Richeldis de Faverches

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Our Lady of Walsingham

Richeldis de Faverches, also known as "Rychold", was a devout English noblewoman who is credited with establishing the original shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. The story of the vision of "Rychold" was recounted in the 15th century in "The Foundation of the Chapel of Walsingham" (ca. 1485, also known as the "Pynson Ballad"), published by Richard Pynson. The reputed appearance of the Virgin Mary to Richeldis is one of the earliest Marian apparitions.

Traditional account[edit]

According to Roman Catholic and Anglican belief, Richeldis wished to do something special to honour the Blessed Virgin Mary and in 1061 had a series of three visions in which the Virgin Mary appeared to her.[1] In these visions Richeldis was shown the house of the Annunciation in Nazareth and was requested to build a replica of the house in Walsingham as a place of pilgrimage where people could honour the Virgin Mary. Mary is said to have promised, "Whoever seeks my help there will not go away empty-handed."[2]

According to tradition, there were early construction problems. One night, Richeldis heard singing and went out to her garden where she found that the little house had been completed about two hundred yards from the site of the original construction. Richeldis saw what she took to be angels leaving the now completed building.[3] The original Holy House was a simple wooden structure measuring approximately 24 ft. by 13 ft., with four small turrets and a central tower. The 'Holy House' was later encased in stone to protect it from the elements.[2]

Based upon a review of relevant documents, historian J.C. Dickinson (1959) posits a later date for the foundation of the shrine, sometime between 1130 and 1153, the founding of the nearby priory.[4]

According to Dickinson, Richeldis, the Lady of Walsingham Manor in 1130, was a noblewoman known for her good works who was married to the Lord of the Manor of Walsingham Parva in Norfolk. She lived during the reign of Edward the Confessor. When her husband died, she was left a young widow with a son, Geoffrey.[5]

The Richeldis identified by J.C. Dickinson died in 1145, leaving her estate to her son. Before leaving to join the Second Crusade, Lord Geoffrey de Faverches had left the Holy House and its grounds to his chaplain, Edwin, to establish a religious order to care for the chapel of Our Lady of Walsingham. As travelling abroad became more difficult during the time of the Crusades, Walsingham became a place of pilgrimage, ranking alongside Jerusalem, Rome and Santiago da Compostella.[6]

However, in his 2015 monograph investigation into the identity of the Walsingham visionary Edith the Fair, historian Bill Flint refutes the later foundation date, established by Dickinson, and supports the original foundation date of 1061 given in the Pynson Ballad. The date established by Dickinson is based upon the 1161 Norfolk Roll, which Flint argues actually refers to the foundation of the priory of the Austin Friars and not that of the shrine, which preceded the foundation of the priory. Referring to the Little Domesday Book, Flint argues that Queen Edith Swanneshals, wife of Harold Godwinson, was the Lady of Walsingham Manor during the earlier foundation date given by Richard Pynson (1061) and was therefore, in all likelihood, the Walsingham visionary. Flint also claims that Edith Swanneshals was colloquially known as "Rychold", the appellatory title given in the Pynson Ballad meaning "Rich and Fair" and an earlier form of "Richeldis".

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