At the beginning of this new academic year, we continue on our Ten Ten Year of Pilgrimage. If this is your first encounter with the Ten Ten Year of Pilgrimage, do take a look at the launch article from back in January when it all began.

This month, in honour of the feast day which lands on 24th September, we are journeying to a pilgrimage site in the UK!

Small, But Mighty

Nestled in the Norfolk countryside, lies the village of Walsingham. Its seemingly humble stature contrasts with other pilgrimage sites visited during the Ten Ten Year of Pilgrimage, such as Santiago de Compostela, Rome and Jerusalem. Though small, with approximately just 800 residents, Walsingham packs a punch. It is a place of architectural, historic and natural interest as well as an important pilgrimage site.

‘England’s Nazareth’

The story of Walsingham as a holy place begins in 1061 with a widowed Saxon noblewoman named Richeldis de Faverches. Known for her good works, kindness and deep faith in God, Richeldis prayed that she might do something in honour of Our Lady. Her prayer was answered when she was taken ‘in the spirit’ by Our Lady to see the house in Nazareth, where the Annunciation took place. Our Lady invited Richeldis to take the measurements of the holy house in Nazareth and build a replica in Walsingham.

Mary’s ‘Yes’

Behold, I am the servant of the Lord.

Let it be done to me according to your word.

Luke 1:38

Mary’s ‘yes’ to the Angel Gabriel was echoed by Richeldis as she faithfully fulfilled Mary’s wishes. There followed a devotion to Our Lady from the people of Walsingham. Less than one hundred years later, the building of a Priory by Augustinian Canons was given papal approval. The wooden structure of the Priory was built adjacent to the Holy House. The shrine gained further popularity when, in 1226, King Henry III made his first of many pilgrimages there. Subsequent kings maintained this tradition, including King Henry VIII – until the Reformation. The only part of the thirteenth century Priory that remains today is the impressive arch of the east window.

Healing, Hope and Honour

Today, in Walsingham, Our Lady is honoured by both Catholics and Anglicans.

Honouring Our Lady is different to worshipping God. Worship is reserved for God alone. However, honouring the work that God has done through His people gives Him the glory. Our Lady’s ‘yes’ truly deserves to be honoured, because it enabled God to enter our world in the person of Jesus (the Incarnation).

The Catholic shrine is a mile outside the village and includes the modern built Our Lady of the Reconciliation Chapel and the mid-14th century Slipper Chapel; so named because it was the place pilgrims left their shoes (slippers), to walk the final mile, barefoot. Some pilgrims practise this even today!

Close to the original location of Richedis’s Holy House is the Anglican shrine. Within the Anglican church, there is a newer replica of the Holy House.

A Chain Reaction

Walsingham shows us that a ‘yes’ to God, can start a chain reaction. Our Lady’s ‘yes’ inspired Richeldis to say ‘yes’. We can see the effects of this ripple down through 1000 years until today, as we take part in the Ten Ten Year of Pilgrimage.

Pause to Reflect and Pray

The fresh start of this academic year gives us a moment to take stock of things.

  • Like the slippers left at the slipper chapel, what will you leave behind from last year?
  • Like Richeldis, do you have a desire to honour Our Lady?
  • What do you feel God is asking of you?

To emulate Mary’s ‘yes’ is to join the chain of ‘yesses’ that can positively impact the pupils and colleagues you work with, both now and into the future.

Our Lady of Walsingham, pray for us.