The first account of this shrine appears in a ballad published by Richard Pynson in the late 1400’s. The story goes that in the year 1061, during the reign of St. Edward the Confessor, Our Lady appeared in a dream to Richeldis de Faverches, a wealthy young widow in the area of Norfolk , northeast of London and near the North Sea . Richeldis had prayed for guidance in her desire to honor Our Lady in some special way, and she saw the dream as the answer to her prayer. Our Blessed Lady took her in spirit to Nazareth and told her to build a replica of the Holy House in Walsingham as a memorial to the Annunciation and, thus, the Incarnation, so that “all who beseech her help shall find succor there”.
Richeldis was obviously given the dimensions of the Holy House by Our Lady. Her dilemma was where to put it on her property. She prayed for guidance, and the next morning found two areas of dry ground, the exact dimensions of the Holy House. She chose the one closest to two wells and work commenced. Try as they might, the workmen could not get the wooden walls of the little Holy House to fit. Again, Richeldis prayed for guidance. The next morning she awoke to find the house miraculously moved to the second site — some two hundred feet away — and much more soundly built than any of the local workmen could have managed! Pynson’s ballad claims many miracles “too numerous to mention” to all the faithful who visited the Holy House.
In 1145, Richeldis’ son, Geoffrey de Faverches, was preparing to go on the second Crusade. Before doing so, he willed the Holy House and grounds, along with the parish Church of All Saints, to his chaplain, Edwin. The Augustinian Cannons were brought in by Edwin to help conduct the affairs of the shrine. It is believed that by the time the Augustinains took over, Walsingham had become a popular place of pilgrimage with the English faithful. About 1150 the Cannons build a priory and ministered to the local population as well as to visiting pilgrims. The shrine obviously increased in popularity because we know that two hundred years later, they erected a much larger priory. It must have been a very impressive complex, being 250 feet in length, eighty feet in width and made of stone brought in by sea from another part of England . The central tower had four gilded spires. In addition to the Priory church, there was a small chapel to St. Laurence, in which was kept a relic of St. Peter’s finger. This latter fascinating fact we know from — of all people — Erasmus, who came to Walsingham on pilgrimage in 1514. Erasmus was so impressed with the shrine that he composed a pilgrim’s prayer which is still in use today.
Because of the increasing numbers of pilgrims to the shrine, in the mid-fourteenth century the Chapel of Our Lady was erected to encase and protect the original Holy House. At the time, it was referred to as the “Novum Opus” or “New Work”. About the same time a statue of Our Lady was introduced into the Holy House next to the altar. What the appearance of this image of Our Lady of Walsingham was we can only guess. Erasmus referred to it as a “little image, remarkable neither for size, material or execution” … “in the dark at the right side of the altar.” Prior John Snoring was responsible for this expenditure of funds, which got him in trouble with the other canons for spending too much money. He was dismissed for this reason. It sad today that the only part of the Priory remaining is the magnificent East Window; so whether the good Prior overspent or not, we must thank him for giving us this hint of the magnificence of the destroyed shrine. The fate of the Holy House, the relics and the statue we shall discover shortly.
As pilgrim shrines gained in importance, it was common for smaller chapels, shrines and stone crosses to mark the pilgrims’ way to their goal. Of course, the faithful came on foot, their journey lasting many months, sometimes years; so these markers encouraged them to continue on their way. So was built the Slipper Chapel in the mid to late 1300’s. This lovely little Gothic-style (also called “perpendicular”) chapel is just a little larger than dimensions of the Holy House — 28’6” x 12’5”. It marks the last stop on the way to Walsingham being exactly one mile from the priory. Most historians believe that it is called the Slipper Chapel from the habit of the pilgrims removing their shoes at this stop and walking the last mile barefoot. It could also come from the Old English word “slype” meaning “something in between” as it was between Walsingham and the outside world. The Slipper Chapel is dedicated to St. Catherine of Alexandria , patroness of pilgrims. Interestingly, the chapel was oriented so that on her feast day, November 25th, the sun rises directly behind the altar. Another interesting fact is that there is a chapel of St. Catherine one mile outside Nazareth which was maintained by the Knights of St. Catherine. No wonder Walsingham is called “England ’s Nazareth ”!
Of course, all was destroyed at the Reformation except the mediaeval parish church and the “Slipper Chapel”.
THE ANGLICAN SHRINE
In the early 20th century the vicar of Walsingham, Father Hope Patten, re-established the tradition of pilgrimage to Walsingham. Soon thousands of Anglican pilgrims visited the site each year and its popularity continues to grow. Between 1931 and 1937, opposite the Knights Gate, was built the new Anglican Shrine that contains a modern interpretation of the original Holy House, Holy Well and statue of Our Lady. Although Father Hope Patten believed the site to be that of the original Holy House, a myth that continues to this day, the area it covers is now known to have once been an Almonry for the medieval Priory. In addition local legend states that, when excavated, the Holy Well contained within the building was discovered to be a typical medieval domestic well that contained many items of a distinctly non-religious nature.
