Our Lady of Walsingham

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Our Lady of Walsingham
Our Lady of Walsingham.JPG
Location Walsingham, England
Date 1061
Witness Richeldis de Faverches
Type Marian apparition
Holy See approval Pope Pius XII
Shrine Anglican and Roman Catholic shrines

Our Lady of Walsingham is a title of Mary the mother of Jesus venerated by Roman Catholic and Anglican faithful. The title derives from the belief that Mary appeared in a vision to Richeldis de Faverches, a devout English 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 the Canons Regular sometime between 1146 and 1174.

Pope Pius XII granted a Canonical Coronation to the Roman Catholic image via the Papal Nuncio Bishop Gerald O'Hara on 15 August 1954 with a gold crown funded by her devotees, now venerated in the Slipper Chapel.

Holy House and pilgrimages[edit]

Our Lady of Walsingham, All Saints Episcopal Church, Jensen Beach, Florida

The Holy House, containing the simple wooden structure which Richeldis claimed she 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. Historian J.C. Dickinson argues that the chapel was founded in the time of Edward the Confessor, about 1053, the earliest deeds naming Richeldis, the mother of Geoffrey of Favraches as the founder. Dickinson claims that in 1169, Geoffrey granted 'to God and St. Mary and to Edwy his clerk the chapel of our Lady' which his mother had founded at Walsingham with the intention that Edwy should found a priory. These gifts were, shortly afterwards, confirmed to the Austin Canons of Walsingham by Robert de Brucurt and Roger, earl of Clare.[1] However, historian Bill Flint (2015) has refuted the foundation date established by Dickinson, arguing that the 1161 Norfolk Roll refers to the foundation of the Priory only and not the shrine. Flint supports the earlier date of 1061 given in the Pynson Ballad and claims that in this year, Queen Edith Swanneshals, Lady of the Manor, was the likely Walsingham visionary. 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 Compostella was difficult.[2]

Royal patronage helped the shrine to grow in wealth and popularity, receiving visits from Henry III, Edward I, Edward II, Henry IV, Edward IV, Henry VII, Henry VIII and Erasmus.[3]

Visiting in 1513, Erasmus wrote: "When you look in you would say it is the abode of saints, so brilliantly does it shine with gems, gold and silver ... Our Lady stands in the dark at the right side of the altar ... a little image, remarkable neither for its size, material or workmanship."[4]

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. Its wealth and prestige did not, however, prevent its being a disorderly house. The visitation of bishop Nicke in 1514 revealed that the prior was leading a scandalous life, that, among many other things, he treated the canons with insolence and brutality; the canons themselves frequented taverns and were quarrelsome. The prior William Lowth was removed and by 1526 some decent order had been restored.


Seal of the Medieval shrine

The suppression of the monasteries was part of the English Reformation. On the pretext of discovering any irregularities in their life, Thomas Cromwell organised a series of visitations, the results of which led to the suppression of smaller foundations (which did not include Walsingham) in 1536. Six years earlier the prior, Richard Vowell, had signed their acceptance of the king's supremacy, but it did not save them. Cromwell's actions were politically motivated but the Canons, who had a number of houses in Norfolk were not noted for their piety or good order.[5] The prior was evidently compliant but not all of the community felt likewise. In 1537, two lay choristers organised "the most serious plot hatched anywhere south of the Trent",[6] intended to resist what they feared, rightly as it turned out, would happen to their foundation. Eleven men were executed as a result. The sub-prior Nicholas Milcham was charged with conspiring to rebel against the suppression of the lesser monasteries, and on flimsy evidence was convicted of high treason and hanged outside the priory walls.[3]

The suppression of Walsingham priory came late in 1538, under the supervision of Sir Roger Townshend, a local landowner. Walsingham was famous and its fall symbolic.

John Hussey wrote to Lord Lisle in 1538 : "July 18th: This day our late Lady of Walsingham was brought to Lambhithe (Lambeth) where was both my Lord Chancellor and my Lord Privy Seal, with many virtuous prelates, but there was offered neither oblation nor candle : what shall become of her is not determined."[7] Two chroniclers, Hall and Speed, suggest that the actual burning did not take place until September.

