Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham

One of the holiest places in England is of course the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in Norfolk, "England's Nazareth" - the title derives from the belief that Mary appeared in a vision to Richeldis de Faverches, a devout English noblewoman, in 1061, she had a holy house built for the Blessed Virgin Mary and the site became a shrine and a place of pilgrimage. The Holy House was a copy of the home in which the Annunciation occurred and it was built under the reign of Saint Edward the Confessor. The shrine eventually became an Abbey Church and the Augustinian Canons took care of it. Later in the Middle Ages the shrine became a central place of pilgrimage together with Canterbury and Glanstonsubury, when due to wars and political upheaval Rome became a difficult place to reach. The house was subject to Royal patronage since the time of Henry III and was also a place of pilgrimage for the Queens, first among all: Catherine of Aragon.

During a visit in 1513, Erasmus wrote: "When you look in you would say it is the abode of saints, so brilliantly does it shine with gems, gold and silver ... Our Lady stands in the dark at the right side of the altar ... a little image, remarkable neither for its size, material or workmanship."

Walsingham priory was suppressed in 1538, under the supervision of Sir Roger Townshend, a local landowner, Walsingham was loved and its fall became symbolic. The buildings were looted and largely destroyed, but the memory of it was less easy to eradicate. Sir Roger wrote to Cromwell in 1564 that a woman of nearby Wells (now called Wells-Next-The-Sea), had declared that a miracle had been done by the statue after it had been carried away to London. He had the woman put in the stocks on market day to be abused by the village folk but concluded "I cannot perceyve but the seyd image is not yett out of the sum of ther heddes."

In the 20th century Walsingham saw the restoration of the pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady. Today there are both Anglican and Roman Catholic shrines. After nearly four hundred years the 20th century saw the restoration of pilgrimage to Walsingham as a regular feature of Christian life in the British Isles and beyond.

Father Alfred Hope Patten SSC, appointed as the Church of England Vicar of Walsingham in 1921, showed a great interest in the pre-Reformation pilgrimage. His idea was to recreate a new statue of Our Lady of Walsingham based on the seal of the medieval priory. In 1922 the statue was set up and from that first night the church became again a popular site of pilgrimage.

Throughout the 1920s the number of pilgrims increased and in 1931, a new Holy House encased in a small pilgrimage church was dedicated and the statue translated there with great solemnity. In 1938 that church was enlarged to form the Anglican Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. 

Today, next to the Anglican shrine it is also possible to admire the ruins of the Medieval Abbey.

Do visit England's Nazareth if you have the chance, it's a magical and holy place. You won't be disappointed!


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