The modern Anglican shrine is home to a host of medieval traditions that are seldom found within the modern Anglican church. The building contains fifteen side chapels, said to represent the mysteries of the rosary, many of which contain medieval ‘style’ wall paintings.
A detail of the wall paintings within one of the side chapels within the Anglican shrine. For many of the Anglican visitors the shrine, with its incense, paintings and statues, is the first glimpse they have ever had of how a medieval English church would have looked, smelt and felt. For some the experience is overpowering.
The inside of the Holy House as seen through the ‘squint’ in the rear wall. The priest celebrates mass before the crowned and robed statue of the Virgin. (Warning; the use of flash photography in the Holy House during the elevation of the Host can lead to accidental spillages).
The style of this Anglican shrine is of an extreme Anglo-Catholic kind, but the ecumenical movement has had its influence within the Anglican fold, and pilgrims come who are of more varied backgrounds. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, led a youth pilgrimage there, and he has an evangelical background.
THE CATHOLIC SHRINE
my source: The Basilica of Our Lady of Walsingham
|the interior of the Slipper Chapel|
- Pope Leo XIII issued a Papal decree from Rome blessing the Marian image for public veneration on 6 February 1897.
- Pope Pius XII granted a canonical coronation to the Roman Catholic image via the Papal Nuncio, Bishop Gerald O'Hara, on 15 August 1954 with a gold crown funded by her female devotees, now venerated in the Slipper Chapel.
- Pope John Paul II venerated the image for Pentecost at the Wembley Stadium on 29 May 1982 during an open-air Holy Mass.
- Pope Francis raised her sanctuary to the status of a minor basilica on 27 December 2015 through an apostolic decree from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.
In 1340, the Slipper Chapel was built at Houghton St Giles, a mile outside Walsingham. This was the final “station” chapel on the way to Walsingham. It was here that pilgrims would remove their shoes to walk the final “Holy Mile” to the shrine barefoot.
In 1896, Charlotte Pearson Boyd purchased the 14th-century Slipper Chapel, which had seen centuries of secular use, and set about its restoration. The statue of the Mother and Child was carved at Oberammergau and based on the design of the original statue – a design found on the medieval seal of Walsingham Priory.
In 1897, Pope Leo XIII re-established the restored 14th-century Slipper Chapel as a Roman Catholic shrine, now the centre of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham.
There is frequently an ecumenical dimension to pilgrimages to Walsingham, with many pilgrims arriving at the Slipper Chapel and then walking to the Holy House at the Anglican shrine. Student Cross is the longest continuous walking pilgrimage in Britain to Walsingham which takes place over Holy Week and Easter.
In the United States the National Shrine to Our Lady of Walsingham for the Episcopal Church is located in Grace Church, Sheboygan, Wisconsin, and for the Catholic Church at Saint Bede's Church, Williamsburg, Virginia. Our Lady of Walsingham is remembered by Roman Catholics on 24 September and by Anglicans on 15 October. The personal ordinariate established for former Anglicans in England and Wales is named for of Our Lady of Walsingham. The cathedral of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter in Houston, Texas, is named for Our Lady of Walsingham. A Western Rite Antiochian Orthodox parish named for Our Lady of Walsingham is in Mesquite, Texas.
In addition, some people are invested into the Scapular of Our Lady of Walsingham while the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham is named in her honor.
CHAPEL OF RECONCILIATIONCOMPLETED IN 1982
The building of this Chapel of Our Lady of Reconciliation began in September 1980 to replace an open-air altar. The Chapel was blessed by Cardinal Hume in 1981 at the National Pilgrimage and it was consecrated by Bishop Alan Clark of East Anglia on May 22nd 1982.
A TYPICAL NORFOLK BARN
The style of this Chapel is taken from a typical Norfolk barn. Together with the cloister, the intention was to blend with the simplicity of local farms around the Shrine.
The 12.00 noon Mass is the focal point of the Liturgy at the Shrine each day; and each afternoon, there is a period of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament exposed on the altar in the Chapel of Reconciliation. This is a blessed time at the Shrine when people can appreciate the peace of Walsingham, for everyone is invited here by Mary who directs them towards Jesus her Son in the Eucharist.
The Chapel of Reconciliation at Walsingham reminds us of the church at Taize with its title and is similar in purpose to the huge underground basilica in Lourdes and the smaller one at the shrine of St John Mary Vianney in Ars, but, I think, it is more beautiful than all of them.
