Pelican Pilgrimage of Gianna Maddalena Alberti

Being on vigil for the Order of the Pelican for the past month has given me a chance to reflect on the path that led me to this point.

The pelican in the bestiary manuscripts was hailed as a fearsome hunter of demons and selfless protector of her children.
-Anastasia Pineschi

In the late Middle Ages it was customary for those in askance or thanksgiving to embark upon what we now call a pilgrimage. I’ll include a few links below if you want to read more on women and pilgrimage, especially on the Italian peninsula.

For the purposes of this entry, though, I want to focus on an historical pilgrimage route and how I want to connect that research to my vigil. The route is called the Romea Germanica Way and was taken by Friar Albert in 1236 as he made his way from Stade (Germany) to Rome. Originally called the Via Romea dell’Alpe di Serra it passes through Emilia-Romagna from Francolino at Po River near Ferrara, through Argenta, San Biagio, Ravenna, and Forli. Those are all places in Emilia-Romagna that I’ve travelled and studied over the past 12 years so I think it fitting that when contemplating a virtual pilgrimage I follow that route.

Romea Germanica through Emilia & Romagna

I’ve made a list of the people that have walked with me along my path – those who have assisted, supported, encouraged, and counseled me from my beginning in this society until now. To them I will put the following questions and ask that they respond in writing for this virtual vigil pilgrimage:

  • What do you see as the role of a Pelican individually and as an Order in the Society?
  • What are your thoughts on avoiding burnout when volunteering in the Society?
  • What other words do you have for me to consider and hold close to my heart as I contemplate His and Her Royal Majesty’s offer?

I will start my virtual vigil pilgrimage by reminiscing on my actual trip to the start – Francolino, in the Province of Ferrara on the banks of the Po River. The participants will be addressing their response letters to my main stops along the Romea Germanica Way: Francolino, Ferrara, Ravenna, and Forli. I’ll arrange their responses by those subheadings and post them on this blog as a virtual vigil pilgrimage reminder for perpetuity.

Pellicano in Gules and Or

I want to give a little background on why I’ve requested the letters be addressed to only certain stops on the pilgrimage route.

Francolino – this is a small town near Ferrara where the Po River can still be seen. I learned of Francolino from the archivist at Archivio Storica di Ferrara, Dottorossa Corinna Mezzetti. I have visited her archive over 6 times during the past 6 years and she has been a source of great help to me in my question to learn about the people of Ferrara before 1600. She has searched and pulled items that she thought I’d love, like a citizenship scroll from 1525 and a book of the dead from the 15th and 16th centuries containing women’s names for my onomastics articles.

During one of our appointments, in Dr. Mezzetti’s office over espresso, I asked where I could drive to go see the River Po, as it had rerouted itself away from Ferrara proper over the centuries. She told me I could ride my bike to Francolino, no need to drive. So I did. I didn’t check the distance, though. It was a hot bike ride on a friend’s grandmother’s bike from the 80s. 12 miles round trip that day. But! I saw the countryside and passed a couple little churches that were lovely. I got to stand on the banks of the Po surrounded by a land I’ve come to love. It was totally worth the sweat. Next time I’ll drive, though!

Ferrara – I’ve already told you a bit about the Archivio so now I’ll add that the city of Ferrara is the best kept secret in Emilia-Romagna. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site, has more bicycles than people, has an exquisite culinary scene, ancient city walls still standing, the castle of the Este family, and is the final resting place of Lucretia Borgia. Also Ludovico Ariosto is from here and his family Palazzo is now a Library of the University of Ferrara – and if you ever go there I’ll tell you where to find a secret stone bench from the Renaissance era with a Morris board carved into it. Palazzo Schifanoia, Palazzo Diamanté, Palazzina Marfisa d’Este… Ferrara has so many significant places. It is also the home of my second family and “sister” Irene Mignani. Highly recommend.

Ravenna – where to start? Ravenna has 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It is the former capitol of Byzantium and contains the most complete, artistic, and breathtaking mosaics of that time period. I visited the mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Spring of 2022 and will always think of those spectacular stars as the epitome of mosaic beauty. I’m not the only one who things that, UNESCO describes this woman’s tomb site as “the earliest and best preserved of all mosaic monuments, and at the same time one of the most artistically perfect”.

Forli – This is one of the first places I made sure to go when I started traveling to Italy. This is land invested to Caterina Sforza when she married Girolamo Riario and also the land she so vehemently defended from assassins, coups, and Cesare Borgia. The photo below is me at the Rocca di Ravaldino, the former headquarters of Caterina and her army.

Ravaldino Fortress

Caterina actually lived here after her husband’s murder with her children and court. Some of the most important events of her life took place at Ravaldino. Also, here she cultivated an herbal garden for her now famous Experimenti. The photo below is her coat of arms set on the same point where Cesare Borgia’s canons broke through the wall at the Battle of Forli.

The wall Cesare Borgia felled to capture Ravaldino

Reference Websites


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