It is a simple Shrine of a simple wooden house later encased within a stone church in the little village of Walsingham in Norfolk. In the year 1061 the local Lady of the manor, the Lady Richeldis, received a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary in which she was asked to build a replica of the holy house in Nazareth where the holy family lived. The holy house was built and it quickly became a place of devotion and pilgrimage. The waters of the well were believed to hold miraculous qualities. Thus from its beginning the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham has been a place to experience and celebrate the reality of the Incarnation- the “Word made flesh” and a place of healing. Until the martyrdom of St. Thomas a Becket at Canterbury in 1170, it was the most popular shrine in England, and after his death until the dissolution of monasteries by Henry VIII and Cromwell the second most popular.
For nearly 400 years, the shrine became one of many monastic ruins throughout this isle. In 1922, the parish priest at the church of St. Mary the Virgin in Walsingham, Fr. Hope Patten, caused to have made a statue of Our lady of Walsingham. He had discovered in the British Museum a medieval seal of the old monastery, and at its centre was an image of our Lady -- presumably a representation of the image that had been destroyed by Cromwell’s henchmen. This statue was placed in the parish church, and at once pilgrims returned once more seeking the blessings of Our Lady of Walsingham. By 1931 the numbers had become too many for the parish church to cope with and a new shrine church was built, with the Holy House at its centre and the image above its altar.
So the Shrine of our Lady of Walsingham was reborn, and in our own time it continues to draw thousands each year who, like the medieval predecessors come to discover the reality of “God with us,” and the effects of God’s loving and healing Grace and Love.
Indeed Our Lady of Walsingham has been a shrine to promote ecumenism. Both the English and Roman Churches have sites here, and the Orthodox and Methodist have churches in this lovely village.
The shrine has helped Christians to enrich their lives through being a pilgrim. Like the other great centres of pilgrimage such as St. James, Compostella, pilgrims often walk the last few miles to this village. Pilgrimages should be times of renewal, reflection, new perspectives, spiritual growth and in the company of the wider church, they can be encounters with the Incarnate Word in word, sacrament, fellowship and ministry.
Gracious Mother of our Redeemer, for ever abiding.
Heaven's gateway and star of ocean, O succour the people,
Who though falling, strive to rise again.
Thou maiden who barest thy holy Creator, to the wonder of all nature:
Ever Virgin, after, as before thou receivest that Ave
From Gabnriel, have compassion on us sinners and in the hour of our death
Almighty and everlasting God, Who by the fruitful virginity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, has bestowed upon man the reward of eternal salvation: grant, we beseech Thee, that we may know the help of her intercession, through whom we have been accounted worthy to receive the Author of our Life, Jesus Christ, Thy Son our Lord. Amen.