Sunday, 7 April 2013

Easter in Walsingham

As a special way of celebrating Easter this year we decided to visit the Roman Catholic National Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. We had been meaning to make a visit there for some time, and since my father-in-law was unwell after suffering a stroke we decided the time was right for the trip. So we headed to the small village on the north coast of East Anglia on Saturday 30 March, stopping at the capital city of Norfolk, Norwich, for the night.

Walsingham countryside
The Roman Catholic shrine is set in a peaceful country setting; as we walked down the narrow road that led to it, we passed many fields wherein sheep grazed and bleated. It was a cold day, and we had to walk a mile from the High Street. We offered our labour as kind of penance like pilgrims did in medieval times.

We went straight to the Chapel of Reconciliation where we celebrated mass with other worshippers, many of whom had obviously travelled far. There were many people of Sri Lankan Tamil and Filipino descent. The readings, the songs, the priest’s sermon and of course the location all combined to make the mass a fitting celebration of Easter. I had an overwhelming feeling of holiness, peace and community in that chapel.
Chapel of Reconcilation

After mass, we had lunch in the tea room. Then we visited the gift shop, the Slipper Chapel and the Chapel of the Holy Spirit before making our way back to our car and starting our long journey back home. We thoroughly enjoyed the trip to England’s national Catholic shrine, which was once known as ‘England’s Nazareth’. As a Catholic it is heartening to see that Walsingham is once again seeing something of a revival despite its tumultuous past.

History of the Shrine

Richeldis de Faverches
The Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham was established in 1061, when according to tradition Richeldis de Faverches prayed that she might undertake some special work in honour of Our Lady. In answer to her prayer the Virgin Mary led her in spirit to Nazareth, showed her the house where the Annunciation occurred and asked her to build a replica in Walsingham to serve as a perpetual memorial of the Annunciation.

The Holy House was built in Walsingham and around 1130 a community of Augustinian Canons took charge of the foundation and Walsingham became one of the notable Shrines in medieval Europe. All the kings of England from Henry III (1226) to Henry VIII (1511) came to Walsingham on pilgrimage. In 1538 the Reformation caused the Priory property to be handed over to the King’s Commissioners and the famous statue of Our Lady of Walsingham was taken to London and burnt. Nothing remains today of the original shrine, but its site is marked on the lawn in “The Abbey Grounds” in the village.

Our Lady of Walsingham
After the destruction of the Shrine, Walsingham ceased to be a place of pilgrimage. In 1896 Charlotte Pearson Boyd purchased the Slipper Chapel outside the village and it was restored for Catholic use. A Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham was built in the Church of the Annunciation in King’s Lynn and from there the first public pilgrimage to Walsingham, since the Reformation, came on 20th August 1897. In 1922 a new vicar, the Rev. Alfred Hope Pattern established a Shrine in the Parish Church of St. Mary. This was transferred to the newly built Anglican Shrine in 1931.

In 1934 Cardinal Bourne led a pilgrimage on 10,000 and declared that the National Shrine of Our Lady was to be at the Slipper Chapel. Since the 1950’s the Shrine of Our Lady has developed constantly and it has become firmly re-established as a place of pilgrimage and worship. Today over 250,000 people (pilgrims and tourists) visit the Roman Catholic Shrine each year. On most summer weekends there are Diocesan or other organisations’ pilgrimages taking place.

Slipper Chapel

Slipper Chapel
In the Middle Ages Walsingham was one of the four great shrines of Christendom with pilgrims coming from all parts of the known world. There were wayside chapels along the pilgrim route and the Slipper Chapel was the last and most important of these. Pilgrims stopped here to go to mass and to confess their sins before walking the last mile to the Holy House in Walsingham. The name of the chapel may come from the fact that pilgrims removed their shoes to walk the last mile or it may come from the word “slype” meaning a way through or “something in between”, the slype or slip chapel standing as it did between the holy land of Walsingham and the rest of England.