A time of great uncertainty in England…the future rather uncertain…it is unclear what a future government might bring… and Islam is on the rise, and the news from the Middle East grim…
Sounds familiar? The year is 1061 and the lady of the Royal manor in Walsingham in Norfolk has an extraordinary vision, one that has a resonance for our own times.
In 1061, no one was sure who might take the throne and government of England. King Edward “the confessor” was widely loved and known as a saint, but he and his wife had lived as brother and sister and there were no children. It seemed that he had promised the throne to William of Normandy – Edward had lived part of his life in Normandy and was Norman in much of his manner and thinking. But what of Harold, and the decision of the Witan, England’s own Parliament? And Viking pirates routinely attacked our coasts. Would there be war?
And now the followers of Mohammed had taken much of the Holy Land, and pilgrims could no longer go there, and somehow the whole world, which surely centred on Jerusalem, now felt insecure and uncertain.
In Norfolk, Lady Richeldis – the manor was held by a branch of Harold’s family – had a vision, a true visitation from Mary, a voice from Heaven with an urgent call. Richledis must build an exact replica of Nazareth’s holy house, of the house where the Incarnation occurred, where the Word was made flesh in Mary’s womb, where God intervened in human history, as he had planned from the beginning…
And so the Holy House was built, in England, among the green meadows of Norfolk, and the Walsingham story began.
And you can still go there, as pilgrims started to do back in the 11th century, when Richeldis had her vision of Our Lady, just five years before the Norman Conquest.
Today, as of old, pilgrims flock to Walsingham. The lush fields of Norfolk have long been brought under the plough, and throughout the Middle Ages this territory flourished, with huge churches dominating the landscape, and great wealth coming from the pilgrims and from the farming and from the resulting trade and travel and activity. Henry VIII’s destruction of the abbeys and monasteries brought poverty and sorrow and misery. But the revival of Walsingham in the 20th century brought something new, and with motorways and seaside holidays and the Internet and more, today’s Norfolk faces the 21st century with further new chapters to come.
The Catholic shrine at Walsingham is in the old “Slipper chapel” – the word comes “slyp” meaning a little lane, and today it is linked to the tradition of taking off one’s shoes to walk barefoot along the Holy Mile in penance and prayer. The Anglican shrine in the village is also worth a visit, as is the village itself, and the old ruined Priory, and the church of the Annunciation, and more.
The walk from the Slipper Chapel to the village is known as the Holy Mile : many groups go along the old railway track which goes through the most beautiful meadows and is rich in flowers and grasses and glorious views but also , alas, extremely sharp uncomfortable pebbles which make a barefoot walk very difficult – barefoot walkers are advised to take the lane. To walk the Holy Mile, by either route, singing hymns praying the Rosary, is glorious. Priests accompanying pilgrims hear confessions along the way. A statue of Our Lady of Walsingham is carried, along with banners and a great processional Cross.
England has a long, long devotion to Our Lady. The message of Walsingham is one of prayer for England – and this has never been more needed than now. The future looks very uncertain. So many of our marriages are breaking up. So many of our young do not know anything much of God, cannot say the Lord’s Prayer, could not name any of the Apostles or describe any of Christ’s miracles. Abortion is routinely promoted on a massive scale, funded through the public purse, used on any excuse for a baby deemed to be handicapped. Children are urged into sexual activity, given contraceptives, subjected to a sex-saturated culture with pornographic images everywhere. The internet is awash with hideous pornographic material available to anyone with the latest mobile phone. Killing the gravely sick, under the guise of “assisted suicide” is now being urged in Parliament.
We badly need more priests. Our Catholic schools need renewal, with teachers who know and love the Faith. We need more active Catholic in public life, ready to face cruel sneers, and worse, for upholding the protection of life and the integrity of marriage.
Our country needs prayers. This summer, faith-filled pilgrims will again walk to Walsingham, using the old lanes and pilgrim routes. Others will arrive by bus and coach and car. England needs Walsingham. Pray for us.