Trek To The Ancient Site of Our Lady of Walsingham

News: World News
by Martina Moyski  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  June 21, 2023   

Our Lady: 'Whoever seeks my help there will not go away empty-handed'

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WALSINGHAM, England (ChurchMilitant.com) - Record numbers of pilgrims are expected in August for a three-day journey to England's historic Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham.

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Our Lady of Walsingham

As they have since 2009, pilgrims will be walking the roughly 60 miles from the town of Ely to Walsingham, northeast of London near the North Sea. Their journey will conclude with Holy Mass in Walsingham's Chapel of Reconciliation.

The pilgrimage to the ancient shrine is organized by the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales (LMS).

In an email exchange on June 20, LMS chairman Dr. Joseph Shaw talked to Church Militant about the significance of the pilgrimage.

He observed the pilgrimage shows the "growing appeal of the ancient Mass and traditional devotions to new generations in England and all over the world."

"Those who meet our pilgrims will immediately see how normal and diverse this movement is and how we seek nothing more than to live our Catholic faith as intensely as possible and in union with our bishops and the Pope," he emphasized.

The LMS chairman gave shout-outs to other pilgrimages throughout the world that have influenced his efforts, noting, "We are particularly inspired by the revival of walking pilgrimages by Traditional Catholics in other countries: the Chartres Pilgrimage in France and the Christus Rex Pilgrimage in Australia."

People from all over England and Europe flocked to the holy site.

Deacon Nick Donnelly, a Catholic author based in the diocese of Lancaster, England, also spoke of the significance of Marian devotions to England.

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Dr. Joseph Shaw

"The Marian devotions of Walsingham have come to signify the survival of English Catholicism," he said.

He also noted the LMS event is "an expression of this English charism of Marian devotion and the determination that no matter what steps are taken to suppress the traditional Catholic Faith, it will survive and thrive in our hearts, families and parishes."

Visions of Mary

The history of the shrine dates back almost 1,000 years to 1061, although Marian devotion in England dates back even earlier. An Anglo-Saxon woman named Richeldis de Faverches, who desired to honor the Blessed Mother, subsequently experienced a series of visions of the Virgin Mary.

During these visions, Mary showed Richeldis her home in Nazareth, where the Incarnation occurred. Mary asked the woman to build a replica of the Nazareth home in Walsingham as a place of pilgrimage and prayer. Mary promised the woman, "Whoever seeks my help there will not go away empty-handed."

 

Richeldis got to work arranging the construction, which was plagued with many obstacles. Finally, Richeldis awoke one night to find the house had been successfully built, but at a location 200 yards from the original site. She said she saw angels leaving the completed building.

England's Nazareth, as the site has also come to be known, housed what is still considered to be the most sacred image in all of England, featuring the Madonna and Child. It has come to be known as Our Lady of Walsingham.

Noteworthy Place Targeted

People from all over England and Europe flocked to the holy site throughout the remainder of the Middle Ages. It ranked alongside Jerusalem, Rome and Santiago de Compostela as popular pilgrim destinations.

Erasmus (1466–1536), the famous Dutch philosopher and theologian, trekked his way to Walsingham and is said to have prayed to Our Lady with these words:

Alone of all women, Mother and virgin, Mother most happy, Virgin Most pure, now we, impure as we are, come to see you who are all pure: we salute you; we worship you as how we may with our humble offerings; may your Son grant us that, imitating his most holy manners, we also, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, may deserve spiritually to conceive the Lord Jesus in our inmost soul, and once conceived, never to lose Him. Amen.

The shrine was destroyed by Henry VIII in 1538 as part of his rampage against Catholics and Catholic properties.

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Painting of Henry VIII two years before destroying the shrine

Deacon Donnelly explained to Church Militant why the heretic king targeted this shrine in particular:

Walsingham was the beating Catholic heart of England, which made its destruction a priority for the heresiarch King Henry VIII. The Anglo-Saxon Holy House was destroyed, the Priory left in ruins, and it was thought that Our Lady of Walsingham's statue was burned by Thomas Cromwell in 1539 as part of his bonfire of sacred statues of Our Lady taken from England's Marian shrines.

Sir Philip Howard (1557–1595), one of the 40 martyrs of England and Wales canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1970, visited the site of the shrine after its destruction, composing this lament:

Weep, weep, O Walsingham
whose days are nights,
blessings turned to blasphemies,
Holy deeds to despites.
Sin is where Our Lady sat,
Heaven turned is to hell,
Satan sits where Our Lord did sway,
Walsingham, oh farewell!

Walsingham became a sleepy backwater town for centuries, but the faithful never forgot the holy significance of the place and passed on its blessings to the next generation.

Pilgrimage Grows

Efforts to return the shrine to its former glory resumed in fits and starts after England lifted restrictions on Catholics in 1829. Momentum built, and in 1938, a record 50,000 pilgrims visited the shrine. The World Wars, however, brought an end to the pilgrimages.

The dedication of Saturday to Our Lady originated in Anglo-Saxon England.

But now, this year's pilgrimage is expected to attract over 200 participants, up from 94 in 2019. It is scheduled from Thursday, Aug. 24, to Sunday, Aug. 27.

Despite the fluctuations over the centuries, Dcn. Donnelly underscored the constant deep devotion to Mary in his homeland:

Devotion to Our Lady has been a characteristic of English devotional and spiritual life since Anglo-Saxon times (450–1066 AD). This devotion is reflected in the fact that the dedication of Saturday to Our Lady originated in Anglo-Saxon England and the bestowal on England of the unique title of the "Dowry of Mary."

People who are interested in learning more about the Marian pilgrimage to Walsingham or joining in can visit the LMS site.

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