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Walsingham Prayer Group

Walsingham Prayer Group

Our Lady of Walsingham is a title used for Mary, mother of Jesus. The title comes from the belief that Mary appeared in a vision to Lady Richeldis de Faverches, a devout Saxon noblewoman, in 1061 in the village of Walsingham in Norfolk, England. Lady Richeldis had a Holy House built in Walsingham which became a shrine and place of pilgrimage.

In passing on his guardianship of the Holy House, Richeldis’s son Geoffrey left instructions for the building of a priory in Walsingham. The priory passed into the care of Canons Regular sometime between 1146 and 1174.

Holy House and Pilgrimages

The Holy House, containing the simple wooden structure which Richeldis had been asked to build in imitation of the home in which the Annunciation occurred, became both a shrine and the focus of pilgrimage to Walsingham. By the time of its destruction in 1538 during the reign of Henry VIII, the shrine had become one of the greatest religious centres in England, and Europe, together with Glastonbury and Canterbury. It had been a place of pilgrimage during medieval times, when due to wars and political upheaval, travel to Rome and Compostela was difficult.

Royal patronage helped the shrine to grow in wealth and popularity, receiving visits from Henry III, Edward II, Edward III, Henry IV, Edward IV, Henry VII, Henry VIII and Erasmus. It was also a place of pilgrimage for English queens—Catherine of Aragon was a regular pilgrim and her successor, Anne Boleyn, also announced an intention of making a pilgrimage.


Following the uprising known as the Pilgrimage of Grace, the English court began to link loyality to the pope with treason against the crown.[2] The fear of another rebellion was strongly felt by Henry VIII. This fear caused him to target as “superstitious” any religious practice likely to bring together significant numbers of English citizens whose loyality remained with the pope. For this reason he banned pilgrimages, saints’ days and the display of relics. Late in 1538, as part of a process collectively known as the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the king’s soldiers sacked the priory at Walsingham and also destroyed the shrine, burning everything that could not be taken and resold.

Modern revival

After nearly four hundred years the 20th century saw the restoration of pilgrimage to Walsingham as a regular feature of Christian life in the British Isles and beyond.

In 1897 Pope Leo XIII re-established the restored 14th century Slipper Chapel as a Roman Catholic shrine, now the centre of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. The Holy House had been rebuilt at the Church of the Annunciation at King’s Lynn (Walsingham was part of this Roman Catholic parish in 1897).

Father Alfred Hope Patten OSA, appointed as the Church of England Vicar of Walsingham in 1921, ignited Anglican interest in the pre-Reformation pilgrimage. It was his idea to create a new statue of Our Lady of Walsingham based on the image depicted on the seal of the medieval priory. In 1922 the statue was set up in the Parish Church of St Mary and regular pilgrimage devotion followed. From the first night that the statue was placed there, people gathered around it to pray, asking Mary to join her prayers with theirs.

Throughout the 1920s the trickle of pilgrims became a flood of large numbers for whom, eventually, the Pilgrim Hospice was opened (a hospice is the name of a place of hospitality for pilgrims) and, in 1931, a new Holy House encased in a small pilgrimage church was dedicated and the statue translated there with great solemnity. In 1938 that church was enlarged to form the Anglican Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. Father Patten combined the posts of Vicar of Walsingham and Priest Administrator of the Anglican shrine until his death in 1958.

Today there are two shrines of Our Lady of Walsingham. The Roman Catholic shrine, centred around the Slipper Chapel, was established by Leo XIII in 1897. The Anglican shrine is centred around the Holy House, rebuilt in 1931 and expanded in 1938. There is frequently an ecumenical dimension to pilgrimages to Walsingham, with pilgrims arriving at the Slipper Chapel and then walking to the Holy House at the Anglican shrine.

In the United States the National Shrine to Our Lady of Walsingham for the Episcopal Church is located in Grace Church, Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Our Lady of Walsingham is remembered by Roman Catholics on September 24 and by Anglicans on October 15.

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