Walsingham is a village in North Norfolk, and its internationally famous shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham is a place for retreats, prayer, celebration and healing and a destination for pilgrimage.
In 1061, according to the Walsingham legend, a Saxon noblewoman, Richeldis de Faverches, had a vision of the Virgin Mary in which she was instructed to build a replica of the house of the Holy Family in Nazareth in honour of the Annunciation. Her family name does not appear in the Domesday book. When it was built, the Holy House in Walsingham was panelled with wood and contained a wooden statue of an enthroned Virgin Mary with the child Jesus seated on her lap. Among its relics was a phial of the Virgin's milk. Walsingham became one of northern Europe's great places of pilgrimage and remained so through most of the Middle Ages. We will be rightly sceptical about the detail of the story, but the place has become holy through centuries of prayer and tens of thousands of pilgrims.
A priory was established on the site in 1153, and the Chapel of Our Lady of Walsingham was enclosed within the priory. The faithful came from all parts of England and the Continent until the destruction of the priory under King Henry VIII in 1538. Today the main road of the pilgrims through Newmarket, Brandon and Fakenham is still called the Palmers' (Pilgrims') Way. Gifts made the shrine immensely rich, and many miracles were sought and claimed at the shrine. Several English kings visited the shrine.
In 1537 the last Prior assented to the destruction of Walsingham Priory and assisted the king's commissioners in the removal of the figure of Our Lady and many of the gold and silver ornaments and in the general spoliation of the shrine. With the shrine dismantled and the priory destroyed, the site was sold by order of Henry VIII to Thomas Sidney for a private mansion.
The Roman Catholic church began to revive the cult of Our Lady of Walsingham from the early 20th century, and then the Anglican vicar of Walsingham (from 1921), Father Alfred Hope Patten, began the creation of an Anglican Marian shrine. Building began in 1931 and it quickly became an important centre for Anglican spirituality and mission. The Anglican National Pilgrimage takes place on the Spring Bank Holiday (the Monday following the last Sunday in May) and used to be met by Protestant picket lines. The Student Cross pilgrimage on Good Friday visits both the Anglican and Catholic shrines and the National Youth Pilgrimage is in the first week of August, also visiting the Anglican shrine. The Anglican Shrine has wonderful facilities for visitors, including modern residential accommodation, restaurant, and an enclosed garden. The Holy House was rebuilt and is contained within the shrine church. The village makes a great day out, with shops ranging from the quaint to the bizarre, tea shops, pubs and parts of the medieval site, as well as the shrine itself. The shrine is a wonderful place for a few days of rest and recuperation or a more active retreat. The Roman Catholic and Orthodox centres in the village are also well worth a visit.
A network of Walsingham Cells has been created within the Anglican Church - our nearest meeting regularly at Lincoln Cathedral.
All Saints and Walsingham
Walsingham isn't everyone's cup of tea, treading a path a bit close, for some, to superstition or pious camp, but for a number of our congregation and our Rector it is a place of inspiration, connecting us with the inherited tradition of the Church of England, reminding us of the example of selfless service set by our Lord's mother, and providing a structure for prayer, spiritual refreshment, healing, renewal and contemplation. On 3rd Fridays we hold a Votive Mass of Our Lady of Walsingham at 12.00. A handful of people visit the shrine from time to time, and we have plans to make a more substantial visit. We leave prayers at the shrine for friends and parishioners who are in need. The Rector is a Priest Associate of the Shrine. Sadly the Guardians of the Shrine have taken Walsingham down the path of Forward in Faith, rejecting the priesthood and episcope of women, but several of us believe it is only by more open-minded Anglo-Catholics getting involved that the shrine can be reclaimed for the broader church.