Our Lady of Walsingham’s feast day today. Ora pro nobis.
Photos by John Aron
Our story begins before the Norman Invasion in 1066. Five years earlier, a Lady of Walsingham Manor reported that she was ‘taken in spirit’ to Nazareth, shown the house where the Annunciation took place and asked by Our Lady to build a replica in Norfolk. She was promised that ‘Whoever seeks my help there will not go away empty-handed.’
Her simple wooden house soon became the focus of special devotions. In 1153, the Augustinian Canons founded a Priory there to care for the spiritual needs of the many pilgrims who flocked there. Their magnificent Priory Church was added in the fifteenth century.
In 1509, a devout 18 year old Henry VIII made the famous pilgrimage to Walsingham. In fact, it was His Majesty’s purported attachment to the Shrine which led the monks to hope that the Priory would be spared his wrath during the wholesale destruction of religious houses which followed his break with Rome.
To no avail. The Prior’s pleas went unheard. The Sub-Prior, Nicholas Mileham, was charged with conspiring to rebel and, on flimsy evidence, convicted of high treason and hanged outside the Priory walls. Eleven people in all, including two lay choristers were hanged, drawn and quartered. Henry’s henchmen stole everything they could, and the beautiful old place lay in ruins for centuries afterwards.
Exactly five hundred years after young Henry’s pilgrimage, enter the Latin Mass Society of England & Wales (LMS). 2009 was the year the LMS re-started the medieval Pilgrimage again. Inspired by the modern-day pilgrimages of Chartres in France and Christus Rex in Australia, and the medieval pilgrims who walked from all over England, the new pilgrimage was at first, a modest affair of a few pilgrims.
In 2016, 75 pilgrims of all ages converged on medieval Ely Cathedral on August 25th, and then proceeded to walk the 55 miles over three days. Each day they heard a sung Traditional Latin Mass, Confessions, recitation of the Rosary, the singing of traditional hymns, periods of silence and quiet reflection, and the chance to chat and relax with other pilgrims.
REGINA Magazine caught up with Jack Kilday, 21, to get his impressions of his first time on the walk to Walsingham.
REGINA: Tell us about yourself.
Jack Kilday (in sunglasses, carrying Our Lady on his shoulders, above): I am 21 and I currently live just outside Newcastle upon Tyne in England and work at a local special educational needs college.
REGINA: Did you know the story of Walsingham before this?
Jack Kilday: Yes I had heard of it and knew it had something to do with an Apparition of Our Lady and the request to build the Holy House but didn’t know all the ins and outs.
REGINA: How did you discover the Walsingham Pilgrimage?
Jack Kilday: I wished to make a pilgrimage but there was no local ones, but after joining the Latin Mass Society I saw a video of their pilgrimage and decided to take the opportunity.
REGINA: Did the experience live up to your ideas?
Jack Kilday: It went above and beyond my expectations. The experience was indescribable.
Jack Kilday: It was a great opportunity to make reparation for my sins and to pray for the conversion of England as well as friends and family.
Jack Kilday: I also had the grace to serve at the Holy Sacrifice while on pilgrimage at our daily Solemn Mass.
Jack Kilday: I was also able to receive a first blessing from Fr. James Mawdsley FSSP who was ordained in July.
Jack Kilday: I went by myself. Although that was part of the experience for me personally.
Jack Kilday: The camaraderie was great. We all got to know each other very well by the end of it all since we were spending 12 or more hours a day walking together.
Jack Kilday: The most surprising aspect of the Pilgrimage for me was the amount of families and young people (some as young as 10 and 11!!) on the pilgrimage.
Jack Kilday: I was surprised as well by the large number of people on the pilgrimage.
Jack Kilday: We also had a few pilgrims travel from other countries to make the pilgrimage – including one Priest from Australia.
REGINA: What was your best memory?
Jack Kilday: Probably when we arrived at the Slipper Chapel on the last day which marks the start of the Holy Mile. This is where pilgrims remove their shoes and walk barefoot on the last mile that leads up to where the Holy House and Priory stood before unfortunately being destroyed after Henry VIII founded Anglicanism.
REGINA: What advice would you give to those contemplating doing this?
Jack Kilday: If you haven’t attended the Extraordinary Form, I’d recommend doing so.
Jack Kilday: Finally, pray, practice and have fun. It is a long walk so it is worth getting some practice in.
