The shrine to Our Lady of Walsingham, also known as England’s Nazareth, began in the middle of the 11th century just before the Normandy Invasion of 1066. In the year 1061, the Lady of the Manor of Walsingham, Richeldis de Faverches, was reciting her daily prayers when the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to her in a vision. After her initial vision, the Blessed Virgin appeared two more times along with St. Joseph and the Child Jesus. During these visions, Richeldis was told by the Blessed Virgin to build a replica of the Nazareth home where the Annunciation had occurred. The Blessed Virgin said to Richeldis,
“Do all this unto my special place and honor. And all who are in any way distressed or in need, let them seek me here in that little house you have made in Walsingham. To all that seek me there shall be given succor. And there in Walsingham in this little house shall be held in remembrance the great joy of my salutation when the Saint Gabriel told me I should through humility become the Mother of God’s Son.”
Richeldis was given detailed instructions on how the home was to be built, however, one night she heard the voices of heavenly angels singing. As she went to investigate, she saw the Holy Angels departing and realized the home of Nazareth had been built miraculously. Once this occurred, pilgrims began to immediately arrive at the site. Pilgrims arrived from all over England, Ireland, and most of Europe. It became one of the greatest shrines on the continent.
By the year 1130, Franciscans and Augustinians built homes to care for the pilgrims visiting the holy site, both peasants and nobility. In 1226, King Henry III began visiting the shrine and also became a patron. Nearly every king and queen of England visited the shrine during his or her respective reigns. Queen Isabella of France as well as King Robert the Bruce of Scotland also visited the holy site.
All along the roads, chapels were built, the last one being dedicated to St. Catherine of Alexandria in the fourteenth century, who was the Patroness of the Holy Land. The chapel became known as Slipper Chapel. Pilgrims would remove their shoes out of respect and walk to the chapel in slippers or barefoot as an act of penance.
As the sixteenth century approached, the Protestant Reformation stormed across Europe, as did far-reaching iconoclasm. In 1538, by order of King Henry VIII, who was a frequent visitor to the shrine before he broke from the Catholic Church, he had the shrine at Walsingham burnt to the ground and destroyed. The statue of the Blessed Virgin was taken back to London and also burnt.
In 1863, nearly three hundred and fifty years after the initial shrine was destroyed, a wealthy Anglican woman by the name of Charlotte Boyd funded the rebuilding of the holy site. The only structure that remained was Slipper Chapel, which was being used as a barn to house animals on the property. During her time to rebuild the shrine of Walsingham, Miss Boyd converted to Catholicism. She eventually bought the chapel and donated it to Downside Abbey. In 1864, Pope Leo XIII gave permission that the shrine was to be built as it was originally. The Guild of Our Lady of Ransom oversaw the construction. They also had a statue of the Blessed Virgin and Child Jesus carved. The statue was placed in Kings Lynn.
On August 20, 1897 the first public pilgrimage here in centuries took place. It began at Kings Lynn and concluded at Walsingham. By the conclusion of the nineteenth century, the little village of Walsingham was once again home of the Catholic Shrine of Our Lady.
In August 1934, the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales began leading thousands of pilgrims to Slipper Chapel. At this point, it became the official Roman Catholic National Shrine of Our Lady in England. In 1938, young Catholics on pilgrimage commemorated the four hundredth anniversary of the shrine’s destruction. In 1948, oak crosses numbering 14 in total were erected in the garden. The tradition for pilgrims is to walk the last mile of the pilgrimage barefoot.
In 1954, Marcel Barbeau carved a beautiful stone statue of the Blessed Virgin and it was placed in Slipper Chapel. Archbishop O’Hara, a Papal Representative crowned the statue. During his visit to England in 1982, Pope St. John Paul II blessed the statue in Wembley. Every year, on September 8, which is the Feast of the Birth of Our Lady, the beautiful statue of Our Lady of Walsingham is carried in a procession for several miles and ends at Slipper Chapel.
Today’s “Mondays with Mary” is dedicated to Bishop Steven J. Lopes and all the Catholics of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. Please pray for Bishop Lopes and the lay faithful of the Ordinariate here in the USA and Canada as he begins his duties and travels to visit the priests and faithful under his care.
Please visit the newly designated Cathedral of Our Lady of Walsingham in Houston, Texas. I was there last week for the Bishop’s Ordination and Consecration. It’s a beautiful church and I hope to attend Mass there in the near future.
Our Lady of Walsingham…Pray For Us.
Mary Pages – http://www.marypages.com/Walsingham
Catholic Tradition – http://www.catholictradition.org/Mary/walsingham.htm