By architect Andreas Blinkenberg, chairman of Foreningen Herberger langs Hærvejen (‘Hostels along the Ancient Road’)
During the Middle Ages, the Ancient Road was a pilgrims’ route on the way to Santiago de Compostela, Trondheim and Rome. But with the Reformation of the sixteenth century came the end of the pilgrimage in northern Europe. Today, however, pilgrimages are experiencing a renaissance. Those seeking a deeper meaning to life and spiritual healing are taking to the highways and byways. The pilgrim idea has been reborn in a modern context with our restless desire for experiences in nature, slowness, freedom, simplicity, silence and spirituality, which is also why there is a rise in interest in pilgrimages in Denmark and the rest of Europe.
The pilgrim simply follows the road, pausing to appreciate the impressions and events along the way. The pilgrim seeks a sense of calm and simplicity in his or her spiritual journey. But the pilgrim also seeks a sense of fellowship and togetherness with other wanderers, both believers and spiritual seekers. And not least, the pilgrim values the hospitality of the locals that live along the route. The pilgrim does not plan the journey in advance with hotel reservations and itineraries.
The Ancient Road passes some 26 parishes from Viborg to the German border near Padborg. Many of these parish churches are open during daylight hours as official wayside churches where visitors have the opportunity to participate in a service, experience the artworks, light a candle, say a silent prayer or meet a local who can explain the history of the church and the surrounding area.
In 2010, the Ancient Road was designated as a European Cultural Route by the European Council. The Ancient Road links the pilgrimage routes in Norway and Sweden with those in southern Europe. Hiking, cycling and riding on the Ancient Road are ways of travel familiar with those taking such legendary pilgrimages as the Camino in Spain. But they also appeal to a new audience seeking alternative types of holidays.