The village of Walsingham, four miles inland from Wells on the north coast of Norfolk, was revived as a place of pilgrimage in honour of Our Lady during the 20th century. Its story began in 1061 when a noble lady called Richeldis experienced a vision in which she was asked to build a replica, in England, of the Holy House in Nazareth. The shrine was a major pilgrimage centre in medieval times until its closure and near-destruction at the Reformation. The old Slipper Chapel outside the village was rescued in the late 19th Century by Charlotte Boyd who presented it to Downside Abbey; the monks subsequently handed it into the care of Northampton Diocese. It was proclaimed the National Shrine of Our Lady in 1934 and the annual "Student Cross" pilgrimages began in 1948. Walsingham was in our Diocese until 1976 when the Diocese of East Anglia was separated off. In 1981 a larger chapel was built nearby for the use of increasing numbers of pilgrims, and in 2006 the little Catholic church in the village itself was rebuilt.
As well as hosting numerous pilgrimages for Dioceses,Orders, Societies and language-groups, Walsingham is the venue for two major camping conferences, New Dawn and Youth 2000, both in August.
Walsingham remains an almost-unspoilt rural village of great peace and beauty, with an emphasis on religion which is highly unusual in the UK, and is well worth a trip even if you are not part of an organised pilgrimage.
The 2017 Pilgrimage will be on Saturday 10th June.
The programme is a little different this year. , it begins begins with Mass at the Shrine (Chapel of Reconciliation) at 12 noon, then walking the Holy Mile to the village of Walsingham in the afternoon, arriving at the Abbey Grounds for a short service at 4pm. This is a different itinerary to previous years, so pilgrims and coach drivers need to know this in advance.
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The 2016 Pilgrimage took place on Saturday 11th June
A video of the Pilgrimage Mass in the chapel of Reconciliation may be watched online here.
Many thanks to Hannah Heath for this report from the St Gregory's, Northampton parish newsletter:
Our pilgrimage to Walsingham started out as any normal pilgrimage would, getting on a bus, or, in our case, a double decker bus. We managed to leave only fifteen minutes late, which is quite a record because getting over fifty people on board is no easy task. Anyway, at 8:15 we hit the road, and the journey went very smoothly (apart from a pigeon hitting the top window of the bus).
A few hours later we arrived. Walsingham is amazingly beautiful, with its old stone buildings and tiny little shops. Lots of flowers were in bloom, and that made it all the nicer. Quite a few people visited the Abbey ruins.
After lunch everyone who came to Walsingham from around the diocese met in the village square to walk the holy mile. It is a very spiritual experience. When we had done that we all went into the Catholic shrine at Walsingham for a short service. After that everyone pretty much wandered around the area or the gift shop until Mass started.
The bishop celebrated Mass and it was absolutely amazing. He gave a really inspiring homily. The choir were fabulous, and they did a lot of harmonies. Mass ended just after 5:00 and it was time to board the bus home.
We were all expecting a long and slightly boring journey home, but that is definitely not what we got. About ten minutes out of Walsingham the bus from another parish pulled up next to us on a village green, which happened to be opposite a pub. After sitting clueless on the top deck for twenty minutes a few people decided to go down and investigate. Uh-oh! We had broken down. Most people got out of the bus, onto the green, where a game of football soon happened.
After an hour or so a group of men had fixed the engine (or so they thought) because forty minutes later we broke down again ; the other bus, however, didn’t realise, so we were stranded by the side of the A47 at 8:00 at night. Thankfully there was a little back street coming off the road, so we settled down there for an hour and a half wait for the next coach to arrive.
About fifteen minutes later, an ice-cream van happened to be doing its last round, so there was a sudden rush (mostly made up of the confirmation candidates) to the ice cream van. While waiting for the coach nearly everyone made new friends and there was a lot of happiness there.
The coach FINALLY arrived and we managed to make it home on Saturday 11th June instead of Sunday the 12th, with only fifteen minutes to spare!
We had a fabulous time in Walsingham, God truly blessed our pilgrimage.
photo: Peter Frost
The coach firm were very apologetic, and send thanks to everyone for their patience, and on our part, we thank Chris, the driver for his efforts on our behalf for a breakdown that was not his fault, but could have happened to anyone.
The good-humour and patience of everyone was an example of how the spirit of Our Lady and the words of the Bishop had been taken to heart. We probably made the slowest-ever journey home, but we were fellow-travellers, and looked on each other with love and mercy.
Next year there will be a new coach, and we hope that as well as seasoned pilgrims to Walsingham, there will be many new pilgrims as well.
The Shrine Church has recently been elevated to the status of a minor basilica. This is an indication of the importance of Walsingham as a place of prayer and pilgrimage. There are three major Papal Basilicas, St Peter’s, St John Lateran and Sta Maria Maggiore in Rome, but throughout the world there are 1,684 minor basilicas. In England only St Chad’s Cathedral in Birmingham and Downside Abbey share this distinction.
According to a BBC survey nine years ago, Walsingham was voted England’s most spiritual place. The number of pilgrims grows each year, and yet still many Catholics have not been there yet !.
More of Peter Frost's 2016 photos below
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Here is what musical leader Teresa Brown had to say about the 2015 pilgrimage (15th June). on her website:
"The theme of this year’s pilgrimage from Northampton Diocese to Walsingham was Mary: Woman of Silence. There was little time for silence for the musicians except when Bishop Peter invited everyone to be silent for a minute during the Mass. That was a very prayerful moment.
The singers and instrumentalists came from Bedford, Milton Keynes and Wellingborough and joined with others from St Aidan’s, St Gregory’s and the Cathedral Choir in Northampton to lead the singing in the Reconciliation Chapel.
These fantastic musicians all understand music as a ministry, and they led the singing at the two services very beautifully. It made all the preparations and rehearsals worthwhile!
Having been to Walsingham many times over the years, there are now signs that Something Big is happening in Walsingham, with plans for a new retreat centre, Conference centre and a Catholic Media hub as well as completing the restoration of the Slipper Chapel Shrine, all within the next three years. Details here "
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A few photos from 2014 are above
As the time for each year's pilgrimage draws near, watch out for posters and announcements, and enquire within your own parish first to see if there is an organised trip. For other enquiries, e-mail Deacon Michael Fleming at St Gregory's, Northampton, or ring their parish office 01604 713015 to be put in touch with him.