Nevertheless, I think it could do with improvement. Like so many post-Vatican II churches, it was designed by Catholics who discovered the joy of their solidarity in Christ but forgot to emphasise other aspects of what a church should be. It looks as though the horizontal dimension of liturgy is all that there is: it could be a parliament building, as though the Church only belongs to this life.
Yet Sacorsanctum Concilium tells us that the liturgy of the Church is a participation in the liturgy of heaven. What is there to remind us that we celebrate Mass with the angels and the saints and that, at the consecration, the sanctuary is full of angels in adoration? Where in the church is the reminder that both Jesus and Mary are in heaven and that at Mass heaven and earth become one? We are approaching the heavenly Jerusalem with myriads of angels, with the saints and the whole company of heaven, and are to be introduced into the presence of the Father through the veil which is the flesh and blood of Christ, as the Letter to the Hebrews teaches us. Where can I get even a hint of this in this chapel?
I am not suggesting pulling down the church and building another one. For one thing, it is a very fine building, very fit for purpose; but,by itself, it concentrates too much on the horizontal and too little on our vertical relationship with God. I suggest nothing radical. Let us begin with what we have got. What about the saints whose relics are in the altar stone? Why not put their statues in the church, perhaps with a light before each to draw attention to them. Another suggestion is some carefully chosen icons. If when we celebrate the Eucharist, we are united by the Holy Spirit to the angels and the saints in their heavenly liturgy so that they are present among us – the Spirit abolishing anything that separates them from us. then their images, blessed by the Church for this purpose, manifest their presence to us. (I learned that, not from Orthodox but from South American peasants.) The modern basilica of Our Lady of Guardalupe does not need reminders of the union between heaven and earth in the liturgy because of the presence and devotion to the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the tilma of Juan Diego. Taize also uses icons. Especially in France, home of the ressourcement theology that contributed so much to Vatican II and is behind the theology of the “new eucharistic prayers”, religious communities like Bethlehem, Jerusalem, St John and Chemin Neuf, use icons to good effect.
I am sure that artists, architects and liturgists can work together to redress the emphasis in favour of liturgy as entering a new relationship with God in Christ, a relationship with God that is the foundation of our relationship with each other.
Talking of icons, it seems we are already on the same wavelength:
As part of the Golden Jubilee Celebrations of 1984, the icon of “The Mother of God of Walsingham” was commissioned by the Director Fr Clive Birch sm.
It was painted by Archimandrite David, of the Russian Orthodox community of St. Seraphim, Walsingham. In reminding us of the Eastern tradition, this icon is a call to unity between East and West. Unity between all Christians is the constant prayer of the Shrines in Walsingham.
At the end of the morning procession from the village, the pilgrims gather at the Icon and recite a prayer of dedication written by the late Holy Father. After Benediction in the afternoon, the celebrant moves over to the Icon and it becomes the focus of our prayers for our country when the Prayer for England is recited and the Marian Anthem proper to the liturgical season is sung.
under the patronage of Blessed John Henry Newman
The Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham was established in 2011 by Pope Benedict XVI to allow Anglicans to enter into the full communion of the Catholic Church whilst retaining much of their heritage and traditions. It now has the full support and blessing of Pope Francis.
We exist to promote the unity of all Christians with the Apostolic See, and faithfully to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ through the rich treasures of our traditions. You are welcome – come and find out more.
The building's former use is still readily obvious, but it has been enhanced by a dome and a cross, and an icon of Christ in majesty above the main entrance. The residential building of the community have been built on the fomer platform, which judging by its appearance must have been rebuilt very soon before the station closed in the 1960s. Also on the platform is an icon workshop, icon-making forming the main business of the community here. Behind the building, the station yard is now the monastery garden, the vegetable patch stalked by noisy hens. It reminds me very much of small monasteries I have seen in Russia.
You enter a porch, and then step into the former waiting room, which forms the nave of the church. The interior is typically Orthodox, feeling at once timeless and ancient. The iconostasis screens the holy end from the main body of the interior, beautiful icons representing mystical windows. A lectern bears the icon of St Seraphim, and the icon of the day on high feast days. As with all Orthodox churches, the interior is relatively bare, with a single bench at the back for those unable to stand through the long Orthodox liturgies.
St Seraphim is no longer used for regular Sunday worship – that now happens at the Orthodox Parish church in Great Walsingham, consecrated in 1986 – but it still hosts the Liturgy on St Seraphim's feast day, and on other special holy days. However, it remains open every day, a witness for visitors to the other great Christian tradition of the world, a tradition that will always remain foreign to western eyes, but which seems perfectly at home among these remote, high-hedged Norfolk lanes.