The buildings were looted and largely destroyed, but the memory of it was less easy to eradicate. Sir Roger wrote to Cromwell in 1564 that a woman of nearby Wells (now called Wells-Next-The-Sea), had declared that a miracle had been done by the statue after it had been carried away to London. He had the woman put in the stocks on market day to be abused by the village folk but concluded "I cannot perceyve but the seyd image is not yett out of the sum of ther heddes."[1]

The site of the priory with the churchyard and gardens was granted by the Crown to Thomas Sydney. All that remained of it was the gatehouse, the chancel arch and a few outbuildings. The Elizabethan ballad, "A Lament for Walsingham," expresses something of what the Norfolk people felt at the loss of their shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham.[3]

Modern revival[edit]

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. There are both Roman Catholic and Anglican shrines in Walsingham.

Slipper Chapel[edit]

In 1340, the Slipper Chapel was built at Houghton St Giles, a mile outside Walsingham. This was the final "station" chapel on the way to Walsingham. It was here that pilgrims would remove their shoes to walk the final "Holy Mile" to the shrine barefoot.[4]

In 1896 Charlotte Pearson Boyd purchased the fourteenth-century Slipper Chapel, which had seen centuries of secular use, and set about its restoration.[8] The statue of the Mother and Child was carved at Oberammergau and based on the design of the original statue - a design found on the medieval seal of Walsingham Priory.[4]

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.[9] 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).

Anglican shrine[edit]

Procession at the Anglican National Pilgrimage to Walsingham in the grounds of the ruined abbey, May 2003

Father Alfred Hope Patten SSC, 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. Enid Chadwick contributed to the artwork in the shrine.

Beyond the staff (who include a resident community, and external day staff) a number of groups are officially associated with the life of the shrine. These include:

  • The Guardians of the Shrine, who hold capitular responsibility for the governing of the shrine;
  • The Order of Our Lady of Walsingham, founded in 1953, its members, originally known as 'Dames' (women) or 'Clerks' (men), are admitted as a reward for service to the shrine; they have special privileges at Walsingham, and meet in annual Chapter; since 2000 both men and women are simply styled 'Member' of the Order;[10]
  • The Association of Priests Associate of the Holy House, founded in 1931, an association of priests who undertake to offer mass for the shrine, and enjoy certain privileges at the shrine;[11]
  • The Society of Our Lady of Walsingham, whose members meet in local cells around the world, and pray for the life of the shrine; it was founded in 1925.[12]

Orthodox chapel[edit]

There is now also an Orthodox presence at Walsingham. The Orthodox Church have the use of a small chapel on a landing in the Holy House as well as the former Victorian railway station building nearby which has become the Orthodox Church of St Seraphim, complete with a small onion dome on the roof.


The Scapular of Our Lady of Walsingham, sitting on a bye-altar at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in the Anglican Catholic Church

There is frequently an ecumenical dimension to pilgrimages to Walsingham, with many 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 and for the Catholic Church at Saint Bede's Church, Williamsburg, Virginia. Our Lady of Walsingham is remembered by Roman Catholics on 24 September and by Anglicans on 15 October. The personal ordinariate established for former Anglicans in England and Wales is named for of Our Lady of Walsingham. The principal church of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter in Houston, Texas, is named for Our Lady of Walsingham. A Western Rite Antiochian Orthodox parish named for Our Lady of Walsingham is in Mesquite, Texas.

In addition, some people are invested into the Scapular of Our Lady of Walsingham.

See also[edit]



  • Dominic Janes and Gary Waller (еds), Walsingham in Literature and Culture from the Middle Ages to Modernity (Aldershot, Ashgate, 2010).
  • John Rayne-Davis, Peter Rollings, Walsingham: England’s National Shrine of Our Lady (London, 2010).
  • Waller, Gary. Walsingham and the English Imagination. (Aldershot, Ashgate, 2011).
  • Bill Flint, "Edith the Fair" (Gracewing, 2015). ISBN 978-0-85244-870-0

External links[edit]