The Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham (known as "England's Nazareth") is an Anglican and Catholic shrine to the Virgin Mary in rural Norfolk, England. It was founded in the 11th century after a local noblewoman had a vision of the Virgin Mary and became a very popular medieval pilgrimage destination. Suppressed at the English Reformation, the shrine was revived in the early 20th century and once again attracts many pilgrims.
History of Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham
In the mid-11th century, Little Walsingham was a thriving village located halfway between the major city of Norwich and the wealthy town of King's Lynn. The lady of the manor in this village was Lady Richeldis de Faverches, a Saxon noblewomen. A young widow with one son, Geoffrey, she was known for her piety, devotion to Mary, and good works.
In 1061, the Virgin Mary appeared to Lady Richeldis in a vision, transporting her to the Holy House in Nazareth and requesting that an exact replica be built in Walsingham. The vision was repeated three times and the house was miraculously completed overnight using the materials provided by Lady Richeldis. Another legend says that a miraculous spring appeared in the ground to mark the spot where Mary which her shrine to be constructed.
Geoffrey de Faverches, who may have participated in the First Crusade (1096-99), left instructions in his will for a priory to be built around the Holy House. This was done by the Augustinians in the mid-12th century. The Slipper Chapel was built around 1340 as the last pilgrim chapel before Walsingham. In 1347, a Franciscan friary was established in Little Walsingham by Elizabeth de Burgh, Countess of Clare.
Helped by widespread enthusiasm for the Holy Land and devotion to Mary in medieval England, the shrine and priory at Little Walsingham steadily grew in popularity among pilgrims and monarchs alike. The first king to visit was Henry III in 1226. He was followed by Edward I (visited 11 times), Edward II (1315), Edward III (1361), King David of Scotland (1364), Richard II (1383), Queen Joan (1427), Edward IV (1469), and Henry VI (1487).
King Henry VIII was the last of the pre-Reformation kings to visit. His first wife, Catherine of Aragon, was a frequent visitor as well. But it was under King Henry VIII that the shrine was suppressed in 1538, as part of the English Reformation. The image of Our Lady of Walsingham and the Holy House were both burned to ashes.
In 1890, Charlotte Boyd bought the Slipper Chapel. Originally an Anglican, Miss Boyd converted to Catholicism after visiting the Marian shrines of Europe. In 1897, she donated it to Downside Abbey, the chapel was refounded by Pope Leo XIII, and it received the first Roman Catholic pilgrimage since the Middle Ages. In 1934, the Slipper Chapel was named the Roman Catholic National Shrine of Walsingham.
In 1921, Friar Patten, the Vicar of Walsingham, revived the medieval pilgrimage among Anglicans. He commissioned a new statue of Our Lady of Walsingham, based on the image shown on the medieval seal of the priory. The statue was placed in Little Walsingham's parish church in 1922 and the first organized Anglican pilgrimage took place in 1923. Anglican pilgrims began to arrive in steadily increasing numbers thereafter.
In 1948, a major "Pilgrimage of Prayer and Penance" was made by Catholics around England to Walsingham, in response to Pope Pius XII's call for repentance after the evils of World War II and for prayers for peace in Britain around the world.
A Catholic statue of Our Lady of Walsingham was made in 1957 and crowned by the papal legate before a crowd of over 10,000 people on August 15. In 1981, the Catholic Chapel of the Reconciliation was built next to the Slipper Chapel.
In April 2005, construction began on a new Catholic parish church in Little Walsingham village. It was dedicated by Bishop Micheal Evans on the Feast of the Annunciation in March 2007.
What to See at Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham
The Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham actually consists of several shrines and chapels of various denominations, which are scattered around the village of Little Walsingham and the nearby village of Houghton St Giles. Since its revival in the early 20th century, the shrine and pilgrimage of Walsingham has had a strong ecumenical tradition.
The Anglican Shrine Church, built by Friar Patten in the early 1930s, is located near the center of Little Walsingham. It contains a replica of the Holy House and the statue of Our Lady of Walsingham made in 1922. Its crypt contains the Holy Well, which was discovered during the construction of the church and is believed to have healing properties.
During the pilgrimage season (Easter to October), several services are held in the Shrine Church each day. Sprinkling at the Holy Well - in which pilgrims receive a sip of water, the sign of the cross on their foreheads, and water poured over their hands - is available at 2:30 pm each day.
The Anglican Shrine is administered by the College of Guardians, comprised of 20 priests and male and female laity, who are its legal trustees. The Guardians can be identified by the insignia they wear at the Shrine Church and during the National Pilgrimage: a star suspended on black and white ribbon and a blue mantle.
The Slipper Chapel, located about a mile south of Walsingham in Houghton St Giles, is the primary Catholic shrine at Walsingham. Built in the 14th century, it is the only surviving pilgrim station of many that once marked the pilgrimage route. Its unusual name derives from the pilgrims who would remove their shoes here to walk the rest of the way to Walsingham barefoot. The church was restored and reconsecrated by the Roman Catholic Church in 1938.
Also in 1938, the Chapel of the Holy Ghost was added to the church to provide more room for pilgrims. The small chapel contains votive candles and a fine modern mosaic by Anna Wyner called Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost - Our Lady in the Midst of the Apostles (1988).
Next to the Slipper Chapel is the modern Chapel of Reconciliation.
The main Catholic site in the village of Walsingham is the Church of the Annunciation (a.k.a. New Parish Church), dedicated in 2007. Made of brick and stone, it has a round sanctuary and the latest technology in renewable energy.
There is an Orthodox presence at Walsingham as well. The Greek Orthodox Church worships in the restored stationmaster house and the Russian Orthodox Church has a shrine by the river.
Also of interest in the village of Little Walsingham is the Shirehall Museum, which includes an exhibit on the history of the pilgrimage to Walsingham; the Parish Church of St Mary, where the modern statue was original placed; and the ruins of a 13th-century Franciscan friary.
Pilgrimages and Events
In addition to the specific pilgrimages below, a longer pilgrimage is made by individuals and groups from Ely to Walsingham (about 50 miles).
During pilgrimage season (Easter-October), services are held multiple times each day in the Anglican Shrine Church. In addition, every Saturday and Wednesday evening, the image of Our Lady of Walsingham is carried in procession around the gardens. Finally, on Sunday afternoons, the Procession of the Blessed Sacrament carries a monstrance with the consecrated host, accompanied by pilgrims singing the Lauda Sion hymn.
The Anglican National Pilgrimage to Walsingham is held on the last Monday of May each year. At 11 am, the High Street is closed to traffic and the Shrine Church is locked. At noon, a Mass is held in the Abbey Grounds.
Since 2004 this has been followed by a lunch interval from 1-2:30 pm, during which it is traditional to have a picnic in the abbey gardens. At 2:30 pm there is a sermon in the Abbey Grounds, followed by a procession.
The Catholic National Pilgrimage begins at the Slipper Chapel in the village of Houghton St Giles, then proceeds along the scenic "Holy Mile" to the Catholic church in Little Walsingham.
Quick Facts on Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham
|Names:||Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham|
|Dedication:||Virgin Mary (of Walsingham)|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||52.893710° N, 0.875355° E|
|Lodging:||View hotels near Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham|
- Walsingham.org.uk - official website of the Shrine of Walsingham
- Ian Ousby, Blue Guide England, 11th ed. (1995), 334.
- The Spiritual Traveler: England, Scotland, Wales, 116-17.
- Kevin J. Wright, Catholic Shrines of Western Europe, 31-33.
- Photos of Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham - here on Sacred Destinations
Map of Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham
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