Walsingham Priory stood a few miles from the sea in the northern part of Norfolk, England. Founded in the time of Edward the Confessor, the chapel of Our Lady of Walsingham was confirmed to the Augustinian Canons a century later and enclosed within the priory. From the first this shrine of Our Lady was a famous place of pilgrimage. Hither came the faithful from all parts of England and from the continent until the destruction of the priory by Henry VIII in 1538. To this day the main road of the pilgrims through Newmarket, Brandon, and Fakenham is still called the Palmers’ Way. Many were the gifts of lands, rents, and churches to the canons of Walsingham, and many the miracles wrought at Our Lady’s shrine. Henry III came on a pilgrimage to Walsingham in 1241, Edward I in 1280 and 1296, Edward II in 1315, Henry VI in 1455, Henry VII in 1487, and Henry VIII in 1513. Erasmus in fulfilment of a vow made a pilgrimage from Cambridge in 1511, and left as his offering a set of Greek verses expressive of his piety. Thirteen years later he wrote his colloquy on pilgrimages, wherein the wealth and magnificence of Walsingham are set forth, and some of the reputed miracles rationalized. In 1537 while the last prior, Richard Vowell, was paying obsequious respect to Cromwell, the sub-prior Nicholas Milcham was charged with conspiring to rebel against the suppression of the lesser monasteries, and on flimsy evidence was convicted of high treason and hanged outside the priory walls. In July, 1538, Prior Vowell assented to the destruction of Walsingham Priory and assisted the king’s commissioners in the removal of the figure of Our Lady, of many of the gold and silver ornaments and in the general spoliation of the shrine. For his ready compliance the prior received a pension of 100 pounds a year, a large sum in those days, while fifteen of the canons received pensions varying from 4 pounds to 6 pounds. The shrine dismantled, and the priory destroyed, its site was sold by order of Henry VIII to one Thomas Sidney for 90 pounds, and a private mansion was subsequently erected on the spot. The Elizabethan ballad, “A Lament for Walsingham,” expresses something of what the Norfolk people felt at the loss of their glorious shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. (1)
Our Lady of Walsingham
by Joanne Bogle
Walsingham is England’s national shrine to Our Lady, and a major place of pilgrimage and prayer. It is in Norfolk, a few miles from the North Sea, and is a small village set in the green countryside characteristic of this corner of Britain. The shrine dates back to the 12th century, when the local lady of the manor, Richeldis, had a vision of the Holy House – the home of the Holy family at Nazareth – on this spot. For centuries, pilgrims visited here and Our Lady of Walsingham was honoured with countless processions and prayers. Springs of water – they still exist today – were said to have healing powers. A great priory drew men who devoted themselves to the religious life. At the shrine itself, the image was always surrounded by candles, flowers, and gifts left by grateful pilgrims who had knelt there in prayer.
In the early 16th century, among those who came were the young king Henry, and his wife Catherine. They were praying that God would grant them a son. England had seen terrifying wars in an earlier generation as the houses of Lancaster and York battled out their struggle for supremacy, and now stability was needed for the new ruling house of Tudor. It was not to be. Catherine bore several children, but all died in infancy except one daughter, Mary. Henry, angry and disappointed, decided to marry his mistress Anne Boleyn. He sought an annulment of his marriage through the Church, but failed to obtain it. Divorcing Catherine unilaterally, he married Anne – who by then was carrying his child – and announced himself head of the Church. The Lord Chancellor, Thomas More, and the Bishop of Rochester, John Fisher, were beheaded at the Tower of London in 1534 for refusing to affirm him in his claims, maintaining instead that only the Pope, the successor of Saint Peter, could hold that office. . Needing funds, Henry turned on the Church and crushed monasteries and priories. On the excuse of its being idolatrous, the shrine at Walsingham was destroyed and the statue burned. For some 400 years, there were no more pilgrimages, processions, or signs of devotion to Mary in this quiet village.
The shrine was revived in the early 20th century – an Anglican vicar researched the history and re-created the Holy House in a new shrine, and a Catholic lady obtained the old “Slipper Chapel” just outside the village and this became the revived Catholic centre of devotion. Today, there are pilgrimages throughout the summer and the Catholic shrine has its own large church built of attractive local stone. Pilgrims pray and sing as they walk the “Holy Mile” – traditionally barefoot – from the village. Schools, parish groups, Catholic organisations – all come with their banners and their choirs, their sandwiches and their children, to greet Our Lady at a place which combines the pleasures of unusually beautiful countryside with an atmosphere of real devotion and joy. Some groups stay for days – a local farmer rents out fields in which large groups of young pilgrims and families can camp – and in recent years Walsingham has seen a revival of Eucharistic adoration and confession, promoted by “Youth 2000”, a major initiative of the “John Paul 11 generation”.
When Pope John Paul visited Britain in 1982 the image of Our Lady of Walsingham was brought to London where it was the centrepiece of a major rally attended by the Holy Father. Many Catholic families, churches and schools, have copies of the image: it is an unusual one in which Mary is seen seated, as a dignified queen wearing a simple Saxon-style crown and carrying the Christ-child seated upright on her lap. Honour to Our Lady of Walsingham is linked to prayer that the people of England may once again return to the practice of the Catholic Faith: Our Lady of Walsinghan, pray for us! (2)