Yesterday, a number of the brethren went on pilgrimage to Walsingham with our parishes of the Holy Name of Jesus and Our Lady Immaculate, and the wonderful Mary Mother of God Chelmsford praesidium of the Legion of Mary. It was a joy to see many of the praesidium’s auxiliary members join us as well.
Unfortunately the novice forgot to take photographs while we were there, in spite of taking the camera with him, but I’m sure many of you already know what it looks like in Walsingham! It was probably the excitement of going to the shrine, for he has a great affection for Walsingham and the East Anglian countryside.
We were greatly blessed that the Bishop-elect – who until now has been the director of the shrine, Rt Rev Dr Alan Williams SM, pictured above – saw our names on the weekly programme and decided to come and celebrate the Mass, despite already having said his last public Mass in Walsingham as director last Sunday. He will be consecrated Bishop of Brentwood on Tuesday, the feast of the Precious Blood.
Some of us walked the “holy mile”, the short route from the Catholic shrine to the village. The original shrine in the village of Little Walsingham – which was a small wooden kiosk, built to the proportions of the Holy House in Nazareth, within a larger stone church which was the home of Austin canons – was destroyed at the reformation; the statue of Our Lady was burned in London, and the ashes thrown into the Thames. The pilgrimage route in the middle ages was one of the busiest in Europe, and there were many chapels and smaller shrines along it. The last of these station churches, the Slipper Chapel, is in the hamlet of Houghton St Giles, one mile south of Walsingham, which is now the Catholic shrine. In the 1980s, a rather unusual structure was built nearby to provide more room for liturgical celebrations. The “holy mile” is the last leg of the journey, which pilgrims sometimes remove their shoes to walk – hence the name, “Slipper Chapel”. In here is the new statue of Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom, in emulation of the original (in fact, this is the 3rd modern version of the statue, all of which look very different). I imagine that the slipper chapel is about the same size as the original Holy House. The photograph above shows the celebration of High Mass in the Slipper Chapel (note the different statue) during a pilgrimage of local seminarians in the 1930s (incidentally, it was this pilgrimage group which donated the beautiful large silver processional crucifix that you may have seen while on pilgrimage here at solemn Masses; the celebrant of this Mass was the marvelous Monsignor Leonard Emery.).
Behind the chapel is the tomb of Bishop Clark, the first of the restored Bishops of East Anglia, who died in 2002, and we said some prayers there. We also enjoyed a brief visit to the Russian Orthodox church in the west of the village, to venerate the icons, and pray for Christian unity. And, of course, prayers were said for our readers, parishioners, the friends and family of our community, our visitors, for the sick, our deceased friends, relatives and parishioners, and for vocations, and for those men and women trying to discern God’s will for those considering religious vocations, and prayers for many other causes, no doubt.
I was talking to a lady from Manchester, and we were talking about how places of pilgrimage have an “air of holiness” about them. This is, no doubt, caused by all the sacraments that happen here, and all the prayers and penances that pilgrims say and undertake during their visit. While walking through the corn fields, the wind dancing upon their ears, one certainly feels that one has joined a long line of fellow sinners, trying to get to God: Our Lady and the saints are looking down on us, and the angels are walking beside us. All those penitential footsteps really hammer the holiness into the very ground!
Please keep Dr Williams, our Bishop-elect, in your prayers as he prepares for his consecration next week.