A Well-known Story

The story of Our Lady of Walsingham is a familiar one, but it bears remembering on this day when we commemorate the title. The following account is from the website of the Community of Our Lady of Walsingham.

The story of how Walsingham became a place of pilgrimage is enshrined in an old ballad, written many years after the events it purports to speak of actually took place.

In 1061, so the story goes, the lady of the manor of Little Walsingham in Norfolk, a widow named Richeldis, prayed to our Lady asking how she could honour her in some special way. In answer to this prayer Mary led Richeldis in spirit to Nazareth and showed her the house in which she had first received the angel's message. Mary told Richeldis to take the measurements of this house and build another one just like it in Walsingham. It would be a place where people could come to honour her and her Son, remembering especially the mystery of the Annunciation and Mary's joyful 'yes' to conceiving the Saviour.

The late eleventh century and all through the twelfth and thirteenth century was the era of the crusades, which saw a growing interest in the sites consecrated by the human presence of Jesus in the Holy Land. But now pilgrims need not go so far; in England itself there was a 'new Nazareth' built by one of their own countrywomen.

After some time Augustinian canons took over the care of the holy house and enshrined it in a special chapel within a much larger church. Pilgrims began to come from all over England and even abroad. From the time of Henry III nearly all the kings and queens of the realm visited Walsingham, as well as hundreds of ordinary people seeking help, healing and inner peace. Walsingham ranked with Rome, Jerusalem and Compostella in importance as a pilgrimage destination.

However, the Shrine was destroyed at the time of the Reformation, and only rebuilt at the beginning of the twentieth century, mainly due to the inspired leadership of the Anglican vicar of Walsingham, Fr Hope Patten. He revived devotion to Our Lady under this title and built a new shrine Church and Holy House in the village, together with a statue modelled on that depicted on the ancient priory seal. It shows a seated Mary with her Son on her lap holding a book of the gospels.

Meanwhile a Miss Charlotte Boyd had purchased and restored the ancient Slipper Chapel a mile away and gifted it to the Catholic Church. This has since become the National Shrine of the Catholic Church in England. So Walsingham is a village dedicated to Mary, a place of ecumenical pilgrimage with a growing understanding of the original message of Walsingham as received by Richeldis – that it should be a place where the joy of the Annunciation could be remembered and celebrated, for the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us through Mary's joyful and ready 'yes,' spoken within an ordinary house that would become the boyhood home of the Son of God himself.

O God, who through the mystery of the Word made flesh didst in thy mercy sanctify the house of the blessed Virgin Mary, and wondrously place it in the bosom of thy Church: Grant that being made separate from the tabernacles of sinners, we may become worthy to dwell in thy holy house; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Author: Fr. Christopher Phillips

Fr. Christopher G. Phillips is the pastor of Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church in San Antonio, Texas, where he has served for the past twenty-eight years. He is the founding pastor of the first Anglican Use parish, erected in 1983 under the terms of the Pastoral Provision. Fr. Phillips was ordained as an Anglican for the Diocese of Bristol, England, in 1975. After serving as Curate for three years at St. Stephen Southmead, he returned to the United States and served in two Episcopal parishes in the Diocese of Rhode Island. In 1981 he left the Episcopal Church and moved with his family to Texas, where he was subsequently ordained as a Catholic priest in 1983. Fr. Phillips and his wife, JoAnn, have been married for forty years. They have five children, all grown and married, and three grandchildren.

3 thoughts on “A Well-known Story”

  1. I have a couple questions, if someone could find the answers. Why is the feast of Our Lady of Walsingham being observed today instead of on her traditional date of 15 October? Was this a recent change, and if so, could one enquire why Our Lady would be moved from her traditional date? Finally, would a move from 10/15 to 9/24 alter the traditional dedication of October to the rosary?

  2. Fr. Sutter, I think the traditional date for the commemoration of Our Lady of Walsingham was March 25th, linking it with the Annunciation. I am unaware of the October 15th date (but that might simply be ignorance on my part). About ten years ago, Blessed John Paul assigned the date of September 24th to Our Lady of Walsingham, which in England was the commemoration of Our Lady of Ransom, the title under which prayers for the return of England to the Catholic faith were offered.

    October 7th is the commemoration of Our Lady of the Rosary, so there's little danger of October ceasing to be linked to the rosary… Lepanto is part of our history!

  3. Charlotte Boyd was still an Anglo-Catholic when she bought the ruins of the Slipper Chapel from a local farmer who had used it as a cowshed. On her conversion she subsequently gave it to Downside Abbey which was at a loss to know what to do with it until, in the 1930s, it was adopted as the Catholic Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham and well-furnished by convert artists.

    Fr Philip Fletcher, a convert clergyman who was a curate of St Bartholomew's, Brighon, at the time of his reception in 1874, founded the Guild of Our Lady of Ransome. It was he who, prior to Miss Boyd's purchase, revived the devotion of Our Lady of Walsingham when he added a chapel dedicated to her to the Catholic church in Fakenham in the early-1890s. This anticipated all that followed, including Fr Patten's efforts in the 1920s. Fr Fletcher was a younger son of a Sussex baronet and a man of means. Under the auspieces of the Guild he revived an interest in English recusant history and fostered the cult of the English Martyrs. He established the annual Tyburn walk from Tower Hill.

    Charlotte Boyd was a member of the congregation of St Alban's, Holborn, and a generous befacteress of St Katherine's Convent, Queen Square, Holborn, a daughter house of East Grinstead. The community became Catholics in about 1905. Their chapel furniture and vestments are now to be found at Farnborough Abbey. They ran one of the finest convent embroidery rooms of the period. St Katherine's in the late-c19 was the only Anglican place of worship where Benediction was given on a regular basis. With the exception of Dr Littledale, author of 'Plain Reasons against Joining the Church of Rome', all their subsequent chaplains became Catholics.

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