Image Credit: a collection of signposts showing pilgrims where to go through Italy on the Via Francigena

A Skeptic on the Road of Saints

A Pilgrimage to Eternity:
From Canterbury to Rome
in Search of a Faith
by Timothy Egan.
Viking Press
384 pp., $28.00

“Men go abroad to admire the heights of mountains, the mighty waves of the sea, the broad tide of rivers, the vast compass of the ocean, the circular motion of the stars, and yet they pass over the mystery of themselves without a thought.” Moved by these words of St. Augustine, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Timothy Egan’s latest book chronicles his pilgrimage along the Via Francigena.

On the route first traced out by Sigeric the Serious, Archbishop of Canterbury, in 990, Egan is both engaging in his descriptions of flora and fauna, landscape and architecture, and tiresome in his repetition of modern and modernist shibboleths concerning the history of the West and the Roman Catholic Church. Chesterton observed that “the Catholic Church is the only thing that saves a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his own age.” Egan (b. 1954), unfortunately, has his blistered and bloody feet firmly planted in the latter half of the 20th century.

At the start, Egan tells us his reasons for taking this pilgrimage. He describes himself as “a skeptic by profession, an Irish Catholic by baptism, culture, and upbringing—lapsed, but listening.” Much later in the book, Egan recounts the...

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