon visits a route that has come back to life. The Camino is a 500-mile trek not for the faint hearted, starting in a bustling French town before it climbs over the Pyrenees and winds through northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela. Along the way, he visits a church with a bizarre display of live chickens, experiences the kindness of volunteers who run hostels and meets pilgrims from around the world who are walking for a variety of reasons. At the end of the route, he joins the crowds at the pilgrims' mass as one of the biggest incense burners in the world swings over his head.

In Switzerland, Simon undertakes one of the oldest and most perilous pilgrim routes in Europe. The Great St Bernard Pass, high in the Alps, has claimed many lives over the centuries, including at least one Pope. Simon treks to a monastery and refuge at the top of the pass that has not closed its doors to visitors for 1000 years. He meets some young Americans there and joins in their yoga class, hears their stories, and helps them to clean the monastery.

To see how modern pilgrimage melds into tourism, Simon goes to the shrine devoted to the monk Padre Pio who died in 1968 in San Giovanni Rotondo in the east of Italy. Padre Pio's fame spread globally and the economic impact on the town has been huge. Simon sees the gaudy shrine made from melted down gold jewellery donated by pilgrims, meets the monk who runs the Padre Pio TV station, and discovers that many modern pilgrims rather like staying in fancy hotels.

Finally, Simon arrives in Rome and St Peter's Square when pilgrims gather in their thousands to be blessed by the Pope. He reflects on his realisation that for those who follow a pilgrim's path, it is more about what they discover on the way than reaching journeys end.