Walsingham’s Mystic Link to the House at Nazareth

Blessed John Henry Newman is the patron of the new Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, established following the Holy Father’s invitation to Anglicans to join the Catholic Church in groups, bringing with them their Anglican heritage and traditions in music, liturgy, and parish life.

This year, 2011, marks the 950th anniversary of the establishment of the shrine at Walsingham, and there are great celebrations all year, beginning with a great sung Mass at London’s Westminster Cathedral.

Walsingham is a small village in Norfolk, a few miles from the sea. It is enchanting at this time of year – creamy blossoms on the hedgerows, lambs in the fields. The shrine is mystically linked to the house at Nazareth where Christ lived with Mary and Joseph: a replica of the house was built at Walsingham following a vision, and pilgrims went there throughout the Middle Ages. Destroyed at the Reformation, on the orders of Henry VIII, the shrine was revived in the early 20th century and has welcomed great numbers of people ever since.

People walk along the lanes praying and singing in processions; the Rosary is said; Mass is celebrated in the Barn Church. In the summer months, there are great gatherings that last for days: Youth 2000 and the National Association of Catholic Families are just two of the many groups who will be there as usual this year, people camping in nearby fields and taking part in all-night adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, listening to talks, going to confession, gathering informally to sing and to socialise…

For years, the two separate shrines at Walsingham, Catholic and Anglican, have enjoyed a good relations. They are about a mile apart – the Catholic shrine is in the old “Slipper Chapel” along the “slype” or little lane that leads out from Walsingham village, and the Anglican one is in the village itself.

In this 950th anniversary year, which is occurring just as the new Ordinariate is being established, all pilgrims to Walsingham will be conscious that history is being made.

In John Henry Newman’s day, there was no shrine at Walsingham – only the little old chapel out in the fields, which had for centuries been used as a barn, and the impressive ruins of the great Priory. The great revival came after his time – and through the immense changes brought about by his work, his writings, his preaching and his ministry. Now, the next chapters are being written…